I love an old front page, especially a historic one.
As much as I spend my time trying to lead, prod and catch up in the digital world, nothing makes me stop and read like a yellowing front page with a historic story or photograph or both. I display historic front pages in my office, two mounted in permanent frames and others rotating into a case my son Joe designed for temporary display. I came to Siberia bearing my own historic front page as a gift to my hosts, and quickly decided I should give it to Yuri Purgin, director general of Altapress, publisher of 13 regional publications, based in Barnaul. I wanted to give him a copy of the June 13, 2008 Epic Surge edition of The Gazette.
I was delighted when the lead designer for Altapress, Alexey Shelepov, started to show us his collection of historic newspapers. He had some memorable front pages from American papers: coverage of the 9/11 attack, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and Michael Jackson’s death. He had some historic Russian events, too: the space flights of Yuri Gagarin (first man in space) and Valentina Tereshkova (first woman in space) and the death of Leo Tolstoy. But the newspaper that stood out to me was the one without a historic story on the front page.
A huge hole on the front page was simply blank. The big news had been censored in the repressive days of the Soviet government.
This historic newspaper underscored the historic occasion that brought me to Siberia. I will be speaking at a conference celebrating the 20th anniversary of the independent press in Siberia, in the waning Glasnost days of the Soviet Union.
I am here to talk about digital innovation. I spoke today (it’s Wednesday evening in Russia as I write this) about using interactive databases to become an answer source for your community. I will speak tomorrow about my Complete Community Connection vision for a prosperous business model for media companies in the digital age.
It’s humbling to talk about the future of journalism in the presence of pioneers of the free press in their country.
Yuri Purgin, our host and guide on a tour of the Altapress headquarters, started the tour in the lobby in front of a huge replica of the front page of the first edition of Free Course, the first independent newspaper inBarnaul. He proudly told of being one of the three founders of the newspaper.
Altapress is a thriving publishing house now, with Free Course one of 13 newspapers and magazines it publishes, along with operating a radio station. In his office, Yuri showed us copies of the various publications: a glamour magazine, a business newspaper, a shopper, a television guide and so on.
After we had perused the print publications, Yuri moved to his desk and started showing us the Altapress web site. Like American publishers, Yuri is trying to figure out how to continue serving his community in the digital age. He asked challenging questions during my afternoon workshop and proudly showed off the online newsroom during the tour. I hope that my presentations will help this business celebrate many more anniversaries of independence.
The day was a fascinating look into the past, present and future of journalism in Siberia.
When I returned to my hotel room and started catching up on the news on Twitter, I read Dan Gillmor’s criticism of the Federal Trade Commission for this week’s conference on whether journalism can survive in the Internet age.
Yes, journalism can and will survive. News companies that refuse or fail to innovate may not survive, but part of freedom of the press is freedom to fail. I won’t repeat my previous arguments against government subsidies for journalism. But I’m glad to be here in Siberia, celebrating the hard-won independence of the press, rather than in Washington, discussing how to give back a piece of our independence.