Russian internet project InoSMI (http://www.inosmi.ru/), recently won an award at the country's prestigious annual Runet Russian Internet Awards.
InoSMI is composed of the word ‘foreign' and the abbreviation for mass media. The site has been up since 2000, and features translations of articles published in the world's leading newspapers and magazines. InoSMI editor-in-chief Yaroslav Ognev spoke to RIA Novosti about the "InoSMI phenomenon".
Question: How do you explain InoSMI's popularity among readers, and now its recognition by the web community?
Answer: Primarily by the fact that from the very beginning InoSMI placed its bets on the highest-quality international media articles, vibrant with ideas and displaying a convincing logic. Today InoSMI is the strongest and most popular website in Russia specializing in translated foreign media articles; some 70,000-90,000 people read the site daily.
Q: What, in your opinion, makes this project so unique?
A: We have always reflected real processes and tendencies in the world of foreign media. Do you want to read and discuss prominent comments, say, on the misadventures of the dollar, or the reasons why the U.S. is no longer the world leader, or alternatively why it still plays this role - and all this on a single website? Are you interested in watching the effects of globalization, taking leading international media as a model? Would you like to see what a global 21st century media outlet looks like? Did you come across a wonderful text and want to make it a part of our website's content? Then welcome to the world of InoSMI!
Q: What generated the idea for the project and how has InoSMI changed since it was created?
A: Translating articles from the international press for the mass reader in Russia has a long history. Back in 1932, Maxim Gorky launched the legendary Za Rubezhom [Abroad] daily. In 1980, it had a circulation of 1 million copies. Za Rubezhom existed in its original form until early 2000s, but never appeared online.
In Runet (the Russian Internet), the genre of translations from the international press has existed since 1999. The idea that Russia needs a website translating articles from foreign media was put forward by Svetlana Mironyuk, the head of RIA Novosti since 2003. Back then she created InoPressa. InoSMI was launched in September 2000 as a competitor under the auspices of a popular news website.
In February 2004, InoSMI was incorporated by RIA Novosti. InoSMI then experienced a rebirth. We opened a press club, began to publish translations from Japanese, Chinese, Finnish, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian media outlets.
Q: Are there any similar resources in the Runet and worldwide?
A: Of course, we are not the only translators of the international press in the world. In Russia, we have InoPressa, as I mentioned earlier. There are also similar local projects in Poland in Ukraine. In the U.S. there is the Johnson's Russia List (JRL) which contains Russia-related news and analysis from the leading English-language media outlets. WatchingAmerica.com is another American website positioning itself as "America's Public Intelligence Agency".
Q: You have said that InoSMI is an impartial reflection of the international media. Still, in order to track over 1,000 sources daily, you probably need some formalized selection criteria, judging importance, poignancy or ingenuity of the coverage.
A: There is no precise formula for what should be translated and how it should be translated in order to be read and quoted. But living according to formulas is not our goal. Importance and poignancy? What can be more important and poignant than today's news? But we do not translate news as such. Ingenuity? Probably, but I couldn't say for sure. For instance, our "history department" translated a number of 19th century's texts, which proved so interesting that the current stories had to wait for their readers.
Q: If we look at ratings of different websites, we could get the impression that people are mostly interested in entertaining stories leaning toward the tabloids. Which topics are popular among your readers?
A: Working with tabloids can be easy and fun, but InoSMI does not choose easy routes: the articles that we translate do not lean towards the tabloids. Or, rather, we propagate - and this has nothing in common with propaganda - serious stories that encourage people to think. As for what attracts our readers, well, almost the same themes that attract the rest of the world. Actors and stories of big-time politics. Bush's "Yo, Blair" and Putin's "bare chest". Democracy and human rights. The rise of China and the future of Georgia. But also the public and private lives of the oligarchs, glamorous celebrities, and many other things.
Q: Do you translate only articles about Russia?
A: It's been a long time since we've stopped doing that. We have a series of translations about Tony Blair, which has unfortunately become obsolete, as well as a great collection of Bushisms, and interesting articles about China and India. Readers want to have the world in their pockets; they want more materials from the Chinese, Turkish, Syrian, Korean, Cuban and Croatian media.
Q: You have said that your site is a strength and viability test for patriotism. Does this need testing?
A: InoSMI is a daily strength and viability test for everything, including the professionalism of our staff. We put to test the thesis of articles, the views and beliefs of their authors, their style and arguments, as well as the editorial policy of leading foreign media. The ultimate judge is the reader.
At the same time, we test the political and other views of our readers, if they have any, because the articles we translate sometimes clash with these views. I cannot say that the ultimate meaning and goal of InoSMI is to test both sides, but I cannot deny that this is what sometimes happens.
Socrates, who was a judge of political and other views in Ancient Greece, likened himself to a gadfly. His endless ironic questions had a noble goal: he was searching for the truth. He had to take his own life because the democracy of Athens was not ready for him, and most importantly, for such an ideological trial.
We now have the Internet for discussions of articles and for chat forums. We don't kill those who hold alternative views; we debate with them.
Q: Have you established a feedback mechanism to the authors published in the foreign media?
A: We did that long ago, when the InoSMI press club was established. We often write to the authors inviting them to correspond directly with Russian readers. We tell them that this is a difficult task, because Russian readers are sensitive to lies, hate shallow statements, formulate their questions at will and are not eager to please the author. We have a complex mix of readers who demand we respect their opinions, override authority and speak their minds freely. This is why such forums become a kind of trial for the authors.
Q: What new elements will you offer the readers next year?
A: We plan to redesign the site and improve the forum area. There will also be blogs, lots of them, in many languages. We will try to involve CIS and foreign journalists in InoSMI blogs.
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What do Ognev's Internet colleagues and other media professionals think about InoSMI?
German Klimenko, the owner of Liveinternet.ru blogs, said InoSMI occupies a unique place among Russian web news resources. "The editorial staff selects articles for publication very wisely and objectively, which attracts readers and ensures them a high rating," he said. "I hope the site will progress, because it has a crucial social function of showing an objective picture of Western attitudes to Russia."
Andrei Levkin, chief editor of Polit.ru, said the success of InoSMI depended above all on the professionalism of its authors, who satisfy readers' demand.
"InoSMI.ru is not only about translating articles, but also about intelligent editorial work," Levkin said. "Those who write for this site know very well what is going on in Russia and select foreign publications with this in view, because this is interesting for the readers, as exemplified by their high opinion of the site. When implementing such projects, one must be aware of the true weight of news and events. InoSMI can do this."
Yevgeny Abov, vice president of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and Russia's Guild of Press Publishers (GIPP), said the InoSMI site is interesting not only to the general reader, but also to professional journalists.
"This resource allows us to break through the language barrier to the best newspaper brands," he said. "The site is also useful for journalists, because the Russian media often put a positive spin on the news. Western media, on the contrary, like to raise difficult questions, and one of InoSMI's achievements is that it selects the best and most balanced articles on such problems. The quality of the site's content is a guideline for professional publishers and journalists."
Stepan Yeremin, executive director of Poiskovye Tekhnologii (Search Engines), said that InoSMI gives readers a chance to hear the other side, and also helps them to formulate a civic stance.
"Russians who are aware of views in the country want to know what people outside Russia think on the matter," Yeremin said. "InoSMI makes it possible for them to look at an event from different angles, and can influence their civic stance. Personally, I like reading about foreign opinions of events in Russia."
Gisbert Mrozek, chief editor of German-language online newspaper about Russia, Aktuell.ru, said InoSMI could be useful not only as a source of information, but also as a kind of mirror to check one's views.
"It is always interesting to look at yourself from the side, even if in a distorted mirror," he said. "It is said that truth is born in arguments, so both firmly positive and starkly negative views and opinions published on the InoSMI site are equally useful. Those who are active politically and socially should read InoSMI."
Boris Reitschuster, chief of the Moscow office of the German newspaper Focus, said: "I have noticed that Russians want to know what others write and say about them. I would say that this is a distinguishing Russian feature, which InoSMI is smartly exploiting."
He said Germans want to hear foreigners' opinions only in exceptional cases, while "in Russia this happens all the time. Sometimes passions run so high on the InoSMI forum that administrators have to step in. The ability to write about your impressions of an article or to criticize it is an element of this project's success."
Andrei Logutkov, chief editor of the Moscow office of BBCRussian.com, also believes that the readers' feedback has contributed to the success of the site.
"InoSMI is a product of enthusiasts, and I am referring both to its staff and its readers, because the site is highly interactive and designed for feedback. I believe that the foreign media should thank InoSMI for their popularity in Russia."
The site is popular not only in Russia, but also in the former Soviet republics.
Juris Paiders, deputy chief editor of the Latvian newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize, said that for many Latvians InoSMI is the only chance to learn about foreigners' attitude to Russia.
"InoSMI is a truly unique resource," he said. "There are many Russian-speakers in Latvia and Russian is the only foreign language for many Letts. I find professional satisfaction in reading InoSMI articles on acute problems. Besides, InoSMI also publishes articles from publications which one cannot read otherwise."