Steve Barrett
Apr 1, 2024

Journalism is not a crime

As we reach the one-year anniversary of the detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Russia, the role of the media has never been under such intense scrutiny.

Evan Gershkovich (right) at the Lefortovsky Court building in Moscow on January 26, 2024. He has been detained since March of 2023. Photo: Getty Images
Evan Gershkovich (right) at the Lefortovsky Court building in Moscow on January 26, 2024. He has been detained since March of 2023. Photo: Getty Images

Twelve months ago on Friday, The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was detained by authorities in Russia’s fourth-largest city—Yekaterinburg in the Urals—on allegations of espionage.

Since then, he has been held at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, faced 12 court appearances and had his detention extended five times, most recently on Tuesday when a court ordered the reporter to be held until at least the end of June.

Journal owner Dow Jones’ head of corporate communications Ashok Sinha told us on The PR Week podcast that Gershkovich’s only crime was doing his job as a reporter.

The challenge is to keep his plight in the public eye and pressure Russian authorities in the court of public opinion in the hope that he will finally be released.

But doing your job as a journalist in Russia—and other parts of the world—is a dangerous profession. The definition of “espionage” in that country evidently extends to activities that are regarded as basic nuts and bolts reporting in the free world.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 43 journalists and members of the media have been killed in Russia since president Vladimir Putin came into power 25 years ago. Across the globe, 2,310 journalists have been killed between 1992 and 2024.

The legal standards of protection of journalists during armed conflicts covered by the Geneva Convention are increasingly being violated. More and more, journalists are seen as fair game and just another legitimate target.

In free-world countries such as the U.S., the First Amendment rights of journalists as part of a free press are also being eroded. Populist leaders, including former president Donald Trump, have spoken openly about their admiration for situations in countries such as China, where the independence of the media is subjugated and throttled by the state.

On the operational side of the equation, the business models underpinning media are falling apart, and newsrooms throughout the U.S. are being decimated, as witnessed by the bloodbath of layoffs in Q1 this year. More than 500 journalists were laid off in January alone. Most staff are already skeletons of what they used to be.

Having said this, the media does also have a tendency to wallow in its own misfortune. There are pockets of optimistic developments around the media and those should be celebrated. The Atlantic today announced that it had exceeded 1 million subscriptions and was finally profitable.

The Nicholas Thompson-led media owner revealed that year-over-year revenue is up more than 10%, with year-to-date advertising bookings up one-third. Atlantic subscriptions have increased by double-digit percentages in each of the past four years, 14% in 2023. All this on the back of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism and quality reporting.

The New York Times is also thriving. It added 300,000 digital subscribers in Q4 last year and posted annual revenues of $2.43 billion, up 5% on the prior year.

Business-to-business publishers such as PRWeek owner Haymarket Media are also weathering the storm, having long ago prioritized efficiency and profit as their guiding watchwords.

Smart players, including The Information, Puck, Semafor, Morning Brew, 1440, and others, might not be profitable yet, but they are innovating and engaging new media models to attract modern audiences. Then there are individual creators such as Brian Morrissey's The Rebooting, Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway's various podcasts. 

There’s a lot of talk about journalists being replaced by robots and AI essentially taking over the few remaining jobs left in newsrooms. And there will undoubtedly be some of that.

But it is my contention that smart AI-driven media models and entrepreneurial start-ups will emerge that combine the best of the groundbreaking technology with the smartest aspects of journalism and quality reporting to produce compelling new content offerings to engage fresh generations of consumers.

Amid the undoubted doom and gloom around the media sector about its future prospects, let’s remember those dedicated and talented journalists plying their trade in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. And let’s try to be positive and upbeat about the new generation of media properties emerging.

Most of all, let’s keep the plight of Evan Gershkovich in our minds, tomorrow and moving forward, so he doesn’t have to spend another year incarcerated in a Russian prison away from his family, friends and loved ones.



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