Creating Technology for Social Change

Project Update: News Sources

I recently undertook the task of comparing leading independent online news sources for the Central, Eastern, Western, and Southern regions of Ukraine. My overall goal was to get a better sense of the political orientations of these websites, their readership and their content, as well as gauge the inclusivity of voices. At the same time, I was also looking for material related to ICTs in Ukraine. In the interest of time, I’ll briefly discuss some findings on two sites: Ukrajins’ka Pravda and Ostrov.

For the Central region of Ukraine, I chose Ukrajins’ka Pravda, arguably the most widely read online newspaper with the most politicized history. In 2000, the website was created by oppositional journalist Heorhii Gongadze as an alternative news source to government-biased traditional media. Several months later, his headless body was found in the woods outside of Kyiv, and a recording of then-president Leonid Kuchma instructing authorities to «deal with» Gongadze was leaked to the public. Since then, Ukrajins’ka Pravda has grown into a robust media source complete with its own section of political blogs as well as a thriving section of «People’s Blogs» (Narodni Blohi) written by everyday people. Most articles and blog posts garner hundreds of comments (not all of which are civil or rational, of course). Discussions of the political impact of digital ICTs abound, seamlessly woven into articles on the upcoming parliamentary elections, corruption, public morality, etc. Most articles are demonstratively anti-Yanukovych, however commenters seem to be divided in their own political views.

For the Eastern part of Ukraine, I looked at Ostrov, a Donetsk-based online newspaper written mostly in Russian. However, one does not need to know Cyrillic to sense the outdatedness of the site. Its austere interface and lurid green color scheme are, in my opinion, neither attractive nor welcoming. Whereas on Ukrajins’ka Pravda, the search term «network» (Ukrainian: мережа, Russian: сеть) yielded many pages of articles and blog entries discussing online social media, on Ostrov, there were only two items that were actually related to the Internet (the vast majority of results were about gaslines). The two articles that I did find, however, were very telling.«Looking at Personal Profiles, Where Have Politicians Gone Wrong in Social Media?» and «Reading Diaries: Where and How Politicians Live Online» (the Russian title is a pun on the popular blog hosting website, LiveJournal). Both articles are from 2011, and yet they write about Ukrainian Parliament Deputies using Facebook as though the phenomenon is brand-new. As Viktor Kalashnikov, author of one of the articles, commented on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s popular blog on LiveJournal: «Considering the complicated situation that Russia is in, Medvedev’s games on the Internet are perceived extremely negatively by many people, especially those who actually need to work and don’t have time to ‘hang around’ online.»

I don’t feel that this is rational-critical discourse (even if it is challenging the official line) seeing as how the journalists are attempting to impose their own views on readers. Can’t readers judge for themselves whether or not politicians are behaving «properly» online? Ostrov, in short, left a bad taste in my mouth. I doubt that it will become an important source in my work, however the fact that such a site exists (and was recommended to me by my advisor!) deserves mention.

To be continued…