Brauer’s back in Russia July 30-Aug. 11 — and the next exchange is accepting applications, too

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be returning to Russia next week to take part in the Bilateral Presidential Commission Mass Media Sub-Working Group meeting (that’s a ridiculous mouthful…). Last year, I was one of 12 journalists from the US that participated in the inaugural US-Russia Young Media Professionals Exchange (the second exchange will happen in a few months, and applications are being accepted until August 9), administered by the International Center for Journalists and funded by the Knight Foundation. Now, as part of a continued cooperation and dialogue between the Putin and Obama administrations, this meeting next week will be an opportunity for delegates from newsrooms, academia, and government, in both countries to talk about the business, process, and nature of journalism in both countries. I’ll be representing the other journalists who went on the exchange last year to talk about what went right and what went wrong on the exchange.

I’ll be in St. Petersburg for a couple of days and then available Aug. 3 – Aug. 10, tentatively planning to head north from St. Petersburg.

A bit about the exchange: Twelve Americans traveled to Moscow and worked in newsrooms there for 3.5 weeks (I was at ITAR-TASS Photo; others were at Kommersant, Ogonek, Moskovskii Komsomolets, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and other major news organizations in the country) and twelve Russians came to the US to work in newsrooms here, including Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Seattle Times, and the Miami Herald. It was a phenomenal opportunity to take my previous life as a Russian major and mix it with my current life as a photojournalist.

My experience in Moscow involved working closely with editors in the news and assignment desks at ITAR-TASS Photo and go on daily assignments alongside the agency’s wire photographers. You can see some of the images I took during my time in Moscow and a reporting trip to Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia, above. The nature of these daily assignments was quite interesting, especially coming from a background of newspaper and magazine photography in the US. The majority of the assignment work I saw involved a press conference, media availability, or official opening or tour. Access to politicians and businesses was extremely limited and heavily negotiated for each assignment. ITAR-TASS is a state news agency, but their operating budget, from what I understand, comes entirely from photo licensing and sales. Images of Putin and Medvedev, of course, are the biggest sellers, but the agency frequently covered opposition politicians while I was there. An editor told me the market for those types of images was generally limited to publications in Moscow and outside of Russia. I also got the opportunity to talk extensively with photographers from ITAR-TASS and other Moscow publications, sharing what it’s like to work in the US and learning about being a photojournalist in Russia. Many expressed frustration about the subjects their papers covered, how politics is reported in the media, lack of access on all types of stories, general suspicion of journalists and photographers (one photographer told me about getting harassed while taking pictures of holiday lighting in a busy shopping area of Moscow).

We also had substantial opportunity to meet with editors and journalists at many newspapers in Moscow, though most of these were state-run operations. When asked about their approach to the news, an editor at Komsomolskaya Pravda said, “We support the President,” and said that stance is what guides the newspaper’s reporting. Other reporters at that publication and elsewhere told us that the relationship with the administration was a bit more complicated than that. While living in China, I became accustomed to the Chinese way of controlling the media through daily directives of what can and cannot be published. I expected that something like that would exist in Russia, but in talking with editors and reporters, heard of no such centralized control of newsrooms. Rather, reporters we spoke with seemed to have a general sense of what news would and wouldn’t fly in daily editorial meetings, not unlike newsrooms in the US. Of course, they said their editors would rarely approve a story critical of the administration, but even one of the largest newspapers in the country isn’t afraid to criticize Putin’s party or investigate murders of journalists. That editor, Pavel Gusev, told our group that he had no problem printing journalism critical of the administration, so long as it could be backed up with facts and honest journalism.

One of the biggest shortfalls of the exchange was that we did not have any official meetings with independent and opposition journalists and publications. This was to be expected, but there was opportunity to arrange those sorts of meetings on our own. Online and social-media focused journalism and blogging is a significant force in Russian politics and society, and I only saw glimpses of that.

Definitely consider applying for the next exchange. It is scheduled for this fall, and the deadline for applying is August 9, 2013.

Covering the DNC and RNC? NPPA has a handy legal and practical guide for the conventions and protests

Police arrest OccupyBoston protesters at their second encampment at Rose F. Kennedy Greenway a block from Dewey Square, in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  - M. Scott Brauer

While covering these events police may ask to see your images, recordings or files. Be aware that you do not have to consent to such a request. They may try to intimidate, coerce or threaten you into doing so but “consent” must be voluntary. You should know that absent consent or “exigent circumstances” an officer may not seize your camera. Exigent circumstances only exist where an officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed AND that you have captured evidence of that crime on your camera AND that there is also a strong likelihood that such evidence may be lost if the camera is not seized.

Are you planning on covering the Republican or Democratic National Conventions at the end of August and beginning of September? You should be aware of legal and practical issues that may arise during the process of documenting both the conventions and the protests around the conventions. The National Press Photographer’s Association has a handy guide that covers the basics of covering both conventions, ranging from what to do if you’re arrested to how to stay safe in a crowd to dealing with the heat. The guide also includes a brief survey of local and federal ordinances and laws that will apply to people on the scene and educated guesses on how police may treat journalists based on recent actions of police in Chicago during the NATO summit protests earlier this year. For instance, items that could be considered weapons will not be allowed close to the convention areas and include items photographers might bring along such as tripod, monopods, and ladders.

Stay safe out there!