- Local Media of Post-Soviet Countries: Evidence from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine
An Introduction to the Special Issue
The Importance of Research on Local Media and Journalism
Why do local media matter? In light of their role in supporting local communities and holding local authorities to account, such media are extremely important to local political participation and democratic processes.1 Today, in an era of misinformation and media fragmentation, local media are becoming even more important. Local reporters, who know [End Page 335] their subjects and communities well, may help people to better understand what is happening in their towns and regions.
In a digital age, the concept of “place” as the domain of physical geography is now complicated by the idea of “space,” understood as demarcated geography or an abstract representation in which we view the social world, and which holds some social significance.2 Although the internet undoubtedly allows for instant connections between people across the globe and facilitates access to information from anywhere in the world,3 this placelessness inevitably contributes to problems that are common to many media today: challenges in connecting with the public and maintaining audience trust in news sources.4 Recent research recognizes the growing importance of locative journalism and connectedness to a place as critical for the trustworthiness of media and journalism, and indeed for social cohesion as a whole.5
The “local” or “spatial” turn in media studies detects the growing scholarly interest in the space-communication nexus and indicates the importance of geographic territories in local media practices and performance.6 The research argues for spatialized reorientation when theorizing media,7 for instance, reconsideration of the role of place in the news process and in journalists’ interaction with place and locality. With this special issue, we hope to highlight the importance of local media research in various socio-cultural settings and political regimes. There are weighty reasons for this. The challenges faced by local media in Western democracies may differ from those faced by local media in countries in transition, or in countries with non-democratic and authoritarian political regimes. Despite these differences, however, the local media of the post-Soviet countries8 have thus far been almost entirely excluded from studies of local media and journalism.9 [End Page 336]
What sets this special issue apart is that it seeks to explore the local media and journalism of post-Soviet countries as complex phenomena that, on one hand, develop within peculiar socio-political and economic regimes and, on the other, face the ongoing global transformations of media. Global tendencies such as digitalization and convergence of media, user involvement in news production, the growing importance of social media, and the platformization of media consumption are present everywhere. Besides offering a comparative perspective on the trajectories of local media development in different countries, the articles compiled for this special issue provide a more nuanced understanding of the functions of local media in the media system and for local communities in post-Soviet countries.
We consider local media to be not merely a subordinate part of the national media. Small-market media outlets often comprise the majority of a country’s media system. Moreover, the economic, political, and cultural environment is different for local and national media. Local journalistic practices also differ, not only between countries but also within countries.10 This gives rise to the following questions: How did local media adapt to shifts in the political and economic systems in post-Soviet countries? How have local journalistic culture and ethics been transformed in post-Soviet conditions? How do these media contribute to local democracies and public engagement? What value do local media provide to their readers (viewers), local authorities, and local communities today? These are some of the guiding questions for this special issue.
Transformation of Local Media and Journalism in Post-Soviet Countries
The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a dramatic reconfiguration of media systems in the former Soviet republics.11 Changes occurred, not only in media regulation and financing models, but also, for example, in journalistic professional culture,12 the public image of journalists, the roles of mass...