Presentations of the World News in Soviet Union and Russian Media Compared to British and American Media

A research essay on Ekho Planeti, Newsweek and The Economics

Introduction

In the modern world, the media is the most popular guide to basic images of the globe and its events. Radio, TV and newspapers mention the names of foreign countries, cities and places which depict in our mind a first understanding of unknown places. Readers and viewers of different media have varied perspectives about the outside world depending on what kind of media dominate in their country. Intrigued by differences in focusing on world news by current Russian and former Soviet Union media, I conducted current research focusing on one prominent Russian weekly publication --Ekho Planety. In English, Ekho Planety means ‘Echo of the Planet.’

The first part of the research focuses on the style and main topics of Ekho Planeti of 1988 and 2003. Seven sequential issues of both years will be compared for their attitude and priorities in the world news. The size and structure of the issues will also be compared to that of the British weekly magazine The Economist and the American weekly, Newsweek.

In the second part of my research, Ekho Planeti of two different eras will be taken as two different media. Totally four weekly magazines—Ekho Planeti of USSR, Ekho Planeti of Russia, The Economist and Newsweek—will be compared as to the quantitative amount of global coverage including the number of countries they covered, the size of the news and priorities, etc. Finally, I listed in an attachment all countries by size score and frequency score related to different media.

1. Ekho Planety of 1988 and 2003: Qualitative Analysis

Ekho Planeti was first published in April 1988 following its foundation by the Soviet Union Media Agency TASS and the Union of Soviet Journalists. Beginning from its very early issues, it was printed in two hundred thousand copies and found immediate popularity among Soviet Union readers. The year of 1988 was a peak time of Gorbachev’s “perestroika” period when every community in Soviet Union and the communist bloc was anxious to learn as much as possible about the outside world—especially, of one which was closed or distorted for decades during the Cold War. Ekho Planeti was one of the best tools to guide readers to new places as well as re-depict the world the USSR knew before 1988.

The dynamics of the change within the Ekho Planeti is noticeable by examining its seven sequential issues printed between July 8- August 25, 1988. In June and early July, Ekho Planeti located on its first page the statements related to the events of the Central Bureau of the Communist Party of the USSR or its leaders, while in the later few weeks, the first page became an editorial address about the changing world and the important events of the week. Later, the Ekho Planti of 2003 continued this tradition, making the first page as a short summary of the most sensational events of the week.

Additionally, Ekho Plantei has been changing its rhetoric over time. For example, while its issues of 1988 are abundant with sarcasm and criticism and suspicion toward the USA and the “great seven,” the rhetoric in the issues of 2003 are calm, confident and mostly unbiased. Capitalism, generally depicted as unbearable “cruel life of competition” (Ekho Planeti. 1988, 14:29-31) in 1988, is described as a normal life in 2003, mostly stressing successes, achievements of the green revolution and the beauty of different lifestyles.

Even though Ekho Planeti is a journal designed to cover global events, its issues of 1988 and 2003 did not contain a systematic picture about global geographical regions. Rather, its 1988 issues had a clear political division: a section called “Orbits of Socialism” covered news and surveys about countries of the communist bloc. In 1988, each issue consisted of 20-23 sections, out of which nine were consistent in each issues and all unrelated to geographical regions. For example, there were sections like “Post,” “Dear Reader,” “Full Screen,” “Diary of the Week,” “News from Display,” “People” and “Photo Reportage.” Most of these permanent sections covered politics and political figures. Nevertheless, “Orbits of Socialism” was not among the most consistent topic.

However in 2003, each issue contained sections ranging from 11-27 with six permanent sections. “People”, “Diary”, and “Full Screen” survived the changes of 15 years, and new sections with tabloid news such as “Mr. and Mrs.”, “Crime” and “Mosaic” became permanent sections. Ekho Planeti of 2003 differs from its 1988 issues in its style of dominantly short, tabloid news with few remaining large-scale reportages. The number of journalists who worked per each issue was reduced from 58 in 1988 to 30 in 2003 and the number of copies dropped to 12,076 in 2003.

Generally, the structure of the1988 and 2003 issues of Ekho Planeti resembles that of Newsweek which contains 13-23 sections in its seven issues of 2003. Occasionally, the 2003 Ekho Planeti has separate sections on Russia (3 times) and the USA (once). These are the only geographically distinguished sections. Newsweek presents few sections concerning geographical locations: Africa (twice), Afghanistan (twice), Germany (twice), California (twice), North Korea (twice), Liberia (3 times), Iraq (twice), Mid East (twice).

The structures of both Ekho Planeti and Newsweek are very different from that of The Economist which has been very consistent throughout its seven issues in 2003. All seven issues of The Economist contained the same 16 sections and only three issues contained an extra section called “survey” or “open letter”. The Economist divides the globe into four regions: The Americas, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and Europe. It distinguishes Britain and the USA from the remaining parts of the world in the way that it treats Canada, for example, is as a part of The Americas, whereas the USA is not.

All three magazines—Ekho Planeti, Newsweek and The Economist—contain quite rich thematic sections on politics, culture, history, economy, business and science. In addition, Ekho Planeti of both 1988 and 2003 paid much attention to local traditions and customs of different societies, while Newsweek paid attention to travel information and The Economist was distinguished by its updates of economic and financial indicators.

2. The Globe in Ekho Planeti, Newsweek and The Economist: Quantitative Comparison

2.1. SCALING OF MEDIA ATTENTION

In order to compare the amount of media attention to a country by Ekho Planeti, Newsweek, and The Economist, I created and used a simple scoring system to be recorded and summed for each country. Only one of the following types of scores was added from screening a single coverage of up-to four pages.

If information on a country is covered throughout more than four pages, the additional part was taken as new coverage. The scores and their explanations are:

15 scores—headline, special reportage on the country, and picture (photo or graph or map)

12 scores—Picture, headline and message on cover page

10 scores—Picture and headline on cover page

9 scores—News special with picture

8 scores—News special on the country

5 scores—headline news (usually short news) on the country or the country is mentioned more than four times or more in an article. (For example, Israel and Palestine could both gain 5 scores in a news update about their conflict)

4 scores—picture only (country is mentioned as a part of graph or photo)

3 scores—news only (usually short news in leading news sections such as “Diary” in Ekho Planeti, “Leaders” in The Economist and “Top of the Week” in Newsweek)

2 scores--if a country is mentioned three times or less in an article

0.5 scores—if a country is mentioned in questions of crosswords (applicable only for Ekho Planeti)

In addition to size (or sum), media attention is also measured by frequency—the number of repetitions of any kind of information about the country. For example, frequency score of the USA in Ekho Planeti-1988 is 100 as the USA’s size score of 693 was collected from 100 chances mentioned in seven issues of July 2-August 19, 1988. Ranking of top ten countries stood in the center of attention of a magazine is based on the frequency score. In case of the same frequency score, the size score is used for ranking.


2.2. SCOPE OF ATTENTION TO COUNTRIES IN THE MEDIA OF FORMER USSR, RUSSIA, USA AND BRITAIN

It is important to note that there is no obligation for any media to maintain any kind of proportion (territorial, population or economy size) in their global coverage. Furthermore, global events that deserve media attention do not have prerequisites. However, assuming that global coverage would be closer in different media during the same period of time, seven sequential issues of the 2003 Ekho Planeti, Newsweek and The Economist were taken from the following time period: (i) Ekho Planeti from July 17- August 28; (ii) Newsweek from July 14-August 25; (iii) The Economist from July 25-August 29. As to Ekho Planeti of 1988, the time period is from July 8- August 25.

All four media (Ekho Planeti of 1988, Ekho Planeti of 2003, Newsweek and The Economist) covered totally 154 countries including four with old names—USSR, East Germany, West Germany and Chechoslovakia. The total number of countries that seven issues of Ekho Planeti of 1988 covered is 89, and Ekho Planeti of 2003 covered 105 countries. Interestingly, seven issues of Newsweek covered just 44 countries in total that counts less than one issue’s average coverage of The Economist. Showing the highest record, The Economist covered 107 countries in seven weeks.

The overall amount of the global news under this research or the total size score is 17334 including 4136 of Ekho Planeti-1988, 3646 of Ekho Planeti -2003, 3541 of Newsweek, and 6063 of The Economist. The total frequency score is 2393 which includes 778 scores of Ekho Planeti of 1988, 482 scores of Ekho Planeti of 2003, 312 of Newsweek and 821 scores of The Economist. It is evident from the total size scores, that The Economist is the leading magazine in terms of covering world events. Indeed, The Economist devotes more spaces for global news. The total number of pages of each magazine is not important because the pages with articles that did not contain the names of countries were not counted.

For example, some business news pages containing the names of corporations such as “Boeing” were not considered because the news about the USA. However, if the news referred to the company as “America’s Boeing”, then the size score for America was counted according the scales stipulated in the previous section. The same principle applied to cultural, scientific and other thematic articles and pieces. Advertisements were not considered at all.

The average number of countries covered in one issue of Ekho Planeti declined over the last 15 years. While its coverage ranged between 27 and 61 countries in an issue in 1988 (mean is 42.14), it managed to cover 30 to 45 countries in 2003 with the mean of 36.28. Newsweek covers just 12 countries in average issue, even its issue with the highest number of countries, which is 23, contains fewer countries than the minimum of the other three magazines. The Economist covers 46 to 66 countries in an issue, with the average number of 57 countries.

The weight of attention is different from media to media. Home countries are not always the biggest place as to its size and frequency scores. For example, Russia is “smaller” than the USA in Ekho Planeti of 2003 and Britain is also “smaller” than the USA in The Economist. However, USSR and USA are the “largest” in Ekho Planeti of 1988 and Newsweek respectfully. Differently from Newsweek which devotes 71.23% of its seven weeks’ coverage to the home country-USA alone, Ekho Planeti of 1988 directs just 18.6% of its attention to the home country.

Table 1a-d presents the lists of top ten countries covered by the four media in this study. As we can see from all sections of Table 1, only two countries –USA and Britain—consistently receive high levels of media attention.

media table

Readers of different media have differing opportunities to read about the world and its events. The examples of Ekho Planeti show that even the same media changes its view toward the globe over time. As time changes, rhetoric, size and scope of attention change in a particular media.

In July-August 2003, despite the same time period, British, Russian and American magazines covered the global news quite differently. While American media-Newsweek concentrated its attention on the events related to its home country, British and Russian magazines (The Economist and Ekho Planeti) covered events of many countries. However, it is possible that Newsweek was not an ideal example to compare with The Economist and Ekho Planeti if it was not designed to cover international events whereas the other two have a definite goal to predominantly cover global events.

Introducing the scaling scores such as size score and frequency score was an attempt to capture the level of memory about the country about which was written on a magazine and was not based on previous research. I am afraid that the weakness of this study is its originality: I found no similar studies to adapt measurement or scaling information to use in the study. Further improvement of scales of media attention and depiction of the global image seen from different media around the world is needed.

Acknowledgement

I would like thank a Stanford Professor Martin W.Lewis for giving me an idea for conducting this interesting research.

Reference

Ekho Planeti. 1988 14:1-50 Ekho Planeti. 1988 15:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 1988 16:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 1988 17:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 1988 18:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 1988 19:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 1988 20:1-50 Ekho Planeti. 2003 28:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 2003 29:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 2003 30:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 2003 31:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 2003 32:1-48 Ekho Planeti. 2003 33:1-38 Ekho Planeti. 2003 34:1-48 Newsweek. 2003 July 14, p.1-68 Newsweek. 2003 July 21, p.1-66 Newsweek. 2003 July 28, p.1-64 Newsweek. 2003 August 4, p.1-64 Newsweek. 2003 August 11, p.1-64 Newsweek. 2003 August 18, p.1-50 Newsweek. 2003 August 25, p.1-68 The Economics. 2003. July 12-18, p.1-88 The Economics. 2003. July 19-25, p.1-80 The Economics. 2003. July 26-August 1, p.1-88 The Economics. 2003. August 9-15, p.1-80 The Economics. 2003. August 16-22, p.1-80 The Economics. 2003. August 23-29, p.1-80 The Economics. 2003. August 30-September 5, p.1-72