USC: How did the Sea Power Project come about in the INA Russia Today?
– Our Directorate – the Directorate of Public Internet Projects – has always been concerned not only about topics relevant to the immediate national agenda, but also about historical plots that would be interesting to show from different angles. We most often perceived such stories as a kind of challenge – whether or not we could give a clear picture of the complex things. A previous project of this type was called Artifact of War and was dedicated to the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Russian History related to the Great Patriotic War. I told a lot about it, including on social networks, where Nikita Pichugin, Director of the USC’s Department for Government Relations and Public Organizations, heard about the project. Moreover, when the USC came up with an idea to do something like that, Nikita asked me if it could be done at our site. We thought about it and decided it was possible. The Russian Historical Society, the guarantor of the historical accuracy of our project, joined in as well.
USC: There is a maxim: “He who owns the present owns the past, and he who owns the past owns the future”. Where is the state’s interest in such projects?
– I cannot speak for the state as a whole. We understand that such projects have several tasks, and first and foremost is to popularize a historically accurate point of view. On the other hand, to tell the story of Russia’s achievements both in the past, present and potential future is one of the key tasks of our agency
USC: Did you study the projects of other agencies, countries when preparing your project?
– We studied the experience of our colleagues who made historical projects, but we didn’t find any historical and nautical ones at the same time. Not all of this experience was applicable to us, because many historical projects, interested in the attention of a large audience, apply multimedia formats even where it is not very necessary or appropriate. However, unfortunately, it is easier to surprise with a lie than to interest with the truth. Our task is to make bright and interesting content, built not just on «wow-effect», but also on serious scientific research. I have not seen similar information projects, fulfilling the task by such methods. I do not think there are any.
TRANSLATORS OVER THE ABYSS
USC: There is a rather large gap, on average, between historians and consumers of historical information. What skills should the people who fill this gap have?
– The skills of a professional translator. It is translation from the language of experts to the language of the public. Our task is to ensure that the text, which only professionals can understand, is accessible to the wide range of people. If we talk about the background of the people involved in the project, we have a very diverse editorial team: there are historians, political scientists, and philologists. In this case, what matters is not the specialty acquired by the person, but his/her experience, sensitivity, and in some cases self-confidence (which is required when you have to begin working on an unfamiliar material) and courage (it is necessary to tell the expert, «I do not understand what you just said, let’s get this over because if I do not understand, there is no guarantee that the general audience will». One of the problems we face is that not all experts think journalists are even capable of getting their words across to a general audience without distorting them. We are certainly not professionals in what the experts do, but we are professional translators, so we are always ready to ask, to interrogate, and to reach a consensus, meaning a text that is professionally correct, understandable, and interesting to a broad audience.
USC: Practically every professional environment has squabbles, and historians are no exception. There are people with different points of view who are at odds with each other. Do you have to choose your sources and how do you do it?
– A third component of our Project is the Russian Historical Society, which supplies us with professional authors and experts. RHS guides us in our choice of sources. On the other hand, professionalism of a journalist is also about honestly presenting people with different points of view expressed by different experts. In this sense, it is great to be a news journalist, an information journalist, and our project, let me remind you, is based on expert points of view, we do not express our personal ideas in texts.
USC: There is a theory that modern society is made up of non-intersecting information bubbles, that we are in a digital Middle Ages, where some people don’t hear and don’t want to hear others. Do you feel this in your work?
– It is my personal opinion: yes, we are close to it. Our task as professional journalists is not to intersect the non-intersecting, but to find approaches to closed information communities and somehow disclose them to the public. For example, submariners is a special world with its own rules and traditions. We have opened it a little bit to a wide audience in the context of Sea Power, and the materials we obtained have come a long way from scientific, complicated and incomprehensible to the content we would like to share.
THE RISKS AND JOYS
USC: Did you manage to discover anything for yourself during the project? Any facts that would make you want to slap your forehead and say, “So that’s how it really was?”
– No doubt about it. This is what makes project activities, which our directorate and my department in particular do, so great: we always learn something new for ourselves. For example, while processing the material for the 85th Anniversary of Amur Shipyard we had to find out the difference between boathouse types and why this particular boathouse was built. New for us on the historical level was to systematize the knowledge we had learned from school and university on maritime subjects. So now, the editors, who are deeply involved in this project, have a more systematic understanding of what is behind. In general, every text is a discovery, a step into the unknown. For me personally, the story about Titanic and participation of specialists from the Baltic Shipyard Yantar in shooting of this film was a revelation to me. It seems like many people know about it, but I was one who did not. Now I know.
USC: Was your personal history somehow associated with the Navy, shipbuilding?
– No. The only thing that connects me to ships is that I grew up on the Volga, and the windows of my house overlooked a beautiful Volga landscape. That makes this job even more interesting now – I am constantly learning something new for me personally.
USC: Not long ago, INA Russia Today celebrated a jubilee - it traces its history back to the Sovinformbureau, established in the first days after the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War. How did you celebrate this anniversary?
– Sorry to say, there were no big celebrations for an obvious reason – restrictions on mass events. But we were very happy about the kind words that came our way.
USC: Do you have any feeling that you are now the successors of a cause that began 80 years ago, when bullets were whistling over people’ heads and Sovinformbureau employees were fighters on the information front?
– If we talk about the agency as a whole, yes, there is such a feeling, but if we talk about our subdivision, we are more of an information rear. Operational work is still not for us, we are busy with long-term projects, trends, and processes at the federal level. However, we know these fighters; we see them every day. They do their job well, as they have done at all times. They would probably be just extremes under other circumstances, but this way they’ve become extremes in journalism.
USC: If you were Peter the Great and someone said to you, «What do we need it for, this sea?» What would you say?
– Oh... In a heat wave like today, my answer would be something like this, “We have so little of it!” Actually, in today’s world no one would dare to go from St. Petersburg to New York by steamboat. However, if we were to send a large cargo along this route, we would still use modern ships that would deliver that cargo. As we are busy living our everyday lives, we still do not fully realize that we have not really gotten away from the Age of Discovery and all that sailing. Shipping is still one of the most important and essential elements of the world trade, and the spring story with the Suez Canal, which was blocked by a stranded container ship, showed that perfectly well. That is why I would say to us, our country, in the role of Peter, «It is impossible without the sea..”
Interview by Sergey Minaev
Our task is to find approaches to closed information communities