"Orthodox" journalism in Russia?

oursaviormoscowLet's reach a few weeks back into tmatt's infamous "folder of guilt" to look at an interesting New York Times piece about the growth of "religious media" in modern Russia. Now, what precisely, are "religious media"? That's the question, isn't it? I say this as the leader of a journalism program here inside the Washington Beltway that spends quite a bit of time caught between warring camps of people who have clashing definitions of a related term, which is "Christian journalism."

So, as you would expect, I was immediately interested in that New York Times feature late last month that ran under the headline, "With Orthodoxy's Revival in Russia, Religious Media Also Rise." I mean, I am a journalist, I am Orthodox and there's a chance I may be visiting greater Russian in a few months. You know I am going to read this story. Here's the lede:

By the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, there were nearly 600 newspapers and magazines throughout Russia devoted to Orthodox subjects. They were all shut down by the Soviet regime by 1918.

Today, in a country that was officially atheist about two decades ago, there are again hundreds of newspapers, magazines and newsletters covering the world's largest Orthodox church. There are about 3,500 Russian Orthodox Web sites, and some priests are even blogging.

The Russian Orthodox media, like the church itself, have not always fallen into step with the Kremlin line. The Moscow Patriarchate, its official newspaper and most Orthodox media have addressed the war with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia as a tragic misunderstanding between two countries that share an Orthodox Christian heritage.

That's interesting. But I have a question. What are "Orthodox media"? I mean, I understand that there are official newspapers and websites. That's normal.

However, the trend covered in this article seems broader than that. For example:

When Sergei Chapnin, editor of the Moscow Patriarchate's official newspaper, Tserkovny Vesnik, organized the first Russian Orthodox media festival in 2004, a government bureaucrat called to inquire about the event.

"I could tell he thought we would have 50 people or so attending," Mr. Chapnin said about the first festival, which brought together 400 journalists. "I said there are about 500 publications with up to 10,000 journalists connected to them. There was silence at the end of the line."

Once again, here is my question: Are these official "Orthodox publications," or are they journalistic publications about Orthodoxy and religion, produced by real journalists who happen to be Orthodox? Might these publications feature the work of journalists, as opposed to church officials or public-relations professionals?

That's what I want to know and, after reading this interesting article, I cannot figure out the answers to these basic questions.

There are clergy involved in some of these publications, but there are also professionals with mainstream backgrounds. Some of the publications focus on church affairs. Others are controversial because they focus on how faith affects the style of public life, including the lives of celebrities. What is going on here? Who are these scribes? I, for one, would like to know.

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