Russia’s Economic Crisis – Gontmakher’s Specter Descends on Ohio

I wanted to write my second post about the krizis, this time comparing the long-term, structural problems facing Russia and the U.S. But the Russkii krizis-watch in our media has hit such a feverish pitch, I couldn’t avoid the subject, especially after they just got done reporting on how Russian media were not covering the Russian economic crisis.

A while back I wrote a blurb on how Yevgeny Gontmakher got Vedomosti in trouble for writing “Novocherkassk-2009,” which described all the various ways a recession could be felt in Russia’s heartland, all the while hinting at the anti-systemic tendencies that could result. His main example was a factory town where the sole employers shuts down, crippling the locals’ way of life. And it seems that, while Gontmakher’s message was ill-received in Moscow, he did get some attention from the English-language media. If you do a Google News search for his name in English, you get 32 results from the past month alone. And the articles are not all about his dustup with the Vlast’. Rather, these articles are about scary things, with headlines like: Russia’s Regions Seen Challenging Moscow with ‘Tax Separatism’; Employees Say Plant Is Forcing Resignations; and Russians fear financial gain has vanished. If you do the same name search for all years, you get 23 articles going back to 2001.

The media has adopted Gontmakher’s approach, at least a little because the authorities reacted to his article the way they did. The most surreal coverage has been about the car tax hike. In the past week, 1,248 news stories have been filed about these relatively minor protests that are purportedly ‘erupting‘ all over Russia. But for me, the best Gontmakheresque story was from Megan Fox of the LA Times, reporting from Baikalsk, Russia about a mill closing down. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and say she planned on just covering the environmental story, but her editor wanted to capture the economic story. Just to summarize, we have a reporter from Los Angeles in BAIKALSK to write about a factory shutting down in a town of 17,000.

And this is the amusing part – about a month ago, the cable networks ran a piece on Wilmington, OH (pop. 12,000), which was fighting to prevent DHL from scaling down its operations. Everyone agrees that it would be ‘devastating’ if the planned cuts (3500 people) were made, as the rest of the town’s economy relies entirely on the factory. USA Today ran an update the othe day, and, as it turns out, DHL will be laying off 7,500 people. Today, Sen. Sherrod Brown of OH is in Wilmington to discuss what comes next. But if you do a Google search, you only find 33 articles, mostly from local news affiliates, and 2-3 from national outlets (no LA Times).

So, we get a reporter to travel halfway around the world to cover the closure of a paper mill that hasn’t even closed yet, we get thousands of duplicative articles on an insignificant and anticlimactic (not to mention self-centered) protest against a tax on imported cars, and various other pieces on ‘tax outlaws’ or whatever. But the people of Wilmington, whose existence has been torn up the week before Christmas, do not merit such attention.

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