"Our people know three things: how to run the state, play football and publish Nasha Niva"

30.06.2016 Source: Press service of BAJ

The press service of BAJ has talked to Andrei Skurko, the editor-in-chief of Nasha Niva newspaper, to find out what will change in the strategy of the newspaper after it starts being a monthly plus digital newspaper, purely in Belarusian independent outlet.

From July 1, NN will become a monthly newspaper. How will it influence the webpage nn.by?

It will have only a positive impact, as we will be able to allocate more editorial and journalistic efforts to update the webpage. It has long operated in a little autonomous regime. It means that it is in continual evolution, there are often changes in format. We develop further the mobile version, or some other things, sometimes not evident for readers, but which would make the webpage more user-friendly.

Do you divide your team into those who work for the paper and those who work online?

No, we cannot afford such divide. People imagine Nasha Niva as a gigantic enterprise with 100 employees. Our team is very small: two ten people in the best case. Plus our respected non-staff authors, of course. So, we work in a kind of synergy. It means that journalists and editors work on both the paper and the webpage. The difference is only in the format of the texts.

So, who leads the outlet today? Who hires people and determines the editorial policy?

We do not have a strict vertical, like in state-run structures. Everything goes on very democratically. There are editorial meetings, joint discussions of some issues, including technical questions. There are meetings of a narrower team of employees. But, anyone can come up with an idea, and it will be discussed.

The paper version “will be aimed for people with a different tempo of information consuming”. It looks like it will be aimed for older people. Do you have information about your actual audience?

Research of audience of a paper version is quite a complicated task in our situation. The research costs expensive, and major conclusions are made as a feedback via mailbox, by phone. Indeed, readers of the paper version are older than those online. These are older people who have not learnt the use of the Internet. Basically, our switch from weekly to monthly format is linked to the fact that such people start learning it... And part of our audience subscribe to the newspaper as a principle, so as to support its publishing, although they also read it online.

We intend to give something exclusive in the monthly outlet, which will appeal to readers regardless of age and online engagement.

Nn.by is connected daily by 30-35 thousand IP-addresses, with 40 thousand in peak time. It makes around 7 million views a month, according to Akavita and Google Analytics. Most visitors come from Belarus. The available instruments of age measurements show that 70 per cent of our online readers are people from 15 to 44 years old; nearly half of them are with university education.

Nasha Niva works as clock every day, like an assembly line. This is work that, to our great joy, bears its fruit.

The first restored issue of Nasha Niva was published 25 years ago. Which period from these 25 years has been the most favorable for the newspaper, in your view?

I cannot assess all those 25 years, as I came to Nasha Niva somewhat in 1999, being a young student. But since then, I could witness there was no an easy time. Every time there were some troubles, interruptions, as well as achievements. Together with the country, we have been living through the difficult times of building up our independence and our press.

Sometimes, NN is accused of being “yellow”, so to say, the newspaper for intellectuals has turned into a Belarusian-language tabloid. How do the editorial office take such criticism?

I would be happy to have a tabloid in Belarus. Unfortunately, there is no chance to talk about it now.

Our people know three things: how to govern the country, how to play football and how to publish newspaper Nasha Niva…

And if we do not publish Beigbeder or Sartre – well, there are specialized websites who deal with it perfectly.

Such talks that Nasha Niva used to be elitist, and now it is not elitist, they stem from one mistake: people mix up the elite and the Bohemia. They are different notions.

How to survive for a Belarusian outlet in today's economic conditions? Is the switch to paid-for online content possible, at least partially?

We are developing in this direction. I think the paid-for digital switch, at least partial, is inevitable. Still, in Belarusian realities it can lead to loss of audience. Generally, those who start promoting paid-for content will lose part of their readers who will turn to free resources.

But we are working through this variant, probably, many Belarusian websites will end up with this solution…

Newspaper Novy Chas announced launching a business supplement with the support of local business. In your view, is it possible generally to engage business structures in support of non-state socio-political outlets?

 We used to face with the tacit ban for business structures. There were allusions, and from top officials also, warning business against sponsoring non-state newspapers. There were lists of mass media banned for distribution in large trade networks, and we faced with this, too. But, times change, now the BRSM (state-run youth union) catches up with the trend of vyshyvanka (folk embroidery has become popular recently), and steles in Minsk stand with not red and green, but white, red and green flags.

A businessman should realize that independent outlets work to strengthen Belarusian independence. And this is his root interest, because it is much more pleasant and simpler to do business in the Republic of Belarus rather than in “Minsk People’s Republic”. And those who do not want to support one’s own press – will feed the press of Dmitry Kiselyov…

What have been the most successful editorial projects of the recent years, as editors’ choice? What topics bring the most views?

Before the interview, I looked through the rating of the materials for the year – top reads. These were articles about elections, Sviatlana Alexievich, blogs of Andrei Horvat, who moved to live in a village, the scandal of preparing soldiers in Belarus supportive of Russian expansion, and stories about top officials’ property… Briefly, the burning issues for the modern society.  

I generally think that the most successful project of recent years has been the website nn.by and everything connected to it.