March 7, 2022

So what’s going on inside Russia as Russian soldiers continue their invasion of Ukraine?

What’s Russian President Vladimir Putin thinking? How do Russian citizens feel about the war? How are the economic sanctions impacting the country? How are the sanctions impacting everyday people? What might Russia do next?

Sadly and alarmingly, we don’t really know because Putin has signed a new censorship law that has essentially made it illegal for news organizations to independently report the accurate details of Russia’s war with Ukraine. That includes not even referring to it as a “war.”

It’s Putin’s obvious attempt to control the message. Any journalist who reports what the Russian government considers “fake news” about the war could be punished with up to 15 years in prison.

In this case, no news is really bad news.

Most news outlets with journalists inside Russia have either suspended their operations or are filing reports minus reporters’ bylines and datelines. That includes, but is not limited to, those from the major and cable news networks, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal, which said on Friday that among its top priorities are “the safety of our employees and covering this important story fairly and fully.”

“Those correspondents are basically in a holding pattern,” CNN’s Brian Stelter said on his show “Reliable Sources.”

Of course, these new laws also are directed — perhaps even more so — at Russian journalists. We’ve seen several independent journalism outlets inside of Russia shut down because of their inability to accurately report what’s going on.

Ivan Kolpakov, editor-in-chief of Meduza, one of Russia’s most popular independent media outlets, told The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi and Sarah Ellison, “Our sources say they are likely to use this against journalists. They can use it against journalists, and why wouldn’t they? They decided to destroy the industry entirely.”

On “Reliable Sources,” Robert Mahoney, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, “They can’t report on the war anymore. They can’t call a war ‘the war.’ And many of those independent journalists have fled to neighboring countries. One of them I spoke with today said basically, ‘The Russian media is dead.’”

Russia also has cut off Facebook. Nick Clegg — president of global affairs for Facebook’s parent company, Meta — tweeted, “Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out. We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action.”

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman said on CNN that he couldn’t remember a time this has ever happened to this extent, saying, “This has become a sealed room.”

Friedman went on to point out how valuable news coverage is during a war — that even political leaders get information seen on, say, CNN. So not only is Russia’s mandate keeping its citizens in the dark about many of the things going on in Ukraine, but Putin is actually keeping himself and his leaders in the dark, as well.

And that might be the scariest thing of all.

Media blackout

Poynter’s Al Tompkins has more on this with “Russia outlaws spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian military with fines and prison.”

Graphic image

If you click on any of the links in this item, please know they show a graphic photo of dead bodies.

Sunday’s New York Times website homepage featured the horrific photo from Lynsey Addario. Again, if you click on Addario’s tweet, be warned, the image is very graphic. Addario’s tweet warned of the graphic nature of the photo and then said, “Today I witnessed Russian troops deliberately targeting civilians fleeing for their lives from the village of Irpin. At least three members of a family of four were killed in front of me.” The image shows the bodies with soldiers attending to the father who was still breathing.

In a story for the Times (which also has Addario’s photo, as well as a frightfully dramatic video of the moment civilians were fired upon), Addario wrote that Russian soldiers fired mortar shells at a bridge being used by civilians. Addario wrote, “As the mortars got closer to the stream of civilians, people ran, pulling children, trying to find a safe spot. But there was nothing to hide behind. A shell landed in the street, sending up a cloud of concrete dust and leaving one family — a mother, a father, a teenage son and a daughter who appeared about 8 years old — sprawled on the ground. Soldiers rushed to help, but the woman and children were dead. The father still had a pulse but was unconscious and severely wounded.”

Deciding when to use such graphic images is always a difficult call for news outlets. News organizations don’t want to be insensitive or gratuitous or exploitative. It also doesn’t want to do it so often that it desensitizes its audiences. In a war, a news outlet could show awful images all day, every day.

On the other hand, news outlets shouldn’t purposely shield their audience from the realities of war.

In this particular instance, I believe the Times made the right decision to show the image. It was an example (and proof) of Russian soldiers firing on innocent civilians, and that is something readers should know. And see.

Powerful reporting

A Ukrainian woman speaks with Fox News after fleeing Ukraine for Poland. (Courtesy: Fox News)

Fox News had examples over the weekend of the hardships Ukrainians are facing getting out of the country.

In one report, a woman named ​​Yana told Fox News’ Alex Hogan about her journey from Ukraine to Poland: “I took all four kids. All roads were closed. We had to go through fields. We got on a crowded train for Lviv. The train took 22 hours. People were lying on the floor.”

Meanwhile, Fox News’ Trey Yingst, who is in Ukraine, tweeted, “We don’t talk enough about the decisions civilians are forced to make during war. People leave their entire lives behind. They don’t know if they’ll ever return home.”

He continued, “It’s the little things too. Things we take for granted. Having a routine, feeling calm and knowing when you’ll get your next meal. These are the things that war takes from innocent people. And mental health. Imagine one week you’re at home. Your life feels relatively normal. The next week your city is literally on fire with bombs raining from the sky. That’s what the Ukrainian population is facing today. That level of trauma often sticks with people for life.”

Touching moment

CNN’s Clarissa Ward has shown time and again her brave and exemplary reporting skills covering dangerous situations, including remarkable work over the past two weeks in Ukraine. She is an elite reporter.

She also is a human being.

During a report over the weekend, Ward stopped to help elderly civilians in Ukraine. While talking to anchor John Berman, Ward said, “These people have been under bombardment for seven straight days and are only just leaving their homes, and they’re leaving them reluctantly. And they’re leaving them with the knowledge that they might not be able to go back to them. And you can see many of these people are elderly.”

Ward helped them across some unstable ground.

Later, she stopped to help an elderly woman carry her bag, saying, “I’m just going to help her carry this bag a second. Excuse me, John.”

She carried the bag, comforted the women briefly and continued her excellent reporting throughout.

Boris Johnson for The New York Times

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, last week in London. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote a guest essay for The New York Times on Sunday: “6 Steps the West Must Take to Help Ukraine Right Now.” Johnson wrote, “Never in my life have I seen an international crisis where the dividing line between right and wrong has been so stark, as the Russian war machine unleashes its fury on a proud democracy.”

Among Johnson’s steps:

  • We must mobilize an international humanitarian coalition.
  • We must do more to help Ukraine to defend itself.
  • We must maximize the economic pressure on Mr. Putin’s regime.
  • No matter how long it takes, we must prevent any creeping normalization of what Russia does in Ukraine.
  • We should always be open to diplomacy and deescalation, provided that the government of Ukraine has full agency in any potential settlement.
  • We must act now to strengthen Euro-Atlantic security.

Johnson concluded by saying, “Ukrainians have bravely defended their country. It is their valor that has united the international community. We can’t let them down.”

Tweet of the day

Pope Francis tweeted on Sunday, “I would also like to thank the journalists who put their lives at risk to provide information. Thank you, brothers and sisters, for this service that allows us to be close to the tragedy of that population and enables us to assess the cruelty of a war. #Ukraine #Peace.”

More notable news regarding Russia-Ukraine

CBS Mornings co-host Tony Dokoupil reporting from the Poland-Ukraine border. (Courtesy: CBS News)

Mailing it in

Founded in 1916, the Peninsula Daily News in Port Angeles, Washington, delivers to readers Sunday through Friday. Well, that’s going to change.

The paper announced over the weekend that it has worked out a deal with the U.S. Postal Service and now mail carriers will deliver the paper to subscribers’ mailboxes. As of 2011, the paper has a circulation of around 15,000.

This means two things. First, papers won’t arrive first thing in the morning, but whenever the mail is delivered. And, two, because the mail isn’t delivered on Sundays, the Sunday edition will arrive on Saturday.

In a story in the Peninsula Daily News, Terry Ward — the publisher of the Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum — said, “We believe this partnership with the U.S. Postal Service is a win-win. It promises to be better for our readers in that delivery should become more consistent, especially as we streamline our processes to ensure same-day delivery.”

Wait, what about same-day delivery? If the paper is going to be mailed, doesn’t it need to go out days ahead of time? No. Same-day delivery will be ensured using a process called Exceptional Dispatch through the U.S.Postal Service.

Media tidbits

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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