A couple months ago, we had the opportunity to chat with Wyatt Ford about his adventures abroad. Check out what he has to say about working for a newspaper in Russia!
Tell me about The Kazan Herald. How did it begin? How did you get involved?
The Kazan Herald is the brainchild of Rustem Yunusov, the current Editor-In-Chief. Rustem went to Serbia in 2009, as part of a student-volunteer delegation sent from Tatarstan to help out at the Universiade. While there, he came across a popular English-language newspaper. Rustem immediately saw that a similar paper would be hugely beneficial for Kazan and Tatarstan, with the huge influx of English-speaking tourists that would come to the Universiade in Kazan in 2013. In April 2009, Kazan also became the official third capital of Russia, after St. Petersburg and Moscow, both of which have independent, English-language newspapers. It was only logical that Kazan needed its own, so that it could rightly take its place in the newly-formed troika.
The next year, Rustem saw the rationale for founding such a paper in Kazan become even stronger, as record tourists figures were projected for 2010, and the city and republic began to make concrete preparations for the incoming English-speakers. Having a background in journalism himself—he had interned for Florida’s Daytona Beach News Journal while living in the United States in 2006, graduated from Kazan State University’s Journalism and Sociology Department, and worked for various local media in Tatarstan—Rustem decided to put together a team and start an independent, English-language newspaper himself. The Kazan Herald’s first issue came out on 7 May 2010.
I first came across The Kazan Herald in June 2010 in IQ Bar. Holding the paper in my hands, I immediately felt the latent writer within me reawaken. (I was heavily involved in my high school’s independent newspaper, and contributed periodically to the Spectator during my years at Columbia.) After a three-month sojourn in the United States, I returned to Kazan, finally met Rustem in October, and began collaborating with him and the rest of The Kazan Herald’s editorial staff.
To date, The Kazan Herald has published eleven print issues, and maintains a regularly-updated website, thekazanherald.com.
What kind of hurdles have you overcome during this process?
One significant hurdle was the need to expand the writer base from the core group that was involved with the paper from the very beginning. We have managed to do this recently, by tapping into the various international students who, under different flags and in differing capacities, find themselves in Kazan. The Kazan Herald has begun holding bimonthly meetings for the paper’s enthusiasts and contributors to meet, discuss the direction and content of the paper, and come up with new article ideas. This process has yielded interesting results, most noticeably redirecting the focus of coverage to emphasize the arts and cultural offerings of Kazan.
The most significant hurdle that remains is stabilizing the newspaper’s finances. Advertisers are very cautious here and have failed to see the potential of advertising in a paper aimed at an educated audience.
What kind of audience is the Kazan Herald addressing?
The audience is two-fold. First, it is English-speakers in Kazan, whether on business, tourism, or living here. The paper is designed to provide English-language information to them that they might otherwise have trouble gathering through the Russian-language sources.
Equally important, however, is our second audience: locals studying English. We are conscious that this paper is a valuable resource for them, as it is a trove of authentic materials that they can relate to. The articles are written for the first audience, but we try to make them as accessible to students as possible. We’ve created several lesson plans based on articles in the paper, and have recently begun recording audio files of the texts with the hopes that English teachers will incorporate them into their lesson plans. And indeed, this is already happening. Just yesterday, an acquaintance told me that his university teachers are using The Kazan Herald articles as springboards for group conversation tasks.
What role does social media play in the development of your paper? Is your audience more responsive to your online work?
It is no surprise that social media has helped us build our readership. Our statistics are very clear: most of the visitors to our site get there through links they’ve found on Facebook, Twitter, or Vkontakte. With the print version, it is more of a guessing game. It’s harder to know who is reading the paper. Still, that the papers do not last long in the hotel lobbies and cafes suggests that people are taking them and reading them. Similarly, the letters that we’ve gotten from America and Europe demonstrate what has so far been our pattern of development: foreigners discover the paper in print form and then continue to read it upon leaving Tatarstan.