Few Russian newspapers have faced as much adversity as “Novaya gazeta.”
Best known for its hard-hitting investigative reports on government corruption and rights abuses in the North Caucasus, the newspaper has come under intense government pressure in its two decades of existence.
It has battled several high-profile lawsuits, suffered serious financial woes in the mid-1990s, and its website has been hit by a series of crippling cyberattacks.
In a country rated as one of the world’s most-dangerous places for journalists, its reporting has earned international accolades but has also put its reporters in considerable danger.
No publication in Russia has had as many of its journalists killed as “Novaya gazeta,” including its star reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
At times, the opposition-leaning newspaper has seemed on the brink of closure. But two decades after its creation, “Novaya gazeta” is still a fixture on the Russian media landscape.
“The people working here uphold certain political, moral, and human values,” says the paper’s deputy editor, Vitaly Yaroshevsky. “This is what has enabled us to survive even in the toughest of times. The newspaper also learned to defend itself and its people. Despite the terrible losses, the killing of six of our colleagues, we learned to counter the authorities, unfair courts, and threats.”
PHOTO GALLERY: 'Novaya Gazeta' -- Still Going Strong After 20 Years
The newspaper was launched on April 1, 1993 by a group of journalists who left the daily “Komsomolskaya pravda” in protest of its Kremlin-friendly editorial line.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev used some of the money he received for his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize to help set up the paper and purchase its first computers.
He currently owns a 10-percent share in the newspaper. Another 39 percent of shares belong to businessman Aleksandr Lebedev, with the remaining 51 percent controlled by the newspaper’s staff.
‘Less Boisterous, More Thorough’
As Kremlin pressure on the media intensified with Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, “Novaya gazeta” consolidated its reputation as one of Russia’s few truly independent media outlets.
According to Yaroshevsky, the newspaper has raised its profile further in recent years.
“I would say it has become less boisterous,” he says. “It is more thorough, more restrained, more analytical, deeper than it used to be. Talented, prominent authors have joined the newspaper. And, of course, it has become skilled at using new technologies. We now have a strong website that is growing by the day. We also now have new genres such as video reports.”
“Novaya gazeta” has focused much of its efforts on uncovering instances of rights violations or government corruption and abuse of power.
It has also conducted in-depth investigations into the biggest scandals to rock Russia over the past two decades, including the bombing of Moscow apartment blocks in 1999, which sparked the second war in Chechnya, the Dubrovka and the Beslan hostage tragedies, as well as the rape and murder of a Chechen girl by Russian Colonel Yuri Budanov.
Unsurprisingly, its reporting has drawn the ire of authorities and resulted in a handful of lawsuits.
Journalists and freelance contributors have also been the subject of countless death threats.
Several have been assaulted and six have been killed -- Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in 2006; Yuri Shchekochikhin, who died from a mysterious illness widely suspected to be the result of radioactive poisoning; Sveta Olyuk, killed in 2006; and freelance journalist Anastasia Baburova, who was shot dead in 2009 together with human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov as they left a news conference in Moscow; and rights campaigner Natalya Estemirova, kidnapped in Chechnya and killed in 2009.
Nonetheless, Yaroshevsky is still confident about “Novaya gazeta's" future.
“There are many threats, many risks, little money,” he says. “But this is a rather standard situation for Russian newspapers that refuse to bow down. I consider our future with serenity because our newspaper has developed an extraordinary knack for survival. Besides, things have been a lot worse. The situation is not very good, of course, but it’s not catastrophic either.”