Transformations of Journalism and Literature

Hovhannes Yeranyan


Every historical period has its special rhetoric and pathos, and accordingly introduces a new vocabulary and new genres in both journalism and literature into the database of languages.

Between a tweak and the truth

Throughout the Middle Ages, the language of literature and historiography was full of religious terminology, words of confession and repentance. The Renaissance brought its own vocabulary to the language; Romanticism, its; and so on. The 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, on one hand, enriched languages with the vocabulary of revolutions, wars, and then humanism, and, on the other hand, terms and phrases that characterized industrial progress. The end of the 20th century and these years of the 21st century most of all introduced technological upheavals, and hundreds of words and phrases suggesting new technologies into the language database.

When mass journalism became a separate field of human activity, a new linguistic quality, named information language, came forward. Initially, print newspapers, then radio and television, and much later, the internet. The language of each of these is somewhat different from the features that characterize it.

Besides, depending on the democracy level of a country and extent of its media freedom, the rhetoric and language of imparting information likewise differ.

The more despotic the country, the less the need for information is felt — we’ve already experienced this.

Here one of the main conditions of journalism, urgency, loses its significance, and political opportunity permits only two types of news: bright optimism and gloomy pessimism.

Naturally, the bright and colorful had to do with the internal life of an unfree country where no one had the right not to be happy and proud, not to admire their leader and the political force leading the country. The biggest news event, about which media outlets were obliged to report, were the visits and decrees of the leader that say nothing, his identical speeches uttered at different conferences, which after they were written could be read on different occasions for decades to come.

Naturally, under such conditions, the most frequently used phrase becomes “Long live,” and understandably, the language thus appears in crisis. On the other hand, the other face of a totalitarian country’s information activity is gloomy pessimism, which refers to news outside the country, news of competing or rival countries.

For example, residents of Soviet countries thought that in America every day there was a flood or storm, or earthquake or volcano eruption, which claimed the lives mainly of innocent working people and black people, whereas in their own countries, even natural disasters hesitated before the iron will of the Communist Party.

In the post-Stalin era, when, on one hand, glorification and, on the other hand, defamation and accusation of the leader were extruded from the media, the most tragic news that could’ve reached consumers was the decline in cows’ milk, the 110% overfulfillment of agricultural plans instead of the assumed 120% commitment, a machine breaking in some factory, and so on.

And so, Soviet citizens consuming information didn’t know that one of the largest meteorites to reach our planet had fallen on their country, and only by accidental luck did it not destroy a densely populated city and just a large segment of Taiga. 

We didn’t know that the country’s second largest port, Batumi, had turned completely into ash because of an idea to eliminate a rat infestation in the warehouses by burning them. Along with the rats burned the port. The Armenian firefighter who suggested the idea was shot; the port was rebuilt; but few people knew about this and only decades later. 

Or, the ten-year Soviet fire service was unable to extinguish the terrible gas-well fire, and only with the use of a nuclear weapon did it solve the issue, and the country and the world learned about this only 40 years later. There are countless examples. 

When information becomes undesirable and mass media outlets are silenced (or they bend to the rules that are dictated), then the duty to tell the truth is unwittingly placed on art, particularly on literature. 

And so, the Soviet public began to search in literature what it wasn’t finding in the media. But literature likewise couldn’t pursue the goal of telling the truth — neither the censors who oversaw the country’s ideological orbit nor the gods of the interest and pure mission of literature would permit it.

That is, literature cannot be a substitute for mass media; it’s just that the hidden word comes to supplement literature’s aesthetic and purely literary attributes.

The bibliophile public began to seek either banned literature called samizdat, or the subtext or hidden meaning in permitted literary works. And so, the criteria for a writer’s talent became the ideological foundations of the state, the courage to tweak the public’s morals and daily life.

In this context, it may seem mysterious, the fact that the people who were silenced and suffered the most from the Soviet regimes, we Armenians, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, had almost no banned books. The only exception were most of Ler Kamsar’s literary heritage and Gurgen Mahari’s Barbed Wires in Blossom.

Had Armenian journalists said so much that they had released the writer from his duty and left him purely the fight for art and aesthetics? No, of course, they hadn’t. It’s just that the Soviet Armenian writer had found his place to express his discontent. That was the hint.

The debate exists till today: is the genre literature or journalism? Without going deep into this debate let us say that the hint had become the most sought because only here could the reader find signs of truth.

Hovhannes Yeranyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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