Being a journalist in Armenia seems to be a very easy job and at the same time, it requires titanic efforts to get noticed and gain clout.
Journalists have not had a monopoly on reporting information for a long time, but rather deal with secondary and tertiary channels of information. And they have to maneuver between the policy of their editorial offices and their own principles. Sometimes these maneuvers carry traces of serious compromises.
Arshaluys Mghdesyan is one of the journalists who works a lot, both on the topics she has chosen and on herself. Also choosing which media platform to work with (and that choice is sometimes really a challenge).
Political ears are visible behind almost everyone, including journalists. How can a journalist’s material, especially in the interview format, be made interesting, but without both the journalist and the audience falling into political traps?
When it comes to inviting a guest or getting a comment on a topic, politics cannot be avoided.
First, you should know the topic well, then try to understand whether the invited guest wants to advance their interests through you, do they propagandize by painting one side to be black and the other white or will they really give an objective comment on the topic?
Of course, it is difficult, because it may seem to the journalist that they hear an objective opinion, but if they dig a little deeper and spend time, they can see a completely different picture.
For example, make sure that they are not spreading an objective word, but the position of the interested party. I think it is difficult to avoid it. But we should not invent something special, we should try to be as versatile and deep as possible.
In my opinion, the genre of interview solves several problems. First, the topic should be interesting, then the person who speaks should open up and make it clear to the audience what they did in the past and what they say now.
It is worth the guests on the spot, but not to show that the journalist is powerful, but for the guest to be more responsible for what they say, especially if they contradict themself. After all, the public does not have to remember and be familiar with everyone’s past or know their previous statements made on public platforms.
Now, in an age full of information, it is difficult to remember everything. The journalist gives a reminder.
And if we are talking about, say, the pre-election situation, I would not want to become a platform where the guests will preach in favor of their party. In order not to become a propaganda platform, the journalist’s questions are important, which will help to create a realistic image.
Isn’t there an impression that the profession of a journalist is not highly appreciated, including from the financial point of view? It seems that journalism is more of a service sector.
When I entered journalism in 2009, there were already such rumors, with almost the same frustration that our profession is not valued, we are poor and so on.
Now, of course, there are more media resources, although it is difficult to call many media outlets as such, they are websites that have nothing to do with journalism, they just rotate their content on different platforms and channels. And although some of their news may seem normal, the other part is clear propaganda.
There are unique media outlets and journalists, but the general media field is in a bad condition.
Of course, general salaries and sources of financial resources are usually not enough. That is why many journalists try to do several things at the same time. I also cooperate with several platforms, including foreign ones. This is how I try to solve my financial problems.
Yes, no matter what you do, no matter where you go, sooner or later you will face financial and everyday problems. And here is the question of how strong your inner borders will be from a professional perspective.
You choose the media that are professionally acceptable to you. And you work.
It is interesting that now maybe there are more good journalists than media outlets where you can work.
It is from the policy created in the country. Five or ten years ago, there were no black and white media, that is, media that are specifically positioned as good and soft or hard and bad.
Then the rules of the game changed in the media field. In the past, one could do journalism depending on the authorities, while trying to maintain balance, even criticizing officials, and so on.
In other words, at that time we were all in a little self-deceived state, we were working, thinking that this is journalism.
It’s not so now. I am not saying that it is good now, the situation is just different. Human relations were also hit hard.
There are colleagues with whom you could work calmly in the past, but now seeing their assessments based on their political orientation, you even think twice about whether it is worth greeting them or if you’re better off crossing the street and not talking to them.
The general tense situation affects everyone, although, of course, journalists should try to be more like biologists, observers of the environment. But in any case, we are also under the influence of a tense situation. And that is very bad.
After 2018, most of the media involuntarily became the opposition. And it was not their choice, it just turned out that way. Journalists together with their media outlets became the opposition. Again involuntarily.
Many things are decided by financial sources.
The media outlet, which has an average number of employees, has to look for serious financial means in order to at least maintain what it has. Advertising alone will not save the media. And in general, no serious media in the world is fed only by advertising, everyone needs stable financial injections.
Another issue is that the financial sources of many media outlets are not transparent.
Although everyone in Armenia understands all too well where their money comes from and whose interests they promote.
And how do you formulate what a good interview is?
For me, there are important components: visibility and feedback. Moreover, clever responses, as there may be thousands of comments, but most of them will be meaningless swearing, which will not even be read.
It is always good that experts in the field, scientists, are people who are ready to respond with an interesting discussion.
Perhaps I should put it like this, the nature of the conversation that arises after the interview is important.
Isn’t the expert community narrow? If we exclude self-proclaimed experts, it will be difficult to find free-thinking and knowledgeable people who have something to say in public.
Definitely so. There are even cases when you call a scientist or expert in a field, but they refuse to speak or comment.
I remember that during the sharp political controversies and regular tensions I could not invite any serious economic expert. Many people said that they did not want to speak because no matter how they spoke, the audience would try to put them in this or that camp.
When serious experts refuse to appear in the media, our work really suffers. As it is, those people are few.
Many do not want to be politicized, that is why they try to remain silent. And instead of their words, the field is often filled with information garbage.
When I go home and hear my family members asking questions, I realize that without realizing I begin to give media literacy lessons because everyone reads that rubbish.
They read even the most incredible information garbage, which is circulated and spread due to online algorithms. Using the logic of trying to get people to stay online for as long as possible, instead of providing them with the right information.
Is the media changing in the run-up to the elections?
The field is becoming more polarized. And this is natural because most of the actors in the media field are not media outlets, but structures and means that advance political positions.
And when their owners are satisfied with their lives, those media outlets do not seem to have a problem to solve, they can reduce the number of employees or shut them down altogether.
There are media outlets in Armenia that were on the verge of closing because their manager or financier did not need them.
But when the financier had problems (political and otherwise), the media outlet became sharply active.
Now we see that many platforms are expanding, journalists are hired, money is being spent on new content, even though they were dormant in the past.
So, it is expected that everything will increase, especially hate speech, which will spread mainly from unidentified accounts, in order to avoid legislative restrictions.
They will also start working on Armenia with small teams, labeling someone as black, whitewashing someone else, depending on the customer.
As far as I can see from the unannounced campaign, the authorities will try to work more not with the population of Yerevan or big cities, but with people living outside the social centers, in the regions, who need justice, but are less aware of the information they are consuming.
In general, what media projects does the audience that is already witnessing the collision of the poles everywhere, need?
There was a time when I felt the need for serious pluralistic discussions, TV talk shows, and so on. But such in-depth conversations, even if done with the right people, I am afraid, will not have a large audience. They will be watched by one or two thousand people and will not leave a significant impact.
Sometimes I ask myself, do people get knowledge, information, analysis as a result of public discussions or not?
I really like the genre of political satire, which I think is lacking. But political satire should not be done using the methods of ten years ago, otherwise, it will suffer.
Political topics quickly lose their urgency, especially when they spread through the filters of social networks. Probably in that genre, it’s not actors that we need, but journalists with a deeper knowledge of the topic.
Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan