Where’s Putin?

In a variation off of the Today Show’s annual segment “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?”, which is itself a take-off on the children’s game-book series Where’s Waldo?, Vladimir Putin disappeared from public view for about a week.

NBC News almost playfully asked in its headline: “Where in the World is Russian President Vladimir Putin?”

In its headline, the New York Times observed more wryly: “Putin Has Vanished, but Rumors Are Popping Up Everywhere.”

And the Far Right media predictably went haywire. World Net Daily was typical in asking in its headline: “Is Putin Dead?”

Finally, the Daily Beast reported that media sources in Italy and Switzerland were making competing claims that Putin had accompanied his much younger lover to an upscale clinic for the birth of their child. I would like to give the Daily Beast credit for bringing a reportorial dignity to the story, but its headline could have been on the front page of the New York Post or some supermarket tabloid: “Is Putin in Switzerland for Birth of Secret Love Child?”

Regardless of whether of your opinion of Putin as a political leader, should we be reporting on him as if he were one of the Kardashians?

What if he were actually seriously ill or dead? Would that not be a cause for serious concern? After all, his death so soon after the assassination of a major leader of one of the opposition parties would suggest a power struggle for control of the nation that still has, by far, the second largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. We were certainly not this blithe about what was going on in the Kremlin when Yeltsin succeeded Gorbachev.

A less topical but far more interesting piece on Putin is one that Elena Hlodny wrote for Business Insider in December 2014: “Putin’s Extraordinary Path from Soviet Slums to the World’s Stage” [http://www.businessinsider.com/vladimir-putin-most-powerful-person-czar-2014-12?op=1]. The article is presented as a slideshow, which somewhat trivializes it, but it still manages to be fairly substantive and insightful.

Or, on second thought, perhaps it is simply a number of notches above the “Where’s Waldo?” level of the recent coverage. You will have to decide for yourselves.

As journalism is becoming more digital and news is at our fingertips, it seems as if there is an ever-increasing tendency to distill each story to the size of a fingertip. For every news site such as Vice or Vox, there are dozens of sites that have been seduced by the model provided by Twitter and Reddit.

I see this same tension in how we use digital media to communicate with our members and our other constituencies. We seem caught between the alternatives of trying to address complex issues in soundbites that will attract attention and strike the “right note” and trying to present readable but lengthy and substantive analyses of the issues that even by their scope and depth convey the complexity of those issues. Right now, the only way out of this either-or conundrum seems to be to communicate our positions across the full range of available platforms and to allow our targeted audiences to decide which type of messaging suits them.


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