In December 2018 I received a message on LinkedIn, the world’s most boring social network. It was from Mona Elswah, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, and she and her colleagues wanted to anonymously interview me about my experiences working at RT – specifically how “editorial policies might influence, or not, the news content.”
I politely declined and went about my day. However, Elswah’s team sent out 240 such messages, and 23 people responded. Considering that these 23 were okay with breaking nondisclosure agreements, what they revealed amounted to one big nothingburger.
Regardless, the study was published on Monday, and received considerable attention in the media. According to Politico, it gives an inside look at “Russia’s state-media propaganda machine.”
Unsurprisingly, that machine functions like any other newsroom.
After signing up to work for RT, as I did back in March 2018, journalists are quickly “socialized” into the culture of the company, the study explains. They learn – more often by trial and error than by direction – what kind of content their editors like, and how to produce stories that fit RT’s “Question More” ethos.
This process is the same in any other newsroom, or any corporation, worldwide. Indeed, it was first described by academic Warren Breed in 1955, who studied how British newsrooms at the time worked. Elswah cites Breed’s journal article in her study, and I had to read it in journalism school. It’s not shocking stuff.
Once “socialized,” the journalists Elswah and her team spoke to described how they’d write stories critical of the West. In the academic’s own words, they’d “push the idea that Western countries have as many problems as Russia…encourage conspiracy theories about media institutions in the West…[and] create controversy.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that RT is critical of the West. A simple glance at our website is enough to confirm that. Yet with the West marred by rioting on the streets and political division in Washington, discontent between NATO allies, and cultural rot the world over, criticism is healthy and necessary.
Likewise, it’s not a “conspiracy theory” that mainstream media outlets lie. Just tune in to Rachel Maddow to see Alex Jones-tier conspiracies broadcast at prime time. Or read the CIA press releases disguised as news in the New York Times.