CHAGRIN FALLS — Their names were a symphony of vowel sounds and read like the cast of characters from a Chekov play:
Igor Yuryevich Marfenkov
Aleksey Aleksandrovich Semin
Yekaterina Vladimirovna Simokhina
Natalya Faridovna Brykina
Mariya Sergeyevna Dobroskokina
Ilya Vladimirovich Alimov
But, no, they were not fictional beings but real people – journalists from Volgograd, Russia – who spent time in Chagrin Falls on Oct. 30, talking to their American counterparts at the Chagrin Valley Times.
Two others, a facilitator and an interpreter, helped everyone bridge the language and culture divide during the visit.
The group of newspaper journalists, editors and radio presenters visited American auspices of the Council of International Programs USA (CIPUSA), with offices in Chagrin Falls and the Library of Congress “Open World Program.”
Its stated goal is to offer “firsthand exposure to the American system of participatory democracy and free enterprise, the principles of accountability, transparency and citizen involvement in government.”
These principles were viewed from the visitors’ vantage point as reporters and editors who work for news outlets owned by the Russian government or private companies sympathetic to the government, according to CIPUSA.
Times owner and Publisher Kenneth Douthit III fielded questions that ranged from newspaper financing to ownership and the meaning of the term “a free press.”
“My mother and I own the newspaper,” he began. “We have 12 (newspapers), and our revenues come from about 25 percent subscriptions and the rest from advertising.”
The publication offers a value-added web presence free to subscribers, Mr. Douthit explained.
He told the group that he and his newspapers do not answer to government, nor is their content dictated by corporations or political interest groups.
Editor Ellen J. Kleinerman led a tour of the graphics department where graphic artist Maureen Bole was plucking news stories from computer files and plugging them into an electronic facsimile of that week’s newspaper.
Smartphone cameras clicked away as she explained the process and kept clicking throughout the tour.
Then Ms. Kleinerman discussed the newspaper’s content in response to an experience of one Russian reporter who related how she quit her job after a story she had written was published with new quotes that did not reflect comments made by the subject of the interview.
“As editor, I check stories for spelling, grammar, clarity and will make corrections and rewrite something if it is not clear,” Ms. Kleinerman said. “I do not change the point of view or the facts.”
The visit continued upstairs to the newsroom where the Times’ newest reporter Julie Hullett, deadline approaching, huddled over her computer. Reporters Krista Kano and Tim Tedeschi were also busy but took a moment to explain their work and responsibilities of putting together the Times’ web presence and Facebook page.
Sports Editor Tony Lange, earbuds in place, was at his computer writing up an interview for that week’s edition. He interrupted himself to greet the delegation then try out the few Russian words he remembered from his student trip to St. Petersburgh.
The Times’ General Manager Amanda Petkiewicz – a trained journalist – discussed her duties including her charge as a graphic designer and staff trainer.
Through it all, Times veteran reporter Joan Demirjian documented their visit with her camera as the newspaper dog Kobe followed along sniffing his own style of welcome.
The Russian journalists expressed delight when gifted with official reporters notebooks and Mr. Lange’s extra copy of the AP Stylebook after explaining its purpose as a guide to writing uniformity.
The newspaper visit was the second half of a day that began with a roundtable question-and-answer session with this reporter.
English speaking radio journalist Aleksey Aleksandrovich Semini said there were no journalism schools in Russia, and the work of news people in this CIPUSA group worked for outlets covering small localized areas.
They are not charged with reporting on major stories involving Russia and its government or international stories about the several incidents of poisoning and acid attacks on Russian civilian enemies.
Mr. Semini said the big stories are often discussed in a joking manner and scoffed at the idea Russia was involved in tampering in the 2016 presidential election or that there were close ties between Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump.
There were shrugs from the group when asked if they knew the organization Reporters Without Borders placed Russia 148 out of 180 countries on its 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
They were equally noncommittal when asked about the inordinate number of journalists murdered in Russia since Mr. Putin took power, although Mr. Semini said the number was not any more than murders occurring in the country’s general population.