You’ve been tricked. I do want you to read this article—very much, in fact. And I had a whole wonderful introduction prepared, that described in no simple terms a busy morning at the Armenian Weekly—in which “Rupen and I sift through the bountiful, daily harvest of fresh, succulent headlines from around the world!”—followed by a cautious, somewhat apologetic paragraph reminding you that “we do our best with the resources we have, but we can’t do it all…”
But like I said, I want you to actually read this article, so let’s just skip the B.S. and cut to the chase: There are some updates you should know about. We’ve recently introduced a new type of article to the Weekly, which we’re calling a media review.
What is a media review? Well, I’m glad you asked. This may change as we continue experimenting with the form, but for now, media reviews are medium-length articles that tackle a particular current event. The difference between a review and a regular news report is not huge on the surface, but the key difference is this: Rather than focusing the news on what actually happened, the emphasis is more on finding meaning in the media coverage surrounding it. Because while our staff is somewhat limited in our ability to report breaking news on the ground in Armenia (our offices are based in Watertown, Mass. and we have a full-time staff of two), we are exceedingly well-positioned to report on the way the news is reported—which, to be quite honest, is oftentimes more important.
I initially suggested this new approach to current events because I selfishly wanted to make my job a bit easier. The pressure would no longer be for me to tell the news from Armenia as it happened—which can be tricky as I am not physically present to experience it and cannot always easily access primary sources. But I soon realized that, my workload notwithstanding, presenting current events this way could actually be doing a big service to the landscape of Armenian media.
You see, here’s the situation with Armenian news: There is a pretty standard practice of publishing and re-publishing information without providing links to original sources. This makes news from Armenia an avalanche of regurgitated facts, and anyone wishing to actually check those facts must undertake an extremely tedious scavenger hunt. Daily, we are being bombarded with disconnected facts, and yet, the larger picture—and thus, the truth—remains obscured. “I see,” said the blind man.
The point is, having facts isn’t enough: Readers need context. Because even if a fact is accurate, it can still be misleading. Both CNN and Fox News may be reporting facts—but those they report versus those they omit on current events like, for example, school shootings? Well, they each paint a very different picture of what’s going on in the world, one which is either black (“We have a gun problem!”), or it’s white (“We have a people problem!”). When you put those accounts side-by-side, you start to see the grey. And maybe I’m too optimistic about this, but it’s in that grey area that I think we start to get somewhere close to the truth—or at the very least, understanding.
It’s also the case that the perspectives popping up in the media about a particular issue become, in a way, facts themselves. An article may be one-sided, or it may contain opinions some consider offensive, but the fact that someone feels that way, or reported the news that way is just that: a fact. And usually, it adds something to the larger conversation.
Still reading? Let me show you what I mean in practice. I recently implemented a vision for what a media review could look like in my latest piece about Asya Khachatryan, the 19-year-old girl from Yerevan, who gave a 22-minute long video interview testifying to repeated harassment by law enforcement officials from Artsakh, who she says targeted her for her gender (she was walking alone on the street late at night, apparently an unusual phenomenon in Artsakh), her appearance (she has blue hair and piercings, also uncommon in this isolated enclave), and her Armenian citizenship.
This was sensitive subject matter (one peek at our comments section proves that). Khachatryan’s testimony, filled with Russian slang and the charming linguistic idiosyncrasies of an angsty teen from Yerevan, evoked deeply divided responses across Armenian media as soon as it went live. The story touched upon many controversial themes affecting Armenian society today—civil rights, gender inequality, and police brutality—but perhaps what stung the most was that Khachatryan’s story called into question the state of Armenia-Artsakh relations.
Was her story a sign that the Armenians of Artsakh are growing increasingly disenfranchised with their counterparts in the Republic of Armenia? Or maybe her experience is more to do with the gender discrimination that is rampant in the region, where the male policemen felt threatened by Khachatryan’s forthright demeanor (something they, being so isolated in Artsakh, rarely experience)? Or maybe it’s an indicator of how worryingly culturally closed Artsakh has become? And how trustworthy is Khachatryan in all of this (she’s only 19)? Or is questioning the validity of her claims something a patriarchal society would do, gaslighting women into justifying to their oppressor that they’ve been oppressed?
There is so much grey area to work with here, because one or all of these things can be true simultaneously. For this reason, we were very intentional about structuring this piece, which covers information from primary sources—the article provides a detailed description of Khachatryan’s testimony and a summary of responses from Artsakh officials—and a review of local arguments emerging in Armenian press from various thought leaders. But despite all our good intentions, we got a lot of heat.
Some readers took my detailed account of Khachatryan’s testimony to mean that we (the Armenian Weekly newspaper) agree with or endorse its contents. Readers accused—not me, but our entire paper of taking sides in this issue, and publishing a “one-sided” article that sought to drive a wedge between Armenia and Artsakh—a bizarre allegation considering the lengths we had gone to ensure all sides had been represented.
We had hoped utilizing a more objective format—the media review—might make it more obvious to the reader where our publication stands on the issue of Armenia and Artsakh. As a paper of the ARF, we support a unified Armenian front. But as journalists, it’s also our job to keep you informed. And by composing this media review—in effect, pioneering a new style of reporting to give you all the tools you need in order to form your own opinions about what’s going on—we were doing just that.
That’s not to say we don’t want your criticism, but for a consensus to emerge that the article we published was “one-sided” simply because the events it reported do not align with our readership’s ideal vision for how things should be?
What we published wasn’t an op-ed. It wasn’t an opinion piece or an editorial. It was a fact-based review of a current event and a survey of the public’s reaction to it. Khachatryan’s testimony may not be palatable to some, but like it or not, her testimony is the source material from which these volatile responses have emerged. To ignore it, skim over it, or simply not report it would be doing an enormous disservice to our readers. And that it has caused such a tidal wave of response? Well, that, dear readers, is a fact. And our editorial team not reporting on it, or pretending it never happened, does not make it less so.