On October 16, 1930, the first copy of the Moscow News, Russia’s oldest English-language newspaper, was issued.
The Moscow News was originally founded by the American socialist Anna Louise Strong as an international newspaper, spreading the ideas of socialism to the international audience. Approved by the Communist leadership under Joseph Stalin at that time, the format of the newspaper was adapted for the foreign specialists working in the Soviet Union and it was soon published in many major world languages, like French, German, Spanish, and Arabic. From 1949 till 1955, the newspaper was shut down on the Politburo’s order, as the editor-in-chef Mikhail Borodin was arrested for “cosmopolitism” – that is, for extensive cooperation with overseas organizations, and allegedly ended his life in one of the Gulag camps.
The paper resumed publication under the close supervision of the Communist Party on January 4, 1956. It was considered one of the country’s major printed media outlets and, like every printed medium in the country, it always had its propaganda advisor, and its editors-in-chief had to learn ways to get round it. One of the editors, Yakov Lomko, recalled:
“I always had the same excuse that worked: It will be hard for the Western reader to grasp.”
Almost fully devoted to the transcripts of Nikita Khrushchev’s speeches in 1956, the paper’s editorial board gradually included a wider scope of information about the Soviet Union, both culturally and politically, to appeal to a diverse audience and make people interested in the Soviet Union. With time, new features were introduced to the format; the paper’s editorial board welcomed native speakers to not only serve purely linguistic purposes, but to also make the content more authentic.
The paper was government-subsidized, and the publishing house saved every kopeck they could spare. Once, having received 26,000 pounds sterling for a foreign tobacco commercial – an unprecedented profit – they were harshly reprimanded by the International Relations Committee, the body overseeing all international affairs. Regardless, the editorial board used every chance they could get to benefit from advertising firms who exported their goods to the Soviet Union. Part of the extra profits was allowed for the construction of the employee accommodation and contests on figure-skating and gymnastics.
By 1970, The Moscow News had a circulation of 650,000 copies. The largest circulation was in the countries where English was not the native language. Around 20,000 copies were regularly sent to the United States, a fact that made the US Department of State very worried. After a special survey asking “What makes you read ‘The Moscow News’?” the paper’s circulation in the States and the general attention to the paper significantly declined, as the readers feared legal reprisals for reading Soviet press.
Though designed as the major socialist voice of the English-speaking world, the editors also did their best to put as much factual information in it as was possible, and sometimes, it often contained information that was not to be found anywhere in the Soviet press. Therefore, it made the paper’s popularity grow among the Soviets as well, and became the major authentic English language source for language university students. The Soviet authorities, however, didn’t object, as they thought it better to allow the Soviet people to read the approved Soviet version than to lay their hands on the authentic foreign publications.
One of the most determined advocates of Gorbachev’s policy in the 1980s, the Moscow News was the first to write about controversial, never-before seen materials on soviet history and publish critical articles by a range of prominent intellectuals. Readership increased to one million copies per week and the paper was read throughout the country, as well as being circulated in 140 other countries.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, bar the English edition, all of the foreign editions were shut down. Since then, the paper changed owners and, consequently, its format several times. It remains very popular among English-speaking foreigners in Russia.