Thirty years after the Berlin Wall fell, do media consumers, journalists, owners and regulators in central and eastern Europe have the media they hoped for back in 1989? Is the news industry of today in the region sufficiently open, probing and independent to give readers, viewers and users the news they need and the tools and analysis to assess the impact of events? If another Wall was about to fall, would the general public know change was afoot? Or would it still come as a colossal surprise, despite modern technology that enables us to keep track minute-by-minute?
To formulate and address these questions, there is an urgent need for detail and precision to chronicle what has happened in the former Soviet bloc since 1989. Like every other sector, news media has undergone incredible changes in structure. But there is scarce academic research or rigorous mapping of, say, what has happened in central and east European media as a result of the activities of powerful companies, while recent events in Poland and Hungary have demonstrated once more how relatively easy it is for determined governments to pressure the media.
As a Europe’s Futures Fellow in 2020/21, Alison will research how and why the media assume an ever more important role in our societies.
Alison Smale is a British journalist and a veteran editor and correspondent at The New York Times, focusing on international affairs, from 1998 to 2017.
She was based in Bonn, West Germany, for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1983 and in Moscow from 1983 to 1986, chronicling the transitions in Soviet leadership from Andropov to Chernenko to Gorbachev. Then, as the Vienna bureau chief for The Associated Press, she reported extensively from Central Europe, covering the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the postcommunist transitions in Romania and Bulgaria and the war in the Balkans in the 1990s. She is fluent in French, Russian and German. Ms. Smale joined The New York Times in 1998 as the weekend foreign editor, and became deputy foreign editor in 2002. She was in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and organized much of The Times’s prize-winning coverage of the war in Afghanistan and then Iraq. In 2004, Ms. Smale became managing editor of The International Herald Tribune — now the international edition of The New York Times — and was elevated to executive editor in 2009. In 2013, Ms. Smale was named Berlin bureau chief for The New York Times, and covered, among many stories, the refugee and migration crisis in Europe.
In 2017 the United Nations appointed Ms. Smale’s as under secretary general for global communications, the position at which she served until 2019.