Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize

2018 Recipient

Natalia Roudakova

Losing Pravda: Ethics and the Press in Post-Truth Russia

Established in 1983, the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, sponsored by the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) and the Stanford University Center for Russian and East European Studies, is awarded annually for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the United States in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Natalia Roudakova
Title: Losing Pravda: Ethics and the Press in Post-Truth Russia (Cambridge University Press).

Roudakova’s Losing Pravda: Ethics and The Press in Post-Truth Russia is a novel, penetrating, and highly contrarian analysis of the relationship between journalists and their audiences in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Against the widespread belief that Soviet-era journalists were merely mouthpieces for the regime they served, Roudakova argues that in fact many journalists had the courage to speak the truth. Drawing on a unique combination of social theory and ethnographic evidence, she demonstrates that audiences recognized and respected these journalists precisely because such frank and courageous speech was relatively rare. As she notes, the Soviet citizenry came to identify with journalists who voiced their popular discontent with the injustices of the Soviet regime.

Roundakova shows that the collapse of the Soviet Union did not, as was widely expected, free journalists to hold government accountable. Instead the regime change ultimately severed the relationship between Russian journalists and their audiences. Subjected to the disciplining logic of the market, journalists lost their interest in the pursuit of truth and became friends of the powerful. Their former audience, disillusioned that the postSoviet period did not bring about the redemption promised by democracy and the market, coped by losing faith in both journalism and the broader value of truth-telling. The end result has been an erosion of collective truth that, ultimately, paved the way for Putin’s dominance of Russian politics.

Losing Pravda is a superb cultural study—carefully researched, clearly written, and tightly argued, that deserves to be read broadly, as it is relevant for understanding not only contemporary Russia, but our own political predicament in the age of social media and “fake news.”

Honorable Mention: Ana Antic