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March 28, 2024, 10:30 a.m.

How The Wall Street Journal is keeping Evan Gershkovich in the news

“We want everyone to feel they’ve got skin in the game here.”

Friday, March 29 will mark the one-year anniversary of reporter Evan Gershkovich’s wrongful imprisonment in Russia. His employer, The Wall Street Journal, says it won’t rest until he walks free.

As outlined in a flurry of recent editorials and features, Gershkovich was working as a Moscow-based correspondent with official accreditation from the Russian government when he became the first American journalist to be accused of espionage in Russia since the Cold War. Hoping to bring renewed attention to his cause, Gershkovich’s friends, family, and colleagues are joining news industry luminaries and other backers to cold-water swim, run in cities from Brussels to Hong Kong, read for 24 straight hours, gather to demonstrate, and otherwise call for his immediate release.

Gráinne McCarthy, chief digital editor, international for the Journal, is part of the team working to free Gershkovich. She talked about the strategy behind what the Journal calls its “activations” for Gershkovich from the London offices where he once worked.

“I remember very early on, after Evan was seized in Russia and put in this prison in Moscow, we had a relatively new editor-in-chief [Emma Tucker],” McCarthy said. “Her gut reaction was very much, ‘Let’s make some noise.’ We firmly believe that making that noise is valuable on several different fronts.”

“Making Evan feel that he’s not forgotten is something that is incredibly important to us,” McCarthy said, noting that it was important to his family, as well. “It sustains them to see that we’re as active as we can be.”

The Journal does not have any direct contact with Gershkovich, McCarthy said, relying instead on lawyers from a Russian firm that can visit him “pretty much every week,” email routed through Russian officials, and what they can glean from court appearances. The emails — which volunteers help translate, as mandated, into Russian — allow the 32-year-old Gershkovich to hear about the outside world and play chess (very slowly) with his father.

To help secure his release, the Journal is working to share Gershkovich’s story as far and wide as possible. Different parts of his background and detention will connect with different people, after all. The young volunteer readers from the soccer team at Gershkovich’s former high school in New Jersey stood out to McCarthy. Others will be moved hearing that Gershkovich repeated the phrase “accredited journalist” like “a magic shield” when his parents, who emigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, expressed concern for his safety. For me, it was his sister’s appeal in the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Thinking about an empty seat where my own younger brother should be? Immediate tears.)

“We want everyone to feel they’ve got skin in the game here,” McCarthy said.

The biggest goal with keeping Gershkovich’s story visible is maintaining “momentum” with the U.S. government, McCarthy explained. The Journal believes that “our best bet is that this ends in a prisoner swap of some kind,” she said. (The U.S. State Department has stated that Moscow has “provided no justification” for holding Gershkovich. “We believe there is a simple reason for doing that, because he has done nothing wrong,” a spokesperson said. “It’s because journalism is not a crime.”)

“Ultimately,” McCarthy said, “Evan’s future is in the hands of the Russian government and the U.S. government.”

After a year of geopolitical twists and turns, I asked McCarthy whether she felt we were any closer to seeing Gershkovich released. She pointed to “indications” like Putin appearing open to a deal.

“I’m naturally someone who likes to think the glass is half full. I like to maintain that optimism and hope. I know that his family does,” McCarthy said. It was difficult, she acknowledged, to see Gershkovich’s pre-trial detention, in the “notorious” Lefortovo prison, extended again this week.

“But every time I think of how hard it is for us, I think about how hard it is for his family. And I just think of how much harder it is for him,” McCarthy said. “There’s no stopping this. The only victory is when Evan walks out of there.”

The Journal maintains a page with information on Gershkovich — including links to his reporting, updates on his case, and how to write a message to him and his family — here.

Photograph of #IStandWithEvan signs by Wall Street Journal reporter — and former Nieman fellow — Natasha Khan.

Sarah Scire is deputy editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (sarah_scire@harvard.edu), Twitter DM (@SarahScire), or Signal (+1 617-299-1821).
POSTED     March 28, 2024, 10:30 a.m.
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