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Sirp: the rough renovation

Culture paper overhaul takes painful twist

COMMENT PRINT ARTICLE
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PHOTO: Toomas Huik

As assured yesterday by culture minister Rein Lang and Urmas Klaas, chairman of Sirp’s publisher Kultuurileht Foundation: they are not linked to appointment of Kaur Kender as acting editor-in chief of the newspaper.

According to Mr Klaas, board of Kultuurileht (culture paper) Foundation has properly notified council of its steps leading to appointment of acting editor-in-chief and the signing of his labour contract; organising the new competition and its timing being up to the board.

The board of the said foundation consists of Toomas Väljataga, who, following the publication of Mr Kender’s name has not agreed to comment to Postimees.

The regular competition for finding an editor-in-chief for the culture newspaper Sirp was, in November, announced to have failed, as the former editor-in-chief withdrew his candidacy and, among the remaining three candidates, the selecting committee found none to be fitting. Earlier, Mr Väljataga has mentioned two ways to find a new editor-in-chief: having a new competition or making a targeted tender.

According to data available to Postimees, Mr Lang has discussed Sirp to be published by some media company, which, on basis of a contract to be entered with state or the foundation would take responsibility for publishing and content of the culture newspaper. Allegedly, media businessmen were not interested.

Yesterday, Mr Kender told Public Broadcasting he had contacted Mr Väljataga himself, offering himself as editor-in-chief of Sirp. That might be so, but, according to culture circles, it is hard to believe that Mr Lang and Mr Klaas are not linked to his appointment.

To Postimees’ knowledge, Mr Lang and Mr Klaas met, at the end of last month when the failure of the competition was just a matter of time, at least once with a culture journalist not participating in the competition, inquiring if that person would accept the Sirp job.

According to a culture journalist, who answered no and desired to remain anonymous, Mr Lang had let it be known that should Sirp continue the same old way, he would not find extra money; however, should a capable person take the trouble to lead and renew Sirp, the money would be found.

Mr Tarand, at the helm of Sirp for eight years, called the recent days’ events – lay-offs of literature editor Doris Kareva, movies editor Tarmo Teder, science editor Marek Strandberg and architecture editor Veronika Valk – as contrary to reason.

«Even if all that is happening there, right now, is formally and legally correct, it is totally unacceptable to anyone with common sense,» he told radio Kuku.

Mr Strandberg, former science editor at Sirp,  predicted that, under Mr Kender, the paper would become more loyal to powers-that-be.

Behind the changes at the paper, the former science editor senses the interests of culture minister Mr Lang.

Mr Väljataga, CEO of Foundation Kultuurileht, admitted to radio Kuku that Sirp will no longer have definite editors for certain fields. «Sirp will be a more broad based paper in its making,» said he.

Mr Kender, launching his work as acting editor-in-chief, is bringing along three new employees – writer Tõnu Õnnepalu, musician Robert Kurvits and literary critic Martin Luiga. The latter two are active in a social-critical blog ZA/UM, which has also published the new concept of Sirp.

In the visionary document, real political discussion is promised on opinion pages, equally participated by active politicians of all parties, as well as citizens.

The concept states that an Estonian culture paper needs to serve cultural interests of Estonia more widely – rather just the interests of those already culturally involved in the nation. At the same time, however, culture cannot become a ghetto, pushed into its own corner.

The science pages, they say, will be more involved in publishing IT-news. Also, they promise comments on video games and a high-society corner; as well as investigative journalism.

«Under the new editorship, Sirp would become a paper purposefully aimed at leaving the citizens with a normal impression of the state,» reads www.zaum.ee.

The first Kender-lead Sirp will come off the press on November 22nd.

Sirp

•    A weekly, available on Fridays; print-run: 4,500.

•    According to latest reader poll, an issue is read by 25,000 people.

•    Financed from culture ministry budget; for 2013, the ministry allotted the paper €226,000, which is matched by approximately as much in targeted support.

•    Sirp is published by Foundation (SA) Kultuurileht. The name means ‘sickle’.

•    Established in 1940.

Source: PM

Comments

Juku-Kalle Raid

Publisher of culture paper KesKus

I see nothing catastrophic in Kaur Kender being acting editor-in-chief of Sirp, as in some ways Sirp as such has been stuck in the same place for an awful long time. I believe the shaking to be good in every way.

Mr Kender coming to lead the paper may help it reach a wider readership. Doings by Kaur on the culture landscape, thus far, have reached rather wide masses. I see nothing bad in a culture paper addressing wider masses than before.

Peeter Pere

Chairman, Union of Estonian Architects

Maybe the new Sirp will be a paper of deep content; even so, I have gotten the idea it would become more grass-roots and is supposed to become more readable. That role, however, is being fulfilled by the week-end extra of Eesti Päevaleht, and the AK by Postimees.

The architecture editor Veronika Valk, sacked from Sirp, did an excellent job. For architects, her departure is no good news.

Karl Martin Sinijärv

Chairman, Estonian Writers’ Union

Right now, it is not the issue of persons, nor is it an issue of whether, how and by whom Sirp should be done differently, somehow, as before. The issue is in the totally unacceptable way it has been handled and the way people have been treated. The need and the readiness for changes and development have, for years, been known to editorship, foundation and the ministry. The overnight demolition if a functioning structure and use of brutal measures in a situation where print-run and visits to website are on a constant increase – this points to something else as concern for how Sirp is doing.

Elin Kard

Vice president, Estonian Artists’ Association

For me, the rise of Kaur Kender to lead Sirp is surprising and, in a good way, a bit funny. Verily, never did I think it would be him. Maybe the suddenness is what is interesting here, a black horse on the field of culture. Not that he’d be an outside-of-culture figure, far from that.

Sirp, as a weekly, could be more analytical when writing about art, more thorough; with coverage of art so far, I cannot be too satisfied. Artists would expect an issue of the paper to concentrate more on a single topic, and reporting on current art information.

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