By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 6, 2008; Page A01
MOSCOW -- In early 2004, when Svetlana Mironyuk became director general of the Russian news and information agency RIA Novosti, she discovered that the descendant of the Soviet Union's global propaganda machine was dying on its feet.
Some of its writers were still using typewriters from communist days. The agency was publishing just one English-language newspaper, Sputnik, which was supposedly sold in Britain, although Mironyuk said she could find no evidence of that. Travel agents and dentists had moved into RIA's stolid Moscow headquarters building.
"It was a desperate situation," she said.
No more. The agency's newly refurbished offices include a high-tech newsroom, complete with flat screens and a circular news desk, where 300 journalists disseminate a multimedia package of news to an international audience every day.
RIA Novosti is part of a massive effort by Russia to build and project to the world an image of a country where the economy is booming and democracy is developing. The campaign is designed to counter what the government and many people here see as unrelenting and unfair Western criticism of declining political freedoms under President Vladimir Putin, who is preparing to hand over his post, but perhaps little of his power, after the election last Sunday of his handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev.