By general consensus in Ukrainian media circles, the amount of jeans in national print media and on TV is generally lower than online, where paid-for news may top out at about a third of the content. And in regional publications it may sometimes even outnumber the untainted material. Obviously, relative frequencies of jeans depend on the editorial policy (for some media outlets, publishing jeans seems like a conscious strategy rather than an occasional guilty pleasure) and on the season (periods of election campaigns are especially abundant).
Surprisingly, perhaps, the going rate for jeans materials at a publication that accepts them is usually not much different from what it charges for an ad of the same space. There is a wrinkle, though: since cash is the only way to pay for the jeans, it generates unreported and untaxed revenues for the publisher, which means extra profit. On the other hand, such expenses can not be used for reducing the tax base for jeans buyer, so that’s an extra cost. As a result, effective price of jeans ends up being slightly higher than that of legitimate advertisement.
Even by black market standards, pricing schemes on the jeans market are rather opaque. But ballpark figures from knowledgeable media sources that were interviewed for this story but who prefer to remain anonymous, are as follows: a lower-traffic website will publish jeans “news” for approximately the equivalent of $40; national publications will ask $200-$300. The most popular print publications charge more—as much as $15,000. And one of the leaders of the Ukrainian TV-market airs a short jeans news story for about $50,000, according to one media manager informed about the situation on the station. Second-tier TV-channels may even offer a “season ticket” for a jeans series, costing as little as $6,000 for spots featured every week for a year (for example, this may involve regular reports on a company presenting computers or furniture to high schools boosting its corporate social responsibility credentials). If a client engaged in some political or business conflict wants to bring attention to his point of view, or a news story about his competitor not to be reported, or even to publish entirely fabricated “news”—that would raise the rates by 1.5 to two times, according to people in the business.
While news texts are published in a form close to originals prepared by the client’s marketing or public relations staff, analysis and opinion jeans stories are sometimes redrafted by editorial staff writers and published under their bylines, at a cost of $1,000 or so. Page one of a national newspaper goes for $5,000 to $50,000 depending on the circulation and what the “story” is about. A right-wing newspaper would charge more for giving space on their cover to Communist Party propaganda than to any national-democratic party—but it would run it. A large-scale two-to-three months long jeans media campaign consisting of materials repeatedly shown on television, broadcasted on radio, published in the online and printed outlets would cost around $60,000, these news executives say.
One possible reason for the prevalence of news corruption is that the pie of advertising expenditures in Ukraine is fairly small, and the media market is highly fragmented. Here’s how the country breaks down against a nominally similar Poland and also against the U.S.:
This structure probably impacts the media entities’ perception of the game they are playing: for most of them the ad-spend equivalent of reputation is tiny, and it is also highly dispersed as they share the blame with hundreds of other equally uninfluential participants (by the same token, those going against the wind of jeans have hard times trying to differentiate themselves and to capitalize on their fastidiousness).
As to the benefactors of jeans, IMI’s report accuses—by name—many incumbent politicians, including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, first Vice Prime Minister Sergiy Arbuzov, head of Kyiv City State Administration Oleksandr Popov, of deploying jeans in their communications strategy. Members of Ukrainian parliamentary opposition do not shy away from jeans either: Mykola Katerynchuk from Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna faction regularly pushes own jeans materials into the media. Out-of-parliament opposition uses jeans too, with Viktor Medvedchuk and his pro-Russian movement Ukrainskyi Vybir among them. Communists are particularly fond of the jeans technology, sometimes ordering very expensive episodes on the leading Ukrainian TV-channels. One can not accuse them of inconsistency though, as far as decades-long Soviet traditions of meddling with media reporting are concerned. Generally, politicians avoid commenting on the jeans problem as it is not in the center of public attention, and when asked by journalists directly, they deny their own involvement.