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How Odessa became a capital of journalism in the 19th century


Before the Red revolution, 206 local media were published in Odessa. Among them were not only daily newspapers, but also entertainment magazines. Also, specialised issues were regularly published for various professions: doctors, winemakers, priests, textile workers and even students. The publications were printed in all the languages ​​spoken in the city: Russian, German, French, Greek, Italian and Yiddish.


Newspapers have always been important for big cities, but in a port city like Odessa it was essential for businessmen and merchants to receive information about grain prices, exchange rates and goods received in quarantine. At the beginning of XIX century, they began to publish a newsletter: “Stock sheets“. But traders could also draw other news from foreign newspapers, which were usually laid out for general use on special tables in the building of the first Odessa Stock Exchange.

Odessans preferred reading news in French

However, financial information was not enough for the residents of Odessa; they wanted to find out all the news about their city. In 1820, Jean Davallon, who had arrived in Odessa at the invitation of Richelieu himself, received permission to publish the “Bulletin of South Russia“, which was called in the French manner: Messazhy (from the French “message”). The first issue of the publication came out on April 1, 1820 (fool’s day), as a confirmation of the ironic spirit of the Odessans. At first, the newspaper was published only in French, but a year later a Russian-language edition appeared. However, this attempt was unsuccessful; Odessans preferred the French version.

In Messazhy it was printed information about ships, goods, duties, new official documents and navigation conditions, and advertised the sale and rent of housing. A little later, a cultural chronicle began to appear. Odessa was already such a thriving city to be rich of interesting news. Political news became the only taboo topic for the Messazhy.

But politics was of great interest to the citizens. Then, Davallon obtained permission from the governor Vorontsov to reprint some political articles from St.Petersburg’s newspapers. Very soon the publisher got tired of duplicating the capital city’s point of view and started publishing pieces by his own correspondent in the newspaper.

Upon learning of the violation of the agreement, Vorontsov deprived the publication of the right to print news on politics and demanded to post an announcement on the front page. But Davallon refused to print such a humiliating order. Therefore, the governor closed the newspaper and dismissed Davallon with a “wolf ticket”, without the right to work in Odessa publications.

The first bilingual Bulletin

The next city publication was the “Journal d’Odessa”, which was published in Russian under the name “Odesskiy Vestnik”. The newspaper started in 1827, and was published twice a week, in two languages. Articles were printed in two wide columns: on the left – in French, on the right – in Russian, and their content was not always the same, but it reflected the official point of view. Everyone could freely subscribe to the newspaper, and also outside Odessa.

At first, Odesskiy Vestnik was a sort of news provider. But over time, materials on political, economic, worldly news began to appear on its pages, like the announcement of the opening of the Richelieu monument or one of the first reviews of the poem “Aeneid” by Kotlyarevsky, where the work of the writer was enthusiastically described.

It is possible to affirm that Odesskiy Vestnik initiated the advertising business in the city press. The first advertisement printed on the newspaper was the announcement of the opening of a dental office. There were almost no staff members in the newspaper, the materials were written mainly by “free authors”. The editor of the Russian section of the newspaper was Alexey Levshin, and the French section of the newspaper was edited by Philip Brunov. In 1831, thanks to the new editor Mikhail Rosberg, the first supplement appeared, with literary novelties, notes and anecdotes. At the same time, the newspaper completely switched to Russian.

The building of the editorial office of the “Odesskiy Vestnik”

The legendary “Odessa leaflet”

In 1872, another media was created in Odessa: the “Odessa Announcement Sheet”. Eight years later, it was renamed simply “Odessa Leaflet” (Odesskiy Listok) and soon became the most popular provincial newspaper in the country. The best journalists worked there and the circulation of the publication amounted to 10 thousand copies, which was quite impressive at that time. The newspaper published materials about local life and current news, placed commercial information and feuilletons. Correspondents did not ignore the needs of the peasants and the activities of local authorities.

Odesskiy Listok was the first to inform readers about local gossip and scandals, which increased its circulation and contributed to its most lasting fame: scandalous. Consequently, the Odessans snatched up a fresh issue in a matter of minutes.

The guide of the “Odessa leaflet”: Vasily Navrotsky

The publisher of the Odesskiy Listok was Vasily Navrotsky, the son of a ruined nobleman of Kremenchug. Navrotsky arrived in Odessa to look for a job and entered a typography as a typesetter. After a few years, he collected money from advertisers and bought the newspaper where he worked from the owner. He quickly became a prominent figure in the city. His energy and bold ideas impressed Odessa very much. In addition, he supported everything progressive, introduced technical innovations, for which he received the nickname “Odessa American” from the townspeople. Thanks to Navrotsky’s love for progress the first self-propelled car appeared in Odessa, which the publisher purchased from France. It was the first car in all the Russian Empire.

The newspaper “Odessa life”, year 1906

In March 1906, the first issue of the newspaper “Odessa Life” (Odesskaya Zhizn) was published in the city. The owner of the newspaper, Adolf Rabinovich, regardless of position, ranks and titles, cut the truth from the pages of the publication.

Odessans loved the newspaper for this cut. Its circulation was one of the highest in Odessa and copies in retail were sold out instantly. But for the authorities, the publication was disagreeable, therefore, for its rebellious nature, it was closed several times and, at the end, was completely banned by the city authorities.