How One Publisher Scooped Even CNN
As only direct link to private Soviet news agency, company became news hotspot
FIRMLY fixed in the right place at the right time, one small technical publishing company found itself unexpectedly swept up in the great news events of the Soviet coup - as a news agency that scooped even CNN.And it's because it had agreed to link up with Interfax Ltd, the first and largest private news service in the Soviet Union. The two-year-old Interfax Ltd., which emerged with glasnost, had approached the major television networks in the United States, and the White House, to see if they were interested in Interfax's material. All turned the news service down. But DGL International Publishing Company was interested in publishing material about Soviet business life for Americans who were interested in investing in the Soviet Union. So Interfax Ltd. and DGL set up Interfax-US. The agreement focused on economic news from the Soviet agency published and distributed in the US. The new Interfax-US was intended only to publish and distribute three technical resource directories in the areas of mining, agriculture, and petroleum. It was scheduled to begin in September. But as soon as news of the coup hit, Pamela Lush, founder and director, rushed down to the office and found 50 pages of news already there on the computer. Suddenly Interfax-US was the only direct link to the private Soviet news agency. "Interfax-US was not intended as a news agency," says Ms. Lush. "It was supposed to be hard-core business news." Information poured over the computer link between Interfax Ltd. and Interfax-US. "We didn't realize how valuable that news was until we started getting calls from various news agencies asking us to confirm news reports," says Lush. "We contacted the White House, reached a secretary who said, 'Send us everything you've got. By Wednesday, the news was so hot the White House couldn't wait for faxes; the staff had to hear the news read over the phone before the faxes arrived. "We were reading it live into the ears of on-air anchor people," says Lush. "We were just buzzing." Just a week before the coup, Interfax-US had received its computer link with Interfax Ltd. over a US-owned fiber-optic telephone line. Messages were received via computer, printed out, read by Lush for security, and then faxed to the appropriate clients. Overnight, she says, her customer list burgeoned dramatically with TV networks, international law firms and businesses, even groups who have families there. The computer never shut down, and news poured in 24 hours a day. "We were getting reports from townships I'd never heard of, and I pride myself on knowing the regions well," says Lush. "It was important to hear from the mayors of these townships to monitor what the rest of the country thinks." "We got a lot of news before anyone else," she says. "We were the first to give out the information about the famous Eight and their plane ride to the Crimea. We scooped six pages of news today." She points out that US networks have only skeleton crews in the Soviet Union. "So much of the news was coming from Kiev, Leningrad, and Moscow, but we were getting news the major networks didn't have the staff to go after." "They went to the big networks, but they were not interested," Lush says. "We didn't have corporate attorneys or hierarchies. It was decisionmaker to decisionmaker. And we really liked each other. That's the way a lot of business is being done in the Soviet Union right now - the way business used to be done." The last few days undoubtedly will change the nature of Interfax-US forever, but Lush is too tired to know just how. First everyone has to go home and get some sleep.