Blogger boot camp
In countries without a fully free press, where journalists often practice self-censorship for fear of losing their jobs – or worse – ordinary people play an important role in getting out key information or starting discussions. That’s why improving the skills of citizen journalists is one of TOL’s key aims across the region and why we’ve been pleased to be a partner in a project run by Poland’s Common Europe Foundation (CEF).
One of the program’s main activities took place on 7-8 August in Warsaw, as CEF welcomed 25 participants from Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Ukraine for a workshop aimed at boosting the online influence of a key group of young bloggers and potential bloggers.
TOL shared in the design of the workshop and supplied one of our top Czech trainers, Jan Rybar, a longtime foreign correspondent for the Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes who has now become a media consultant and online journalism expert. Among other topics, Jan covered search-engine optimization and passed along tips for how bloggers can adopt various practices to help them appear higher in searches. He was enthusiastic about the experience.
“I loved being in Warsaw for the training, since the workshop generated a lot of fascinating topics for discussion,” Jan said. “One of my key lines was to stress one of the biggest media revolutions of recent years: the simple fact that a well-written, small blog can beat huge websites with its influence and visibility. And the audience of the workshop – young bloggers – was just in the process of making that revolution happen.”
Other sessions covered storytelling skills for bloggers, the ethics of online publishing, and social media tools for promotional and research purposes.
Financed by the International Visegrad Fund and the National Endowment for Democracy, the project’s partners are CEF, TOL, the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, the Center for Independent Journalism in Hungary, and the National Youth Council in Moldova.
Social Innovation Camp redux
Young Moldovans know how to innovate. That was surely one of the conclusions of the judges at the second Social Innovation Camp Moldova, which took place 26-28 July at the Center for Education and Recreation in the village of Ivancea. The event, presented by TOL and MediaPoint, our Moldovan partner, gathered together new media enthusiasts, divided them up into teams, and saw them compete to solve social problems through technological innovation. Over the course of a mere 48 hours, the teams built websites and strove to win prizes and funds to further develop their projects.
The organizers had a tough time even choosing the team members, as 152 people applied for 45 slots. Likewise for the ideas submitted for sites to be developed at the camp, as applicants proposed a total of 50, but only nine made the final cut. Each team had one team leader, two developers, one marketer, one businessperson, and one designer, with various mentors floating around the camp, offering expertise to groups in need of advice.
The three winners, in order from first to third, were I Donate Blood, an online tool that will allow people who need blood transfusions to easily find donors; Moldova Maps, which aims to provide complete information on the country’s public transportation network; and Second Life, a platform for people to interact in order to give and receive, free-of-charge, different things that they no longer need, but others might (to give those things a “second life,” as it were).
The audience for the camp went far beyond those in Ivancea, as more than 11,000 people viewed the online stream on the privesc.eu website and read a live account of the event on TOL’s new media and social innovation blog, NetProphet.
The Social Innovation Camp is part of a yearlong program funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and the Transitions Promotion Program at the Czech Foreign Ministry.
For journalism students from places such as the United States and Australia, autocratic countries such as Belarus are part of the great unknown – usually appearing in the news only when their leaders once again do something nasty. That’s one reason TOL tries to offer scholarships for our journalism courses to young leaders from Eastern Europe and Central Asia as often as possible: to let those in the West hear firsthand what life is like in closed or semi-closed societies from one of their peers. The other main goal is to pass along skills that these young journalists can use either now or in the future, should their countries one day open up, while creating connections with foreign journalists they would probably not normally meet at home.
This summer, we were lucky enough to hit a homerun on all counts with Katerina Barushka, who received a scholarship to attend TOL’s popular Foreign Correspondent Course. Katerina works at Belsat TV, the first independent Belarusian TV station, based in Warsaw. She has also worked for several Belarusian NGOs.
“The course was a thoughtful compilation of practical advice to starting journalists, on the ground training, and firsthand experiences,” Katerina said. “Problems with writing that I used to face, like where to start a story, how to develop it in a logical manner, how to make it deep and captivating became solvable and easy. The interviewing techniques I’ve learned immediately helped me grasp stories faster and more accurately,” she said.
“I cannot imagine another situation where I could have met such distinguished professionals and promising journalists from all over the world in one place.”
The feeling of admiration was mutual among Katerina’s instructors. “All I want as a teacher is to work with enthusiastic participants, and within this group of 18 trainees, Katerina’s enthusiasm was unparalleled,” said Michael J. Jordan, the senior trainer for the course who guides participants as they go “on assignment” in Prague to produce a real story.
“I noticed it immediately, during our online interaction and preparation one month before we all arrived in Prague,” Michael said. “She wanted to sink her teeth into one of the most vexing issues facing the Czech Republic – and Europe itself: immigration. I always urge trainees to pre-arrange two or three interviews, since their time is so limited in Prague. Well, a week later, Katerina reported back that she’d already set up a staggering six interviews.”
Although Michael said Katerina worried about not talking to enough people to report the story well, she was obviously conscientious about telling the story in all its complexity. “And that’s the story she produced: detailed reporting on Czech laws, connecting dots to what’s happening elsewhere in the European Union, the perspective of immigrant-defending NGOs, even ‘humanizing’ the story, as I wanted her to do, by capturing the perspective of two Uzbek immigrants in Prague,” he said. “Needless to say, I was impressed by her final article. Katerina has a bright future in this field, and I’m very gratified to have played a modest role at this stage of her career.”
To be honest, none of that really surprised us about Katerina, as she has shown that potential already in several articles that she’s written for TOL on Belarus. You can see her most recent stories here and here. A “bright future” it surely is.
Transitions Online (www.tol.org) often showcases the work produced through our grant programs. Some of the highlights from July include the following stories:
A First in History
In Serbia, an eighth-grade Roma student upends expectations and beats long odds to become a nationwide history whiz.
By Uffe Andersen
5 July 2013
Moldova’s Gray Cardinal
Vladimir Plahotniuc finds that wealth and power attract an unwelcome spotlight.
By Dmitri Romanovski
11 July 2013
Russia-Georgia Fence-Mending Hits a Snag
Barbed-wire barriers going up along the South Ossetian ‘border’ complicate an expected reset in Tbilisi’s relations with Moscow.
By Nino Chimakadze
18 July 2013
Web of Mystery
Officialdom and opposition groups in Transdniester disagree over who ordered the blocking of independent Internet sites, and why.
By Dmitri Romanovski
19 July 2013
Songs of Themselves
The millennia-old musical tradition of aitysh remains relevant in modern Kyrgyzstan.
By Aibolot Aidosov
31 July 2013
Azerbaijan and Moldova
Promoting the use of new media and social media among journalists, civil society organizations, and young people.
Promoting the use of Internet media and new media techniques to produce, promote, and distribute new forms of content.
Improving the quality of environmental investigative journalism while increasing the impact of the environmental movement in Russia.
Using distance learning courses, workshops, and other resources to improve reporting on education-related topics.