Transitions: 2011 Year in Review

With the new year just beginning, we’d like to take this opportunity to recap some of the highlights in our programs last year and ask you to consider a donation to help TOL do even more in 2012.

Filling Training Gaps…

Hundreds of journalists, students, and civic activists participated in our on-site and distance learning programs this year, including the first training-the-trainers program for Central Asian new media instructors; a series of workshops in Russia on environmental reporting; new media workshops for Georgian high school and university students; a workshop on  multimedia storytelling for Romani and majority-community journalists from Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia; and an intensive new media course at Azerbaijan Free Thought University. TOL also ventured out of our normal coverage region, co-organizing a study visit to Prague for 10 Egyptian journalists that focused on election reporting.

Among the alumni of our  training programs, we’ve been especially proud of the Roma and majority-community journalists across five countries who produced the 25 video stories that comprise Colorful but Colorblind. Not only did the project win a 2010 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award for excellence in journalism, but it was also singled out for recognition by the European Commission’s vice president, Viviane Reding.

Publishing on Overlooked Topics…

TOL’s flagship magazine, Transitions Online, continued to publish the work of local journalists, often on topics neglected by the rest of the international media. In 2011, these were topics such asthe perilous situation of middle-aged Uzbek women left alone to defend their homes against dangerous and well-armed enemies, Soviet-era orphanages that still exist in Lithuania, the struggles of a Srebrenica native to find justice for murdered loved ones, and the dreams of a few teenagers in rural Kazakhstan to have a better life than their parents. In addition, TOL, working with some of the top publications in our coverage region, undertook a special investigation into political party financing, which spurred a prosecutor in Bulgaria to open an investigation and a mayor in Poland to stop subsidizing a local newspaper used for official propaganda. For our editors’ top picks of 2011, please see here.

We also published our first book, Classroom Struggles, a collection of news and feature articles on the challenges to improved education in Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. And TOL’s partner organization, neweurasia,released CyberChaikhana: Digital Conversations from Central Asia, a contemporary history of post-Soviet Central Asia written from the perspective of its young blogging community.

Spurring Social Innovation and Launching New Sites

TOL also continued to spark social innovation among journalists, civic activists, students, and others, most prominently through a wave of social innovation camps held  across the region. In May, we co-organized the first-ever camp in Central Asia, which provided an opportunity for 80 activists, techies, designers, and social innovators to compete to build web-based tools for social impact. Two camps then took place in July, one in Baku, and the other in Sarajevo, where TOL co-organized a camp with Internews that included attendees from 20 countries and a contingent of five Google staff members from around the world who served as volunteer mentors to participants. 
For all the wonders of online media and innovation, we’ve come to see that many of those we work with often have nowhere to turn for technical and new media assistance, with little or no in-house knowledge and commercial alternatives that are far too expensive.

In response, we’ve taken a more active role in both launching websites with local partners and providing technical training. In Georgia, working with Prague-based Sourcefabric, we revamped the websites of three regional media outlets to increase their impact as independent societal watchdogs. In Moldova, a group of young people used a new media event organized by TOL and our local partner, MediaPoint, to jumpstart development, which encourages citizens to report problems to the authorities and already has the backing of Chisinau’s reformist mayor.  In the Balkans, a TOL-led consortium starteda regional news and information portal on and for the Balkans’ Roma communities. In Russia, we cooperated with local partners to launch a newenvironmentaljournalism website that aims to build a community of professional as well as citizen journalists covering under-reported environmental issues throughout the country – especially those ignored by the media for political reasons. And in Central Asia, we opened up a “new media clinic” to provide direct technical assistance and social media expertise to dozens of media and nonprofit organizations across the region, leading to large spikes in the number of visits to many of their sites.    
Such activities have been made possible by the generous support of private foundations, governments, and intergovernmental funds, but some of those sources have been hit hard by the financial crisis. Combined with the normal challenges of raising funds for media development work, that has made it more difficult for TOL to continue our activities at previous levels and to consider expanding our programs where they are needed the most.

That’s why we would like to ask you to consider making a donation of a size that you are comfortable with to help us fill gaps in funding both our journalism and training work.

If you would prefer to help TOL by volunteering your time to edit or write for us, please click here.

And, lastly, if you would like to stay informed about our training projects, please sign upfor the relevant newsletter.

Thank you,

Jeremy Druker
Executive Director and Editor in Chief

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