Russian-language journalists find new ways of thinking in London alumni workshop

Ron Popeski

Russian-language journalists find new ways of thinking in London alumni workshop

    Put nine Russian-speaking journalists together in London for a workshop and what do you get?

    A week of brainstorming, of comparing notes with peers from ex-Soviet states with widely different realities. Plus plenty of thought and effort putting together joint stories highlighting those differences – and similarities.

    You also get young and talented reporters delighted to have encountered new ways of approaching their work and absorbing techniques that can go a long way in producing balanced, informative stories.

    And equally delighted to grill journalists staffing some of Britain’s most renowned newsrooms, not to mention touring a city most had only dreamed of seeing.

     Put through a variety of exercises by Perspektivy trainer Anatoly Verbin, the nine journalists on the annual “Alumni course” from 13th to 18th October emerged with a realisation that they had skills on which to build. But also a great deal to learn.

    “Anatoly Verbin’s seminar was something really special. You understand that you make mistakes on elementary matters that you have things to strive for and that you are far from being the professional you had imagined,” said Liza Chukharova, a reporter from Vladikavkaz in Russia’s North Caucasus region.

    “It was more than skills. Yes, I now pay more attention to headlines. Yes, I look at fact-checking in a different way. And yes, I now have my backpack ready in case I am sent off to a hot spot. And working on joint projects with people you hadn’t met was a very valuable experience. You start to think differently and work like a team in a short time frame.”


    Rebuilding from scratch

    Olga Pastukhova, from Almaty in Kazakhstan, said the classes made her feel that all her previous professional knowledge “had crumbled and was being rebuilt from scratch.

    “At the workshop I was able to resolve an issue that I had spent months over -- thinking in a simpler way, keeping the story from getting too complicated. I would waste a lot of effort, energy and time on a single story…So I looked for ways of getting the job done well but in a simpler manner. And I think I did just that.”

    Irina Galat, a journalist working in both Moscow and Almaty, said the contact with journalists from other countries made her “broaden the way I think…I agreed with a colleague from Armenia to put together very soon a big story on social issues. And when we start the project, maybe other Perspektivy participants will join in.”

    The participants, who had earlier taken part in regional training courses, also dived into discussion groups on  topics ranging from reporting health care to the crisis long gripping British media.

    Trainer Anatoly Verbin said the group’s enthusiasm was overwhelming.

    “What really impressed me was their team spirit, willingness not only to fulfil tasks given, but also to discuss, think and look forward. And also their feeling of responsibility to Perspektivy,” he said.

    “On the last day, I effectively closed the session and was ready to say goodbye. But no, they were so eager to continue working on their joint stories that they stayed for at least one more hour instead of going sightseeing and shopping. Bravo to the group." 

Watch the project developed during this workshop >>


    Visiting newsrooms

   There was time for field trips – notably visits to Thomson Reuters, the BBC and the Telegraph.

   Ermek Aktanov from Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia described as “fantastic” the chance to travel and visit newsrooms while on the road.

     “I especially liked the (BBC) World Service, to see how it worked and learn that even people with speech impediments can get behind a microphone,” he said after meeting Kyrgyz-language colleagues at the BBC.

     “…There are superb conditions at these world agencies and radio stations. People are valued and get opportunities. And if you make a mistake, you don’t get criticised, they don’t take your funding away. They just help you find the correct way to deal with the mistake.”

    For Irina Galat, it was London and Londoners who impressed her the most.

    “Looking at the people who kept moving no matter what the weather, I understood that there is no point in waiting for the right moment to undertake this or that action – you have to just go ahead and do it!” she said. “The contagious laugh of both Londoners and visitors, their responsiveness and their willingness to help out at any time put me in a euphoric state.”

    All participants described the course and related outings as a life-changing moment.

   Svetlana Ovcharova, a native of Ukraine and a presenter for the Belsat television channel dealing with Belarus, described London as her “main inspiration”, singling out visits to the Tate Modern gallery.

    “Taking part in the programme amounted to a complete ‘reset’ for me,” she said. “It helped me realise that my horizons and possibilities are broader than I had imagined. My aims changed from unclear desires to a concrete plan of action. And what’s more, a week away from my newsroom helped me find new strength and keep me away from professional burnout.”