Programme fosters links between Russian-speaking journalists, develops professional skills
Perspektivy’s cross-border programme forges links between journalists from different backgrounds, develops professional skills and guards against a resurgence of stereotypes, says a member of the programme’s advisory board.
Gemma Poerzgen is a German freelance journalist and expert on Eastern Europe, a frequent visitor to the region who has been associated with the Russian-language programme virtually from its inception. She has seen how it transforms its participants and the environment in which they work in post-Soviet countries as diverse as Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
“Countries that were once a part of the Soviet Union went very different ways, but still a lot of people are connected. Uzbeks or Kazakhs, for instance, still speak Russian and…Russian-language journalism is the way many would communicate,” she said.
Differences in political approach produce vastly different media landscapes.
But all have seen a shift away from the dominance of television – traditionally the preferred means of conveying ideas through vast stretches of territory – to the Internet and the visual opportunities the web offers.
Camaraderie and curiosity
What does Perspektivy’s cross-border programme do to promote quality journalism and encourage professional development?
Poerzgen, who spent much of her childhood in the Soviet Union as her father was a correspondent for Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, points to the camaraderie and the curiosity of meeting peers from other post-Soviet states. And the individual success stories.
“I got the feeling it was a very nice atmosphere of colleagues who worked together as professionals who were interested in developments in other countries. Because very often you wouldn’t know things,” she said. “You get a lot of information by talking to someone from Kazakhstan, because you wouldn’t otherwise read so much any more about other former Soviet republics. For young colleagues it is good to exchange, to have different views and factors.”
”What is important is to help journalists do their job and that is something I like about Perspektivy. The idea is actually to find journalists who are on the job and try to give them some additional assistance, some support to further ‘professionalise’.”
One outstanding memory was a journalist from Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy.
“He had the opportunity to do a video project, which was new for him and very helpful for his career afterwards,” she said. “He did a great film which was sold to the BBC. You can see from some of his young colleagues that such training can be very helpful for journalists in their careers and for the media in general.”
Another was a journalist from Kazakhstan, she said, “who said after the training with Perspektivy that he could come back to his online newsroom with some good ideas that he could put to his team and they got many more clicks than before. These are very concrete things which can be very helpful.”
It was a Perspektivy trainer, she recalled, who said upholding professional standards was the important thing “if only for the journalists’ own safety.
“I still believe that if you have good research and nicely written things – videos or whatever with interesting content -- you can succeed and find listeners or viewers or readers interested in what you produce,” she said.
Thriving despite restrictions
Media in Ukraine encountered fewer curbs, she said, but faced serious financial difficulties that have badly hit the print sector.
Russia has placed more and more restrictions on journalism, but online outlets have thrived in recent years. And plenty is happening outside Moscow, with interesting online projects in the regions and some solid links between different provincial centres.
“I am always astonished how many interesting journalism projects you see in Russia under these difficult circumstances. Social media channels like Telegram play a big role in distributing this content. You will know much more about provincial cities than several years ago because of the new online media,” Poerzgen said.
“Sometimes projects develop and then they die again. So there is a lot of movement there. But, especially for young people, the Internet is getting more and more important. Five years ago, state-controlled television would have been the main source of information for about 80 percent of the people. Today you see that there is a change happening.”
Central Asian countries have fewer traditions of a free-wheeling press.
Poerzgen worked for several years with a news site outside Uzbekistan that enabled journalists to circumvent the regime’s censors, but has seen new developments since the country’s leadership underwent changes two years ago.
“Working together with journalists in Uzbekistan, I was surprised that they could find out things for interesting stories. Even to find out about rising prices on a market could be very valuable news in a country which tried to control all information,” she said.
Poerzgen said the opportunities Perspektivy provides in bringing together journalists to exchange ideas are all the more important to stress the notion of correspondents reporting things they see with their own eyes rather than relying on the accounts of others.
The cross-border programme in particular gives a unique opportunity to develop a story together with a colleague from another country who may have different perspectives on a joint subject. This very modern approach to reporting also enables participants to build up long-lasting networks for the future.
“Journalism is becoming weakened and you see there are a lot of stereotypes and cliches coming back in reporting. There are not so many foreign correspondents anymore in the region itself, but rather sitting in an office somewhere in Germany,” she said.
“I believe very much that good journalism means that you are travelling to a country and that you have opportunities to exchange and get a real picture that is often more complicated than stereotypes. What is most important is whether you can finance proper research for people going to places to see things themselves.”