Classroom theory, on site-reporting produce colourful Central Asia stories

Ron Popeski
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Classroom theory, on site-reporting produce colourful Central Asia stories

Perspektivy brought together journalists from the different countries of Central Asia in November for traditional classroom training exercises and then sent them fanning out throughout the region to produce cross-border stories.

The result – dubbed “Central Asia Mix” – was vibrant reporting that reflected the region’s vitality, colour and diversity.

One collection, published on the website theopenasia.net, compared the traditions maintained by Central Asian communities living outside their homeland. The second considers women holding positions of authority in local government has been published at kloop.kz.

It all took considerable organisation – starting with three days of classical training in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city -- led by coach and former Reuters correspondent Anatoly Verbin.

The training focused on exercises and scenarios -- ethnic riots, a natural disaster, a parliamentary election.

For Anastasia Novikova, an editor from Otyrar Tv in the Kazakh city of Shymkent, the sessions produced “wow moments” ranging from the cultural blending of participants to the fundamental building blocks of journalism.

“After our training sessions, I started to have a second look at ordinary words and the actions of journalists and began to understand how everything a reader or viewer sees depends to a great extent on how clearly we present things,” she said.

“All the participants created WhatsApp groups. We are still talking to each other and I hope that continues. So many ‘wow moments,’ starting with working out logistics. What an interesting experience, culminating in our last evening in which everyone helped make dinner. That really brought us together.”

It took two “coordinators” relying on social media make the arrangements for bringing participants together and sending them to the places where they wanted to do their reporting.

Discussions started in closed Facebook groups. The trips were organised with exchanges on WhatsApp.

Coordinator Yevgeniya Novikova saw the theme of maintaining traditions as an important aspect of life in the digital age.

“We live in the era of globalisation, where everything and everybody becomes identical and faceless. We lose the individuality of beauty, of diversity and this is partly because we are losing our roots,” said Novikova, a journalist from the southern Russian city of Samara.

“From the outset I wanted to put the accent on the traditions of hospitality because they underscore the value of real human interaction - face to face and not smartphone to smartphone.”

The collection of Central Asian cultural practices, nurtured by devotees outside their homeland, is entitled “Small Islands of Traditions” -- amply illustrated and enriched with explanations for those unfamiliar with often elaborate practices.

What to expect at an Uzbek dinner in Kazakhstan, how Uighurs prepare for a wedding, how Kyrgyz families preserve their language in Siberia, a recording of a Tajik poet reciting his work devoted to the Uzbek city of Bukhara.

For Firuza Mirdzhumayeva, the experience offered a chance to look again at all aspects of journalism, with a special twist, as the independent Diyor Television channel she heads in Tajikistan plans to focus on women’s content this year.

“I had the feeling I was a beginner journalist encountering things for the first time,” she said.

“I always thought a television journalist would never be able to produce simple texts for a website or newspaper. From all the different examples we saw during the training sessions, I learned just how very difficult this is. Perspektivy made these things clear again for me.”

      Alyona Smirnova, an editor and presenter at LTR television in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city, said she now takes a second look at subject matter and how she prepares her reports.

     “This makes me smile as I think it has also had an effect on my everyday life. I’ve become more attentive. I try harder to understand the essence of what I am doing as well as details,” she said. “Seeing things in perspective and being more honest in the way I present information. These are, after all, fundamental human qualities.”