Mentor's Blog: Nabi Abdullaev, mentor of Cross-Border journalism programme, Perspketivy
In becoming the mentor of Perspektivy’s Cross-Border journalism project, I’ve donned my favorite hat, that of a chief editor, and approached it not as an educational effort but as an attempt to create a quality journalist product.
The main challenge for me was not so much selecting participants’ story ideas - after all, they will most likely be seriously tweaked or reinvented in order to fit the cross-border concept - but picking ten out nearly 60 participants capable of learning quickly in the process, familiar with editorial routines and knowing their home turf well enough to be able to develop new and strong stories from there.
Among submitted story ideas, there were four obviously strong ones, with easily discernible cross-border logic, and, together with my colleague and co-mentor, Sergei, we decided to build the project around them.
The participant from Uzbekistan suggested writing about the plight of people living around the shrinking Aral Sea that borders Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia. We, the mentors, immediately saw it as a straightforward article with several powerful human narratives and a touching, emotions-ladden visual art to go with it.
It was easy and natural to switch Kazakhstan’s Ainur Baigozha onto it, whose initial pitch was to write about agriculture along rivers in her own country.
Yulia Demyanova from St. Petersburg has come up with an interesting idea of researching how Russia’s ban on food imports from Europe affected lives and businesses just across the border in Finland. Here, massive shopping infrastructure has been built especially for Russian customers in the past several years. We didn’t have to ask Nikita Kuzmin from Kaliningrad to join this project from his region, he volunteered on the spot.
At the first glance, the ideas of Veronika Kerman of Moldova to write about ethnic Gagauzs recently settled in rural central Russia, of Anastasia Kovalenko from the remote Altai region to explore a German community living there, and of Magdalena Chodownik of Poland to report about Tajik families living in her country, looked like a nice and colorful long-read about three under-reported diasporas. The concept has changed during the discussion: now we are looking at three ethnic communities with different root depths in host countries and how it affects the daily lives, thinking and perspectives of their members. It is a completely different story now, a meaningful comparative study.
Marta Ardashelia of Georgia has proposed a fantastic idea of writing about how the Georgian Orthodox Church positions itself on divisive issues related to individual freedoms and how it influences Georgians as they work to integrate into European institutions. Combined with a similar article from the Armenian perspective that another participant, Anton Yevstratov, readily agreed to write, it would make a fascinating study of the state of mind and civil choices being made today by two Caucasus peoples contending to be called the oldest Christian nation on earth.
Viktoria Lomasko from Moscow has joined this project too. She is a fine story-teller weaving her seemingly simple but important plots, mainly of women’s rights, with texts and graphics she skilfully draws and integrates into the body of her stories.
As an editor in the past, I know how imperative is to make writers understand why their stories are important and how to build them from bits and pieces into coherent, powerful narratives. As we parted after the two-day seminar in Moscow on Oct. 1-2, I remained confident that we have been on the same ground over these things with each and every participant. So far, my function is to keep them focused.
And this is a different story yet to be told.