Nabi Abdullaev, Chief mentor Cross-Border journalism programme
The key difference between 2019 season of the Cross-Border journalism programme from the previous years was that its organisers from Thomson Reuters Foundations have massively expanded opportunities available to participants.
In addition to two traditional mentors who support the programme participants through the course of their projects, several other renowned media professionals were available for consultations to them before and during their project work. Lana Gogotishvili, Mikhail Kazinik, Suren Deheryan, Polina Eremenko and Artyom Galustyan have coached participants in storytelling, innovative digital formats, writing of long-reads and internet promotion of the content.
Content-wise, this season was traditionally built around four projects, with some participants participating in more than one.
The largest project of this season that covered more geographies than any other project of the Cross-Border journalism ever traced how different countries of the former Soviet Union address the mounting problem of what to do with garbage. From Estonia to Kazakhstan, from Belarus to Georgia, Ukraine and Russia, the project participants studied how governments and peoples recycle, sort, incinerate and bury their trash, analysing existing and planned strategies and techniques from economic, cultural and ecological angles. Curiously, this project is likely to remain active even after the 2019 programme comes to an end as the topic is so vast and interesting from the journalist point of view that the project participants decided to create a special website for their work and to continue their research and writing, this time from other former Soviet republics and other countries, in future. This is the first project in the Cross-Border journalism programme that promises to turn into the international media outlet of its own.
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Only slightly smaller was another project of this year, in which participants explored what does it mean to be a taxidriver in the former Soviet Union. Participants of this project talked to taxidrivers in Moscow and Vladikavkaz, Minsk and Samarkand and turned their stories into a rather sad treatise about one man’s fight against global corporation, ungodly working hours and terrible work conditions, bribes, fines and palpable human fatigue.
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The third project was a soul-stirring collection of letters written by working and retired schoolteachers to their past students, sometimes a generation away, and of letters written back to them by current and former students. Emotional and pensive, these letters make for a bitter-sweat reading provoking memories of an every reader’s school years, while also examining how the role and social perceptions of schoolteachers have changed over time.
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And finally, the fourth project this year was another very traditional work for our programme, a study of how small social groups adapt to living among much larger others, and how they strive to retain their group identity, and how sometimes they give up on this effort. This time, our participants explored the plights of Yazidis in Armenia, of the Molokans in southern Russia and of Hazaras in Kazakhstan.
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Overall, the Cross-Border journalism programme that has already turned into a mature educational, networking and professional development platform was building new muscles and seeking to provide more opportunities to its participants this year.