Tag Archives: journalism

Kazakhstan II

Following up on my previous post on Kazakhstan, below is what I learned from my conversation with two professors at KIMEP University.

1. Libel is a huge issue for the media because burden of truth falls on the defendant. Not only do they have to prove that what they are saying is true, they also have to prove that there was no harm caused to the plaintiff (person who filed the suit). Ouch.

2. The general attitude towards journalism is very similar to the Wild West.

3. If you’re a journalist, you’re also an activist. If you’re an activist, you’ve probably been arrested at least once.

4. The state media has its own kind of self-censorship. All reports by ALL state media is the same. They call it standardization, consistency.

5. Newspapers are not big on attribution.

6. There’s no pluralism, no middle ground, with the media. You are either pro-government or you are the opposition media. And if you’re the opposition, well the government is going to try very hard to shut you down.

7. The Internet is still less regulated than print or broadcast. That being said, state media dominates and broadcast is the most prevalent source of news. More than newspapers (shocker).

8. The government and businesses have no sense of accountability. As a result, they treat the media – state and independent – as public relations instruments. Ergo the clampdown on critical voices.

I finally finished writing my text story on the media environment in Kazakhstan. I tried getting in touch with various people in the state media. I even tried to get in touch with the President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s press secretary. I also called the embassy in D.C. No dice. I turned in my story, but I’m still going to try to get the state’s voice.

I spoke to a Kazakh blogger a few days ago and she told me that the state media has a tendency of painting the country as a paradise. She called it propaganda. So now I REALLY want to speak to someone from that camp. Maybe they don’t see it as propaganda. Maybe they genuinely believe in their message. Or maybe they just don’t care about the message as long as they have a job. I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to them. And I really, really want to.



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Where is journalism heading?

Working on Global Journalist has made me more aware of everywhere in the world where journalism is suffering. Whether through the government or businesses or even the publications themselves, the world of journalism is going through a rough patch. A really rough patch. Will we get over it or will it get worse? Or will it get to a point where people simply don’t care?

Let’s look at a few examples.

1. Ethiopia.

Yes, the country is not the highest on any news editor’s radar, but if the second-most populous country of Africa has its independent journalists and bloggers fleeing its borders, that should raise multiple red flags (one for each person who flees would be a good start). And if they’re not fleeing, they are in jail. All the journalists prefer to censor themselves rather than speak out against the government.

And if you don’t have journalists who call the government out on its crackdown, the government will continue doing its own thing. And if the government does, what is to stop business owners from trying to silence journalists, too?

Take this story for example: Martin Schibbye is a freelance journalist in Sweden. He went to Ethiopia to cover the effects of oil fields exploration in the Ogaden desert. He ended up being ambushed, shot at, jailed and made to star in a “mockumentary.” Read more about the contention in Ogaden here.

Here is the show I helped produce on Ethiopia. Hear more about Schibbye’s story and what the media restrictions in Ethiopia mean.

2. Kazakhstan

Oh, Kazakhstan. I’ve taken an interest in you and what I have found has not surprised me in the least. Read some of it in my previous post here. I’ve learned more about the country’s media environment from talking to two journalism professors there, but more on that in another post. For now, here are some highlights:

– Libel laws favour the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit).

– Freedom of the press = write what you want, but be prepared to face the consequences.

– The state media (which is based on the Soviet model) is dominant.

Here is an example of when a business decided they didn’t like what the journalists were doing so they took the matter into their own hands.

It’s 2011. Some oil and gas company workers go on strike to demand higher pay and remove the restrictions on labour unions. Two journalists gather their information on the strike. They get assaulted by four men. Does anyone do anything? No.

Yes, it is an old example. But it is still reflective of what journalists have to deal with in Kazakhstan.

3. Good ol’ America.

Rolling Stone messed up. No, I don’t mean the band. I mean the magazine, which published a story on sexual assault on University of Virginia’s campus: “A Rape on Campus.” The story has since been redacted. So, how did they mess up? Columbia Journalism Review investigated the reporting process of the article. Highlights of their report, which can be read in full here:

1. Trusting the protagonist 100%.

2. The managing editor of Rolling Stone said, “Every single person at every level of this thing had opportunities to pull the strings a little harder, to question things a little more deeply, and that was not done.”

3. There was little independent reporting from the journalist in verifying information. (Thank you Mizzou, for drilling the importance of independent fact-checking.)

I have learned that the people who care most about press freedom and the process of reporting are journalists and human rights activists. There are very few people outside the world of journalism and activism who care. And that is unfortunate. Because if the people don’t care – or don’t tell the powers that be they care – the drive to do a job well will probably diminish. After all, what seems to sell more is sensationalism. And what better way to sell sensationalism than to dress up facts?

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Being a journalist is hard. Being a journalist trying to interview people in other countries is harder. Being a journalist trying to interview someone in Yemen is turning out to be even harder.

I got in touch with a reporter for the Yemen Times and he got back to me a few days later. That’s the good part. The not-s0-good part is that he doesn’t have the time to do a phone interview (and I don’t have the money for it, either) or a Skype interview. From my personal experience, I doubt he has access to Skype because I know it is blocked in some Middle East countries (goddammit, Oman).

We’re taught in the J-school to avoid email interviews at all costs. I would argue that email interviews are just as viable as a phone interview.

Argument: Their response to your questions could just be PR.

Counter: Valid. But if you’ve been in regular contact with the person you want to talk to, you should have a good grasp of his or her language style. Besides, you can take a fairly educated guess at who did the typing based on how long it took them to respond and the word-choice. That’s your cue to reword the question and ask it again. Don’t let it go. And if it is a contentious question, ask it again when all your other questions have been answered satisfactorily. Or keep that one question for a quick phone call.

Argument: The person being interviewed has time to review their answers and censor themselves if needed.

Counter: Also valid. But again, if they responded immediately, they likely did not censor themselves. Besides, the person is media-savvy, they would have been careful with their words regardless of which medium was used to interview them.

Argument: You can’t pick up on body language, tone and intonations.

CounterI think a person’s word choice in emails is very telling of their tone and impression they are trying to create. But, I have no solid counter-argument.

2 to 1. I think email interviews should not be considered a bad option. Sometimes on a deadline, email is all you have. Or sometimes, when the person is in a country stuck in a civil war, email is all you can get.

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Lessons Learnt

For an internship, I was to interview the executive producer of a docudrama, “Outlaw Country.”

At the scheduled time of the interview waiting for the call, I was ready with my fully-charged phone, iPad on the side with the recording app open, ready for me to hit the record icon, charger connected to the wall socket on my left, and pen and paper in front of me.

2:15 came and went.

An email exchange later, I find out they want to postpone the interview a few minutes. No problem, as long as I get my interview.

2:45 my phone rings.

Around 3:04 I’m told there’s only time for one more question. Wait, what? I’m on a time limit and no one mentioned this before?

I think I have become complacent about how I think of time when interviewing people. For ever crime story I called the cops for, I knew I didn’t have longer than 10 minutes to talk to them. 15 minutes if I was lucky. Every time I have scheduled an interview, I would try to give my sources a ballpark of how long the interview would take. Lately, my statements have changed from “do you have about x-amount-of-time to talk?” to “do you have time now to talk?” And that, I found out the hard way, is not the best practice. Smack on the hand.

Lesson learnt: when talking to sources, ask how much time you have with them (if it has not already been predetermined).

Second lesson: always ask the most important questions first.

Again, this would seem like a no-brainer. But, if you believe you have time to talk to a source, you get to the meaty questions a few minutes into the conversation. You get the simple, one-inch-below-surface, Q&A out of the way. Then, depending on what the person has said (or hasn’t), you go for what you really came for: THE story.

I didn’t do that.

I went for the one-inch-below-surface questions, keeping the hows and whys for after I had all the bones. And now the only way I can get the meat (the part of my brain that makes snarky comments thinks it is funny how a vegetarian is seeking the meat) is to go through the PR person. And so begins my quest. Maybe I’ll get a second interview. I won’t know till I ask.

GIF source: its-leviooosa.tumblr.com

GIF source: its-leviooosa.tumblr.com

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Reporting, Editing and Marketing of Converged Media

That’s a heavy title.

For a student more comfortable with paper and pen than with FinalCut Pro, working with multimedia should have been the last thing on my “classes to take before graduating” list. I’m not a technophobe (does Merriam-Webster or Oxford recognize that word?) by any means, but that does not mean I can build an app from scratch. I can just about build and design a basic website.

I love technology, even if I don’t always (hint: 90 percent of the time) understand it. I got very excited when I learned that drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles) could be used for journalism, if only laws on their usage could be standardized. Therefore, when the opportunity came to make a love-child between print and technology, I took it.

The baby’s name: 3D Journalism.

I am very excited (and a little bit apprehensive) about working with a 3D camera and a Lytro Illum camera (maybe). As my mentor for the project said, “There is a steep learning curve involved with this project.” Part of me thinks I am more excited by the challenge than I am by working with 3D. But then I look at some of the work the other people involved with the project have already done and I am awed by their skills.

Here’s to a semester of working with brilliant minds and brilliant technology.

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Throughout our time at the Missourian, our editors are always telling us to research our stories before we interview sources.

Now, that may seem like a no brainer, but this video demonstrates what happens when you take research-before-interview for granted (and so don’t do it).

My thoughts on watching the video:

1. Why would a reporter interview an author before reading his book, or at least skimming through it?

2. Even if she could not read for some unforeseen reason, why did she go on getting back to the point of a Muslim writing a book on Jesus?

3. What happened after the camera stopped rolling?


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One of the articles I worked on today was about the director of Truman Veterans Hospital leaving for a job at the Central Texas Veteran Health Care System (I had to check my notes to make sure I remembered the name correctly).

After I was done making a list of possible questions I should I ask the director (Sallie), I took a look at the list of questions and notes of an interview I conducted about a similar story – one of the hospitals in Columbia is getting a new president and CEO, Jim.

As I typed up the article, I realized how two similar stories need to be approached differently. The city (ergo the readers) should know what kind of a person is about to join their community and professional circles. The city should also be aware of the importance and impact of the person leaving.

The article I wrote on Jim focused on his professional achievements and history. It only had a couple of paragraphs about himself and his family.

The article I wrote about Sallie, however, focused on her personal story with professional overtones (that sounded like a makeup tutorial).

Of course, that is not a template for all stories along the same veins, but I feel like a genius for making this observation.

PS – I may have been a little too liberal with the word ‘genius,’ although I do not regret using it.

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