Young Azerbaijanis enthusiastic about starting to blog

Aug 72008

Young Azerbaijanis learning how to use blogs as one form of modern journalism.

The 14 young Azerbaijanis who crowded into the Sheki computer center on Aug. 5 weren’t focused on building democracy, but the training they received from the ICFJ is leading in that direction. In one day, the students created both individual blog sites and a site for their collective blog. The sites were not created to be political; among the foci of the blogs were the subjects “Spain” and “football.” But in learning how to establish their own blogs, in fact the students were becoming familiar with the concept of becoming a published writer – with all the responsibilities and potential of this role.

I began my two weeks of lessons in Sheki, Azerbaijn, on July 28, conducting the class in a lecture hall provided by Uluchay, a non-governmental organization based in Sheki. As in my earlier courses in Baku, Ganca and Lenkoran, the course here was divided into two basic components. First, I discuss the basics of journalism. We talk about what defines news and what makes a good story. We work on interview and research techniques. And of course we talk about writing.

Second, we talk about the use of the Internet in journalism. I have used two guest speakers for this part of the course. Anar Orujov, the director for the Caucasus Media Investigations Center, talks to students about web-casting over the Inernet. His radio project is available over the Internet, and can be found at http://www.kanal13.tv and baku-fm.com. Emin Huseynzade, a project coordinator for Transitions Online, is creating a network of bloggers in Azerbaijan, introducing students to the world of blogs. While “blog” has entered the regular vocabulary of many people in the United States, it’s still a comparatively novel concept here. Blogs can, of course, be used to detail summer vacations or the adventures of new parents, but they also can be a used to provide a type of political journalism.

We don’t tell our students to write any type of blog in particular, but we do show how they are used in the United States, where some of the more interesting news stories have recently appeared first in blogs. Journalistic forms such as blogs are particularly useful in a country like Azerbaijan, where the print and broadcast media is tightly controlled by the government. Some news websites have been shut down by the government in the past, but censoring and restricting blogs is more complicated. By giving individuals the tools to express themselves and to communicate with others in their communities, we hope that we can increase the level of democratic discourse in this country.