Eastern European journalists explore Columbus news media

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Erkinbek Kamalov of Kyrgyzstan, left, and Artur Zahharov of Estonia with a bust of E.W. Scripps

Two visiting journalists from Eastern Europe found common bonds and challenges during a 12-day stay in Columbus that featured time in several newsrooms.

The Kiplinger Program recently hosted the journalists from Estonia and Kyrgyzstan as part of a U.S. State Department program, working with Washington, D.C.-based World Learning. The journalists are part of a new Eastern European association called Digicomnet (Digital Communication Network).

More than 20 journalists came to the Unites States for a month, and two asked for placement in Columbus for the last 12 days of their tour. Kiplinger sponsored Artur Zahharov, a public television producer in Estonia and freelance multimedia journalist for Estonian newspapers, and Erkinbek Kamalov, a senior journalist with the Jalabat Journalists’ Association in Kyrgyzstan.

While in Columbus, the two spent time shadowing journalists at the Columbus Dispatch, WSYX-ABC 6 and WOSU public television; visited the journalism program at Ohio State University; attended a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; and stopped over at the  E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in Athens, Ohio. Before arriving in Columbus, they spent time in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Austin, Texas.


Artur Zahharov of Estonia (left) talks with WOSU’s Mike Thompson prior to the station’s filming of Columbus on the Record.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Artur and Erkinbek on their last day in Columbus, before returning home.

Q. What are your impressions of American journalism?

Artur: Like in Estonia, there is a big challenge between profits or journalism. I believe all the journalists who are doing their jobs here are in a difficult position. For instance, the Columbus Dispatch example is one, not the best, but it shows how things are developing to make money over journalism.

With ABC 6, they produce very short stories. In Estonia, we have the same procedures but they are doing it more exciting, and the way they find topics and search for stories is great. It’s very different than in my country because here they don’t mind the search for the sources, on the streets and knocking on doors. Those guys are really amazing.

I think that it’s a good thing to study and it can be useful. An example, our guys are on our jobs in Estonia and then they are at home. They work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then they go home. And here, you guys work until the work is done, there is no stopping at 5 o’clock and going home. I don’t’ know, it’s probably the American culture.

Erkinbek: American journalism has, I think, more freedom to do journalism and it’s a competitive environment, much more competitive environment than in my country. And, here not only are they professional and creative but it makes a competitive sense. The pace or speed of delivery of the information is very important, and it does not underestimate the content. Here, I understood journalism still brings good results. But, also the constant evolving (of journalism). I asked this question of American journalists and they don’t know yet. It’s not clear for them yet. Where is the future? Where are they going to be? No one can say if it’s going to be this way or that way. No one knows the destination or how it will or what form it will evolve, and I think (journalism) is constantly searching for itself, in constant pursuit of itself.


Q. If you had one piece of advice that you would give to American journalists, what  would that be?

Erkinbek: Pay more attention to content.


Erkinbek Kamalov of Kyrgyzstan gets to see what it’s like to be on camera while reading a monitor at WOSU.

Artur: In my country, especially, stick together and do investigative journalism. I think it is the same advice to all journalists, in my country and in America, especially. Stick together in doing investigative journalism and don’t search for easy ways to write and tell stories.

The environment is not good for investigative journalism, hard to get information and it’s expensive and not profitable. But, still, maybe I’m naïve, but I believe that journalists are to inform people, and in this case they could have the opportunity to do better at this. I really believe they could.

Q. You get back home, your first day back on the job, and one of your colleagues says to you, “How was America?” What do you tell them?

Artur: Awesome and controversial.

Erkinbek: Diverse and competitive. In a good way, competitive.

Q. Do you see yourself coming back to the U.S.?

Artur: I would love to come back.

Erkinbek: I would come back for a longer term (than one month).

Q. You’re back in the newsrooms again, tell me what you want to share with your colleagues.

Artur: I have a bunch of figures for the guys who work in the control room. WOSU was great, and I will definitely show them these ways because they are doing some amazing things. The speed and the work is amazing and how to do live reports, because we don’t do that on our television. It’s really old-fashioned. Here, a lot of ideas. I really like the ProPublica kind of projects, and I want to see if we can do something like that.

Erkinbek: The use and efficiently of the digital tools and social media tools and how they’re used broadly on a regular basis and not from time to time. For us and our country, a developing country, of course, we use them sometimes but not regularly, and this could raise the quality of the messaging and the quality or the news.


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