Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Being Embarassed in Slovenia

Although this blog is meant for positive criticism, I cannot keep quiet anymore. I must say that I am embarassed as a Slovene and as a journalist (for similar feelings from my collegues see for example here).
As a Slovene I am embarassed when I see that people in Slovenia are raising barricades to keep the Romas out of their villages. In the group of Romas, of which they say they are scared of, there are many children; besides if some of the members of the Strojan family are supposedly involved in criminal activities, they should be prosecuted according to the law. Instead, the whole Roma community is being demonized and people keep saying that they are criminals (thiefs, even rapists) although nobody was yet found guilty. As far as I know if someone has not been found guilty, he is innocent. How come that this basic postulate holds true for Slovenes and not for Romas? And unfounded and unproven insults are as far as I know punishable, too.
And I am embarassed as a journalist. Much has been said in blogosphere and elsewhere about the latest edition of the so called infotainment programme Piramida. I agree with those who say that such shows should not be aired on the public television. The role and purpose of the public television is not to provide entertainment in its pure sensationalist form.
What is even more embarassing for me, is that the national daily paper Delo (in the context of a report regarding what has been happening in the latest edition of Piramida) published four comments from Delo's forum on the page 3 (which is reserved for important and relevant political and other issues). These comments were "balanced", in accordance with the new ideology on journalistic objectivity. Two of the comments were agains such shows and two for them.
I think that such comments have no space in the national daily newspaper whose role and purpose is not only to tend to the basic needs and wants of the readers in order to keep the circulation high, but also to keep the public debate on a certain level - above the one of the "hungry wolfes" which can be often found on forums. It seems that the Pandora box's of hate speech in Slovenia has been open when some of the politicians started verbally abusing their female collegues, when the ombudsman, whose primary role is to protect the accepted level of human rights, was labeled as the number one hate-speaker in the country, and when it became acceptable that politicians verbally or physically attack reporters or threat to attack them. BTW: the report on one of such incidents was published in some media (for example Dnevnik, Finance, PopTV), but not in others.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

How Does It Feel To Be On The Other Side

Journalists are not often on the other side of the line. Many of them have never been interviewed, so they have little idea how does it feel to be on the other side of the microphone.
It was weird to me when during one of the very first lectures of the Literary Journalism course at University of Missouri - Columbia our teacher Jacqui Banaszynski (Knight Chair in Journalism at the School of Journalism) reminded us how we always have to introduce ourselves to our subjects. She stressed out that we have to say our full name, name of the newspaper and the fact that we are journalists. "Otherwise the person on the other side might think that you are from the marketing department," she said.
That she was right, I realized after I returned from the USA. When I first spoke to somebody over the phone, I simply rattled my name and the name of the newspaper. Only after the person I was talking to at the end of our conversation asked me for my name again, I realized that he did not understand my introduction at all. To me it was crystal clear who I was and who I was working for. To the person on the other side of the phone, it was not.
It is not that easy being a subject of a story. I have been interviewed once and I was really worried after the journalist left. I knew I told her a few things I didn't want her to publish. I asked her not to, and she kept her promise. I was thankful.
I also hear such requests from the subjects of my stories. If I promise them that, I always keep my promise. But it wasn't until that interview that I realized how vulnerable the subject of a story feels in such a situation. He/she simply cannot do anything else but to trust the journalist.
But what if the journalist does not keep this promise?
Jacqui also emphasized how important is to tell the subject the context in which he/she will appear (how much space will be given to him/her, who else will appear in the story, will he/she be the only person interviewed for the story...). I know this sound weird if we think in the context of the political beat: to tell the politician who are going to be the other subjects in the story? We might as well tell him/her the questions that we are going to ask him so that he can prepare his/her answers.
But think about for example a florist who was interviewed for an hour for an article about orchids. He had probably told his/her friends and family to buy the paper because he/she is going to be the star of a newspaper story (so he/she justly thought after such a long interview). He opened the paper the day after and saw only a sentence or two of what he said. How did that make him/her feel? The experience probably left him/her with a bad aftertaste.
As Jacqui stressed out: for a good story, for the bond of trust between the journalist and the subject, and last but not least for a good relationship between the newspaper and its readers (who sometimes appear as the subjects of the stories), the subject (especially if he/she is not accustomed to dealing with media) has a right to know in what context his/her words will appear. This is even more important in literary journalism where the journalist immerse him/herself in the life of his subject.
It feels bad to be told one thing and then to see that another thing happened. So, don't tease if you won't deliver.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nieman Narrative Conference

On Poynter you can find the report about the Nieman Narrative Conference that was held in Boston this past weekend. The report is written by Bill Kirtz, a professor at the Northeastern University, who has been attending the past conferences, as well.
It is sad that Poynter does not publish detailed reviews of the specific lectures anymore, but I guess they did not find enough volunteers; if I remember correctly, Bill wrote last year's report, too.
I was disappointed with NNC homepage, though; the programme is anounced but no details are provided.
I can hardly wait the day when I will be able to virtually attend the conference; the day ehen I will be able to listen, see and read the presentations via internet. Perhaps the technology that enables this already exits and I can only hope that people at the Nieman Fundation will start to use it. Mark, can you hear me?

The Caiman

I have just returned from the Ljubljana Film Festival.
Tonight I was watching the movie The Caiman by Nanni Moretti.
The message I got is quite scary.
During the trial, the Caiman was doing anything to avoid it. Mainly he did not show up left the court early saying that he has some urgent things to do. He was also telling the DA who asked him about his hidden acounts in Switzerland to stop politicizing; that if she wants to politicize, she should leave the court and try to become elected and then face him. When she reminded the court that above them there is a sign saying that everybody is equal in the court of law, he replied that this is so, but that he is more equal as he has been elected by the people, and so on.
In the end the of a long trial, the Caiman (Berlusconi) says (more or less): I can only be tried by the people who elected me, not by some judges. And when he is found guilty, he declares that the democracy came to an end and the country is now facing autocrative regime. He invites the people to do anything they want to overturn this new autocratic regime. And when the judges try to exit the courthouse, they are facing an angry mob who start to throw Molotov coctails at them and burn the courthouse.
As it seems that there are politicians in this country who might see a role model in Berlusconi, the message of this movie (no matter how ironic it is) scares me: that some 21st century politician might actually think that he is above law, that the third, judicial branch of the government is irrelevant. That he cannot be touched. And that there even might be people who would follow his appeal.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tonight I Can Write

The poem Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines by Pablo Neruda is resonating in my head when I think of an email that I received last night. Just yesterday I was thinking about five brave women who dared to stand up against their boss who was sexually harassing them and eventually decided to take their case to the court. And then I found an email by them in my mailbox.
I was the first and later one of the very few journalists to cover their plight. (One of the articles is found here, and here is the correction to the article because during the editiorial process somebody made a crucial mistake by accident and changed a yes to a no. My last article on the subject can be found here; later I stopped covering the story as I went on maternity leave.)
Before I could start to write the story in our paper, I first needed to explain to the editors why the story is important, and persuade them to run it. Sexual harassment in still not take seriously in this country. After the details of the harassment were revealed in a magazine (in much more graphic way that I had done on purpose, knowing that the women wouldn't want the public to read about all the details; the graphic description were revealed by their attorney), people at the paper started to say that the what had happened was horrible and that we should write about it. Since then I had free hands and I could write about it as much as I wanted.
The story which started in December 2003 ended with the verdict (on February 24 2005; my article about it can be found here) which found the boss guily; the verdict was later confirmed in the court of appeals (on March 7 2006). Thus the boss was officially and publicly found guilty and had to leave his position. (As the story ended when I was already on maternity leave, I am providing this link to the story.)
I thought that this was it and that the women finally proved that they were not lying or that they were not taking him to the court because of some kind of revenge; that they were not hysteric, that they did not overacted and so on. While working in this institution, they had to listen to such remarks daily.
The thing is that SLOVEnia had to change its Labor Rights Act in order to join the EU; the new article 45 was specifically created to meed the EU standards. It is supposed to protect the workers in such cases. This article says that it is the employer who has to prove that no sexual discrimination appeared in the office.
But who is the employer if we are talking about the public health institution whose boss is appointed by the government and supervised by a special board of the institution? The government? The Minister of Health? Should the boss who is accused of discrimination prove that he did not do it? Or should this be done by this board?
The now ex-boss is still employed by the institute. So are three out of five women. And they are seeking help again. While the criminal case (with the boss as the defendant) had been tryed in the criminal court, they also filed a lawsuit against the institution in the labour court because the institution did nothing to protect them. In September there was a possibility that the case will settle outside the court but the new boss then said that she will consult the board again. According to the women the composition of members of the board has hardly changed; in it there are more or less the same people who refused to help the women in the first place. They reacted only after the boss was found guilty.
So is it likely that they will help the women now? No. And they did not. They say they will wait until all of the legal opportunities that the boss decided to act on will run out.
That means that the whole point of Article 45 is in vain; that in this country it still up to the victim of the sexual harassment to prove that something happened to her.
No wonder that the only way to recognize and end discrimination in SLOVEnia is to ask for help from abroad as the Slovene Ombudsman did in the Ambrus case (and he was immediately critized for this by the prime minister). Only when it is clearly shown to us that what is going on is discrimination and that it is something we cannot tolerate, we are willing to open our eyes.
I cannot forget the words of a journalist from the Guardian (they are published on this blog) who said that he sees the Ambrus story through the perspective of what was happening in the 1960s in USA with African American community and its fight for the human rights.

Monday, November 13, 2006

NYT on Ambrus

Here is the story that NYT's journalist Nicholas Wood (with the help of Borut Peterlin) wrote about the story of the Roma people from Ambrus. What a LOVEly country that we leave in.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Shape of Her Drawing

I am working on a profile of a prominent illustrator these days. I had a pretty good idea how I want this article to look like, and I only hope that the result will please me.
I have once read a profile of Mister Rogers, by Tom Junod, and I was impressed. Ever since then I always tried to do something similar and up to now I did not have an opportunity. That does not mean that the stories can be compared; I see the Junod's story mainly as a role model, an ideal that I am striving to achieve. I really like how he managed to capture the voice of the children's literature in this article. The explanations, like an ophtalmologist is a doctor who take care of the eyes, make perfect sense here. And we really are able to get the feelikng of Mister Rogers, and not only him, but the whole Mister Rogers phenomenon.
The other story that I read before starting to work on my own story was Walt Harrington's The Shape of Her Dreaming. This is a profile of a poetess Rita Dove, a story about how she is creating a poem, and about the creative process itself. It is amazing how the journalist was able to capture such an elusive thing as the process of writing a poem is. Of course, both of them had much more time for their stories as journalists usually have. Junod met with Fred Rogers at least a couple of times, and Harrington asked the poetess to keep a diary until the poem is finished. She got back to him after several months; he then interviewed her for more than seven hours, and then it took him more than a week to write the article.
In general, I have two to three hours, sometimes a little more, to talk to the subject of my story, and then two to three days at best to work on the article. It is not typical of Slovene journalists to spend a lot of time with their subject/s and I can only hope that one day this practice will change.
But, I must add, it takes more than just time to write such stories. It takes talent, too (although some people say that literary journalism is 10 percent muse and 90 percent hard work), and even more importantly, the guts to experiment and not to be afraid of what will happen with the article. Just as the Rita Dove somehow said, sometimes we should forget the readers ( I meand we should stop worring about how they will accept our story) and write for ourselves.
And then see what happens.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


I am so happy about the election results in USA. It gives me hope that things will sooner or later change and improve elsewhere, too.

I like the pictures that people post on their blogs. So here is one of mine.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good news, Bad News

Today I read the journal which has been prepared for the oncoming Days of Slovene Journalists. It was a sad read as most of the articles were quite pessimistic (especially the articles about censorship and self-cencorship in the media that are the result of the changes in the political situation, and the new Broadcasting and Media Act).
One of the writers mentioned how it is a pity that journalists write to journalists in their professional journal about the situation in the Slovene mediascape. Instead, she said, they should be writing to the general public. She also mentioned that the media scholars somehow seem reluctant to comment on what is going on. Unfortunately not the entire journal is online, si I will summarize her words: she basically said that she misses the true media scholars' perspective and opinion about the situation. Where did their voices go? Did they go silent because of the accusations that they are so called media scholars? According to her that should ignite them to voice their opinion, to judge, to comment, to warn.
I agree with her. But I would also like to add that some journalists write about the situation on their blogs and that some media scholars, too, write about the situation either on the blogs like Medijski watch dog or in the journals like Media Watch (and sometimes in newspapers, magazines, TV or Radio). However, there should be more of them and they should react more often.
It was inspiring to read that some of the bloggers are heard. Borut Peterlin, the photoeditor of the weekly magazine Mladina, for example, writes (and posts pictures)on his blog Dancing Photography about the dispute between the Roma people and the villagers from Ambrus (he seem to be one of the few journalists who try to go beyond the obvious, the stereotypical and who avoid the sensationalism); he has been contacted by a journalist from the New York Times who wanted to cover the story.
This blog , on the other side, does not want to be an outlet for criticism or lament on the current situation in the Slovene media or the society. Instead, I would like to show the positive side of the media and journalism business (I was always saying that there is too much bad news in the newspapers and that we should focus also on good news; but then again I do not mean this in the sense Ivan Štuhec meant when he said that media will write about the nicest and most inspiring events on their front pages. I especially do not agree with the rest of the quote published in the aforementioned journal where I read it). That is why I am posting links to the sites that I found useful or inspiring (beside those, of course, that mean something to me on the personal level:)).
For now, I am complaining only to my friends, because we can discuss the problems and this way I have the feeling that I can tell everything and get a feedback immediately. Perhaps one day, when they will grow tired of listening, this will change. And I will start complaining here:)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Literary Journalism Award

Recently I noticed that this years Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage has been given to Linda Grant from London for her book The People on the Street. As the organizers say the aim of the award is to bring the outstanding achievements of literary reportage and the themes of the nominated books to the focus of international attention and to support its authors both morally, materially and symbolically.
Why I am writing about this? Because there are not many awards given for literary journalism. LJ is still not a mainstream thing, and an authors specific style or voice or attention to details does not count much in many newspapers.
Secondly, because this award is given to journalists from all around the world which means that LJ is global, not limited only to the USA.
And thirdly, because in 2003, when the award was created, among the jurors was also Svetlana Alexiyevich who wrote the book Boys in Zinc. This is enough of a guarantee for me that the award is prestigious. I cannot forget her book. In it there is a passage about a woman who was measuring the size of a zinc coffin in which there the remains of her son. The coffin arrived with a plane from Afghanistan, her son had fought in Soviet-Afghan war. How did she do it? She lay on top of it and measured it with her body. Her son was big and she wanted to be sure that the coffin was big enough for him.
One sentence that revealed all the absurdity of any war.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Today I am happy for two things. First, I finally saw some comments on my blog. Thanks, Xiaoqing. It makes more sense to write all these if I know that someone is actually reading what I write. I look forward to more of your comments.
The other reason is that I got invited to participate in a committee that will give out an award to journalists. I am honored to be invited but even more I am happy that someone is actually going to give an award to a journalist. In Slovenia this does not happen often; whenever I read the Columbia Journalism Review and see all those awards and grants handed to journalists and the advertisments in which the proud newspaper houses congratulate their stuff, I feel a bit envious. It is such a nice feeling to be awarded for your good work. It is good to see that someone noticed your it.
Up to two years ago there have been only two awards given to the journalists in Slovenia, one by the Association of Slovene Journalists, and the other by Sklad Josipa Jurčiča. This new one, called For Diversity. Against Discrimination, is a part of the EU campaign against discrimination. This is even more important because such writings doesn't get much attention in the Slovene media, except perhaps in very sensationalist context.