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Journalist Exchanges Promised from U.S.-Russia Conference

Journalist Exchanges Promised from U.S.-Russia Conference

Washington - Building on the Obama administration's efforts to improve relations between the United States and Russia, a group of prominent media leaders from the two nations have come up with their own ideas to confront stereotypes and increase mutual understanding.

The executives, representing leading U.S. and Russian media companies - both traditional and social media, and nongovernmental media organizations - met in Boston March 2-4. They agreed to work on a number of joint projects, including an exchange program for young professional journalists, a roundtable on journalism ethics, and new communication platforms to continue their dialogue on media.

The executives were delegates at the first meeting on Mass Media, one of the subgroups of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission established in 2009 by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"No longer can we afford to let mutual frustration or outdated stereotypes stand in the way of our shared interests," U.S. Under Secretary of State Judith McHale said in her opening remarks. "President Obama was right when he said we not only need a reset between our governments, we need a fresh start between our societies - more dialogue, more listening and more cooperation."

"This is not a question of who is winning and who is losing the information war between the United States and the Russian Federation," said Ambassador Mikhail Shvydkoy, President Medvedev's special envoy for international cultural cooperation.

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"But there is a problem that in both our societies - the Russian society and the American society - people still have their old stereotypes, the stereotypes of the Cold War," he said in an interview. "We need to resolve shared problems ... and it is possible to do [that] today without the mass media." Shvydkoy, a former Russian minister of culture, attended with McHale as co-chairs of the Bilateral Presidential Commission's Working Group on Education, Culture, Sports and Media.

Reflecting the conference's theme of the evolving new journalism, its three panels on "The Business of Media," "The Evolving Practice and Profession of Journalism," and "New Media Technologies" were webcast live worldwide with panelists participating in Web chats with university students from both countries.


Headlining the proposals was a pilot exchange program for 25 young American and Russian journalists designed to help a new generation overcome stereotypes and rediscover the other's country.

The idea came from three Russian delegates - two of them editors-in-chief of major Russian newspapers, the third a major television executive - each of whom had participated in exchange programs when they were young.

Delegate Vladislav Fronin described his first visit to America, during the time of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, and the exchange program that enabled him to see the United States from the inside.

"There were very strong anti-American feelings in Russian society," Fronin said. "As a result of this exchange ... we understood what a civil society was."

Today, Fronin is editor-in-chief of Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the largest newspaper in Russia, owned by the government of the Russian Federation.

"If this exchange is going to take place," he said, "we are ready to receive American journalists in our newsroom."

"They were very convincing," said fellow panelist Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the Knight Foundation, which funds journalism projects. The delegates were so convincing that Newton obtained a pledge from the Knight Foundation to make a grant to the International Center for Journalists to fund half of the proposed young journalist exchange. It will include one-month reporting fellowships in all media sectors.

In some cases, Newton said, the journalists would be paired on a global story, with the news from America written by the Russian and the news from Russia written by the American.

Once completely funded, Newton said, the program could begin in 2012, an election year in both Russia and the United States.

The Knight Foundation has also agreed to support U.S. participation in a roundtable discussion in Russia later this year focusing on journalism ethics.


To overcome stereotypes, delegates proposed sharing jointly translated media products across Russian- and English-language markets. They also are devising the best ways to use advanced social media tools to collect data about remote areas in both countries.

Delegates Nargiz Asadova, editor-in-chief of the website of Echo Moskvy radio, and Rob Baker, director of Universities 4 Ushahidi, a nonprofit training project, are working on a joint project to help Echo more efficiently use social media from Russia's remote areas for the benefit of online readers and listeners, Baker said in an interview.

Fellow delegate John Della Volpe, founder and managing director of SocialSphere Inc., agreed to establish an online platform to keep the conversation going, and announced plans to work with the Public Diplomacy Collaborative at Harvard University to develop more comprehensive strategies. The Collaborative, housed within Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, seeks to deepen interaction between media leaders and public diplomacy officers at U.S. embassies around the world.

Volpe is offering SocialSphere's collaborative platform, ARENA, to all the working groups who met in Boston. Delegates can use the platform to communicate and share ideas while preparing for future meetings in Moscow.

Baker is using the platform to provide a demonstration of SwiftRiver, a media filtering platform from Ushahidi. Based on this software, the delegates plan to develop a tool to analyze, filter and verify information in Russian.


The "Business of Media" panel concentrated on identifying business models to integrate social media and citizen journalism into traditional media. Delegates plan to develop a platform to exchange information on such issues as: managing innovation, sharing best practices, incorporating copyright and other intellectual property protections, and exchanging recommendations for adapting traditional news gathering operations to new technology and economic challenges.

"Government has a role in helping create that environment [where innovation can thrive] ... respecting the rule of law, protecting intellectual property rights and promoting core freedoms," McHale said.

"That includes freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and what Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton has termed the 'freedom to connect' - to the Internet, to unfiltered information, and to one another," McHale said.

The Bilateral Presidential Commission's subgroup on Mass Media tentatively plans their next meeting in Moscow in the late summer or early fall.

Co-chairing the sub-group were Dawn McCall, U.S. coordinator for international information programs, and Mikhail Gusman, first deputy director general of Russia's ITAR-TASS News Agency.


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