A group of journalists and academics from Kyrgysztan have been in the area to learn about journalism in America. They visited the journalism school at the University of Nevada, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and today got to meet yours truly to learn more about modernizing journalism.
The group asked about ethical conflicts, advertising, and dealing with politicians and government.
We talked quite a bit, through two different interpreters, about Reno’s homeless population — specifically, why it exists and is getting worse.
When it came to journalism, the group wanted to know whether we are friendly with local government and officials — or not.
I said it’s a mixed bag: there are some local officials who love what we do and generally get along with, and there are some who won’t give us the time of day.
A big topic: One of the biggest challenges many local news websites face is balancing interests among readers, advertisers, and those on whom we report.
In all instances, I said, it is hoped that we treat people and issues fairly, but there are always those who complain no matter what we do.
I also dispelled the notion that a free press exists in America. I used the examples of Reveal, Gawker, and Sam Toll to show how moneyed interests can shut down journalism enterprises through legal bullying and that there are limits to free speech.
The group seemed especially keen on funding, so I spent much of our time together talking about our advertising model and our new paywall / subscriptions.
A key point that I probably did not stress enough is how subscriptions can alleviate publishing versus editorial conflicts. It means readers who value our content can be a part of contributing to it financially: The more reader support, the less reliance on advertising.
Because of language barriers, only a few in the group were fluent in English. I got to speak with Shakhlo Khimatova, from the Media Support Center in Kyrgyzstan, about their visit to Reno.
“We have freedom of speech,” she said. “Kyrgyzstan is a democratic island in central Asia.
“Media classrooms in the university are better than our state channel in Kyrgyzstan. Let’s hope for the best because we are a developing country,” she added. “And someday, of course, we will also have [the same] in our universities.”
Their visit was arranged with the UNR Northern Nevada International Center and the U.S. state department.
“Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields experience this country firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts,” the program explains. “Professional meetings reflect the participants’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States.”
Early Kyrgyz people were nomadic, living in easily transported yurts, and originated in the area of modern Mongolia. Previously under Russian rule, Kyrgyzstan, a central Asian country, is now an independent democracy. The country’s official language is Russian.