Observations of an American journalist in Azerbaijan, Russia and USA.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Another course begins
First day of class in Sheki. It went well, aside from the day being unusually hot. We were fortunate that our room was air-conditioned – but the air-conditioner was inadequate for the size of the room. We survived and no one melted.
The number of people in the class was less than I hoped – but they were mostly experienced journalists. The first day is always introductory – at least in the classes I teach. I like to get to know the students a little – and have them get to know each other. One useful assignment I give for the first day is a news story assessment. I bring in a bunch of newspapers, and have the students pick out a couple of good news stories and a couple of bad news stories. Then – they explain their evaluations to the class and me. Their assessments reveal how they evaluate the news in general.
For example, one fellow today picked out one story as a bad story, because it was about a journalist who had been libeled in the government media. The article he picked out said that the journalist was actually a good guy. So this was confusing. Confusing = bad. Perhaps it was not surprising that the student himself worked for a government media outlet. Cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable.
In general, students thought news articles that agreed with their opinions were good. If they raised uncomfortable facts, they were bad. An article about a rash of poisonings in Baku was judged bad, for example.
The Armenian issue came up. Entirely predictable. One fellow chose as a good article a recapitulation of the argument with Armenia. This was useful, he thought, so that all the reasons for hating Armenia were laid out there in one place. I didn’t argue with him, but I brought up his example – indirectly – later when I talked about what is news. “News” means that there is something new. Something happened since the last time the subject was discussed in the pages of that newspaper. There is a new reason to write an article about this subject. I’m not sure if the journalist got my drift.
At the end of class, the journalist who was suffering from cognitive dissonance came up to me and asked if I had ever been to Armenia. I replied that I haven’t been there.
After class - I wandered around, although the afternoon was hot. Walked up to the old city. The palace of the khan, which is one of the big tourist draws here. I visited it when I was here back in June. It is definitely worth the trip. The whole complex is interesting as a whole.On a hot Monday afternoon, I seemed to be the only foreign tourist. I stopped for tea and some fellows offered me Russian vodka. I declined their invitation to drink, but the sentiment was nice.
Here are some photos from the day. The boys are from my neighborhood. I was intrigued by the toys they had made for themselves - little sticks with wheels, which they turn into pretend cars, running down the alleys, chasing sheep.