Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's so humid........

Baku has been sweltering these past few days, but I have never encountered a situation like today. I walked out of a restaurant and my glasses fogged over the moment I stepped into the humidity. The restaurant didn't seem exceptionally cold, so I assume it must have been the high humidity.

A colleague glanced at his watch and noticed it had fogged over in the humidity.

I thought I had experienced the ultimate humidity having spent 20 years in Washington, DC, the home of humidity. Today's fogging occurred about 9pm -- when the humidity normally begins to ease up a bit.

It reminds me of the time, years ago, when I was on a DC bus on a sweltering summer day. The AC wasn't working and the bus was packed. There was a large elderly woman sitting near where I was standing -- suddenly she said to everyone and no-one: "it's so hot, my corns are poppin'!" For a second, everyone forgot about the heat.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fly Over

Emotional Journalism

A colleague of mine, who happens to be Azeri, was very upset that he didn't receive a grant from an organization. He came to me and said he was going to write a story about how the winner of the grant didn't deserve it and how the organization providing the grant was not jurying the process fairly. It was going to be a very emotional piece. He called it a story, but it was going to be an opinion piece masquerading as an investigative story. He was going to write it that afternoon. I convinced him to leave it alone -- afterall -- he would probably be applying for another grant from this organization sometime in the future.

It wasn't my first encounter with emotional journalism. In fact, I too, have been on the receiving end of emotional journalism -- when a group of journalists didn't receive a small grant from me that they thought they deserved.

Emotional journalism is practiced widely and I've noticed it a lot during my time in the former Soviet republics. Journalists, and sometimes those who think they are journalists, sometimes use this technique for intimidation.

One part-time journalist told me recently that when he didn't get the kind of answers that he wanted from people, he'd just start shouting at them. "They give me answers then because they know that I will write something bad about them, otherwise." It doesn't always work, the last time he tried his shouting technique, they told him to write a letter to the company and they'd get back to him in about two weeks. He went back the next day, apologized and got the interview.

Emotional journalism can be dangerous, too. It can send journalists to prison in societies where libel and defamation are part of the criminal code. In Tajikistan, last year, three young women, who'd just turned 20, faced two years in prison for making up a story about a Tajik singer and publishing it on the internet. The Tajik government had just passed a law that made it a criminal offense to libel someone on the internet.

Emotional journalism is obviously not good for journalists, particularly those trying to practice international standards.

It is a way for governments to say "see, this is how all journalists are."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

City of Dust

Dust in the Wind

Baku means city of wind, but a more precise description would be city of dust. I live across the street from a building that is being renovated -- I can handle the noise. It's the sand blasting that is killing me. Fine particles wind up on everything -- including my laptop screen. When stepping outside, it's in your face -- like a thick fog that pelts your skin.

The whole city seems to be undergoing a face lift this summer.


I've been following the events in Georgia via the internet and through my friends and colleagues who live and work there. A Georgian friend sent me this email on Friday. It is impossible to confirm these descriptions. Here is an excerpt:

"We have already 100,000 refugees and numerous victims, nobody knows the correct number, but as we know right now Russians are raping women, abusing and killing children and old people, hiding themselves in the cellars or in the forests of villages ,nearby Gori, all around of central Georgia!
Nothing is left without robbing and looting and if they can't carry it with them then they are ruining everything! I
do believe that still there are still people left in Europe valuing dignity and relationship rather than the price of oil."

There is no way to confirm some of this material, but I wanted to share it with those reading this blog. As many of you may know, she is referring to the oil pipeline that cuts through Georgia -- originating in Azerbaijan. The pipeline provides oil and natural gas for the west.