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CyberChaikhana

Pre-selected chapters round 1 for Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
Written by , Thursday, 28 Feb, 2008 – 22:18 | No Comment

As I proceed in this project, more and more I feel an affinity with the Middle Eastern and Transoxianan historians of the late antiquity and medieval eras. Writing first in Arabic, later in Persian and Turkish, they were called akhbari, which literally meant “notetakers of the past” or historians. Rarely was an invidual akhbari an historian by profession; instead, many of them worked primarily as jurists or muhadithun (traditionists). As such, they were trained in the processes of editing hadith, the written traditions about Muhammad and his companions.

Fundamental to the profession of the muhadithun was the compiling and redacting of notes, little pieces of paper upon which were scribbled the individual hadiths, into single compendiums. The innovation of the akhbari was to apply the methodology of hadiths to secular history, about which many hadith-style notes about great men and great events (particularly Alexander the Great’s campaigns) had been written over the centuries.

You can begin to see the analogy: I am your “cyber-akhbari,” and your weblog posts are the “cyber-hadith” with which I do my work.

So, what is the status of my work thus far? Below are the posts for Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan that Ben and I have selected for the first round:

  • It is arranged non-chronologically by broad topics, and occassionally by chapter ideas. Some of these chapter ideas, such as “Genderstan,” are more fleshed out than others. (And by the way, please forgive the ideas’ titles for being so bland; these are only working titles.
  • With an exception here and there, I do not list the photographs which I have ear-marked for their photographic content. Photographs for use in the book interior will be chosen near the end of the editorial process.
  • Some of these posts were selected with their comments sections in mind. In the final book, the comments would also be published.
  • Some of these posts may work in a broad topic or chapter idea other than that which it is currently categorized under, e.g., “Kyrgyz Klondike” (18/09/06) would work well both in a chapter devoted economics, environment, or labor. Additionally, I will consider multi-thematic chapters, e.g., the 2006/2007 posts aboutAstana and Almaty’s architecture and arts scene.
  • Ben and I have agreed that in the final book, posts by a single author will be no more than three in number.

Regarding the chapter ideas, that some will have more posts on this list than others does not mean I am set upon one or another. Additionally, the challenge will be to choose posts that are of enough interest to both Westerners and Central Asians that simultaneously avoid a “novelty effect” among the former and a “boredom effect” among the latter (this is especially the case with human-interest posts).

As it so happens, the question I put forth in my first post on chapter ideas has been answered: culture and politics, with a healthy amount of social issues, will probably be the major interest points for the book’s Central Asian readership.

Expect a similar list for Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan soon. Remember: from all these lists will eventually be hardboiled a total of only 50-60 posts. And above you will only find English posts from two countries – not taking into account all the great material that has been published on neweurasia in Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek! Posts from other blogs are also not included yet, but will be added once rudimentary chapter ideas stand.

Your feedback is more than appreciated. Read on after the jump! Read the full story »

A comment on print and internet journalism in America and Central Asia
Written by , Thursday, 28 Feb, 2008 – 19:58 | No Comment

In the Facebook group, New Media in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, one poster wrote the following:

Journalism in post-soviet countries is more likely to be ‘authorless’.  It is definitely arguable, but here are my observations.

Couple years ago Azattyk Media (where I currently work) launched TV projects. The anchor of one of these projects became well-known. When he was walking through Bazaar (open air market), people would stare at him and say ‘Yngaisyz Suroolor is coming’. Yngaisyz Suroolor is name of program he hosts, and nobody would recall name of journalist.

It seems like the only way for journalist to be known by name is to get high official position. Is that fair? What if good journalist wants to stay good journalist, not turn into crappy director? People know ‘Open Kyrgyzstan’, ‘Zloe pero’, ‘Dobush’, ‘Pulse’. Majority doesn’t really know authors of these projects.

Is that normal?

My response:  As a former print reporter in the United States, I would say that the situation is remarkably analogous here as that which was described by the poster about Central Asian media. 

Of course, we have a lot more local or localized media, which helps raise the profiles of “lesser-knowns.”  However, overall the celebrity culture is so pervasive here that it has begun to result in a funneling of not only recognition but resources to fewer and fewer “high-profiles” at the serious expense and detriment of everyone else in the industry.  It gets even more complicated because the “high-profiles” tend to accommodate the people in power.  Indeed, very often our “high-profiles,” if they haven’t gained their celebrity status through sheer physical beauty, have become who they are because they themselves are descended from elite circles of one stripe or another.

This could be one reason why the Internet is becoming so popular, both for alternative and “citizen” journalism: it allows the rest of us to have a voice and recognition, and the basic resources needed to implement successful reporting — computer and textual literacy, some basic technical skills, and networking — are so easy to acquire and successfully execute. 

Your thoughts, everyone?

Call for Photobloggers
Written by , Wednesday, 20 Feb, 2008 – 22:59 | One Comment

This is a special message to neweurasia‘s photobloggers and photographically-inclined writers:
CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT: CyberChaikhana will be printed in full color, inside and out. The plan is to combine the weblog text posts with stunning graphic design, and most of all, photographs taken for and by the neweurasia and Central Asian weblogging community. In other words, your photographs.

Because the content of the book is still in process, what we need most right now is the cover photograph (we will put out a call for photobloggers for the interior of the book later).

The photograph must be in keeping with the book’s title. Therefore it should have something to do with computers and Central Asia’s tea houses. Some sample ideas from Ben and I: a young person with laptop in chaikhana; a street-view on internet café with chaikhana next door; a young and old sitting together on laptop drinking tea. But these are only sample ideas; in truth, we really want to see what you can conjure.

Submissions should for the exterior should also be in pristine digital quality (>4 Megapixel, high JPG quality or TIFF). You can submit up to 10 photographs via e-mail (ben at neweurasia dot net). The winner will receive $125 in cash. The three best runners-up photos will be printed inside the book and will receive $25 each. Money will be handed out to the winners by neweurasia‘s bridge bloggers in May.

Deadline for all submissions is the 31st of March 2008.

(The “mock” cover design may be viewed here).

Chapter Ideas: Problems and Possibilities
Written by , Saturday, 16 Feb, 2008 – 19:49 | 6 Comments

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter: chapters. As I said before, CyberChaikhana will highlight the 50-60 best posts from our extended network of bloggers, in 8-10 themed chapters. Ben and I have some ideas as to themes and topics we could cover. For example: “Minorities,” “Visions for the Future,” “Reflections of the Past,” and “Women’s Issues in Central Asia.” However, what we really want to hear from you are your ideas on this subject.

But before I open up the forum, we all need to keep in mind certain considerations:

(A) If we calculate that the average weblog post averages 200-600 words in length (from half a page to two full pages), and that within a single post sometimes multiple themes and topics can be touched upon, then we have an interesting dual challenge: we are confronted with a huge variety of potential areas of focus on the one hand, and a very limited space in which to cover our chosen areas of focus on the other. This means every inch of ink needs to pack a punch. There cannot be any wasted space; otherwise we will create a 1000-page monster.

(B) This raises the subject of the book’s purpose. Of course, it is to demonstrate to both English-reading and Russian-reading audiences the vitality and potential of Central Asian societies and weblogging-based Internet journalism. However, this raises new questions: will English-reading (Western) and Russian-reading (Central Asian) audiences be interested and influenced by different things, and if so, which things?

Therefore we should approach the discussion of chapters as really the discussion of the book’s overall framework. By “framework” I mean a guide for decision-making. I’m an historian and journalist by training. The way I operate is by pooling the raw material – in this case, the weblog posts – in such a fashion that when the time comes to do the editing, the implementation can be almost automatic for me. Essentially, everything needs to be in the right mental folder before I start.

Since Ben and I can pretty much make a good hypothesis about what Westerners would be interested in reading about, my real task is to get in the heads of the book’s Central Asian readers. So, when you are proposing chapter ideas to me, keep in mind that this is the question to which I need your answer: what would Central Asians as a whole be interested in reading about?

If you haven’t already joined our Google group on this subject, please do so here. It will be the best way for us to communicate on this and future subjects.

Welcome!
Written by , Thursday, 14 Feb, 2008 – 20:22 | 6 Comments

Hello everybody,

My name is Christopher Schwartz. I will be the editor for both the CyberChaikhana weblog and the book. I would like to kick start this weblog with one of my favorite quotes from the Koran: “If all the forests were pens, and the oceans ink, the words of God would still not be exhausted.” These words could never be truer than for Central Asia. There are so many stories in the region being written right now, from Astana to Ashgabat to Bishkek to Dushanbe to Tashkent, that it would indeed require a forest of pens and an ocean of ink to capture them all. Our task together is to capture what we can, particularly those stories that best show the world what Central Asia and weblogging have to offer.

This is a weblog especially dedicated to one subject: the creative and editorial process behind the future book. The neweurasia editorial staff not only wants to make public the process, but to involve you, the neweurasia community. I will therefore solicit your opinions on proposed chapters and post selections. You will be able to provide your feedback through “suggestion e-boxes” (comments) and forum polls. Additionally, feel free to contact me directly about any suggestions or concerns you may have. The goal is to render the process transparent and democratic from start to finish, in the true spirit of internet journalism.

I hope that we will have a very fun and meaningful time together, and that in the end, you and I will produce a book of which all of us in the neweurasia community can feel proud.

This, by the way, is the working version for a potential cover, which is more than likely to change to better reflect the title: