US ambassador to Georgia speaks to GIPA

Ambassador Richard NorlandUS Ambassador Richard Norland talked about international affairs affecting Georgians and addressed questions from GIPA students and faculty members on Monday, July 17, 2013. He began his talk by expressing his sympathy for the 7 Georgian soldiers who had recently been killed in Afghanistan and he discouraged any thoughts of Georgia withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Ambassador Norland then carefully discussed Georgia’s desire to become a member of NATO. Although Georgia’s participation with NATO troops has been greatly appreciated, and although it gives Georgian troops valuable experience, there is no quid pro quo; in other words, just because Georgian sends the largest contingent of troops of any country outside NATO does not mean that it will be able to join NATO. Georgia must continue to meet all of the technical requirements and then the NATO countries will vote on admission.Ambassador Norland also addressed the controversial videotape, seemingly produced by Taliban fighters, who declare  jihad on Georgia. Do not take such videos on face value, warned Norland. Moreover, it appears that the tape was uploaded in Georgia, so it may not have been produced by Al Qaeda. In terms of recent US press coverage of Georgia, Norland condemned the New York Times story about poorly behaving Georgian troops in Afghanistan; it was a one-sided story and sloppy reporting, he said. Norland also condemned a Washington Post editorial that democracy is at risk in Georgia.

I asked one question: What is the state of journalism in Georgia? Ambassador Norland seemed reluctant to answer the question, although he vaguely said either that it is less partisan or that there are more points-of-view in the market.

“I never expected to see you here” (echo)

At the end of the workshop, the trainers from IWPR and UN Women, as well as the participants from Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia, all went out to a bar called Calumet in Yerevan. Selecting Calumet was appropriate because the bar’s name means peace–people of all nationalities and all religions are welcome–and our workshop had been about conflict resolution. After I took this picture, Lena Badalyan, from CSJMM, came up to me and said, “I never expected to see you here,” and I echoed her remark. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Journalism education’s future

The news media have published a number of stories recently questioning the value of a college degree. Tuition has increased, and, apparently, learning has decreased. Another point, not obviously related, is grade inflation. I argue, however, that declining value of education and rising grade inflation are related. Potential employers can no longer trust that a college graduate will be prepared to work in his or her field. Something must change.

In journalism, the change could be dramatic. One possible scenario is that fewer students will spend the time and borrow the money for a 4-year degree (which often takes 5 years to complete).

Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning at The Poynter Institute, predicts that people may gain a journalism education without earning a journalism degree. They may earn digital badges, which would verify people’s accomplishments and skills. Whereas a degree indicates that students had a certain number of professor-student contact hours and they satisfactorily completed professors’ assignments, a digital badge indicates that a person acquired a specific skill. People could earn badges by winning awards, completing special projects or meeting learning objectives in a traditional course.

Universities are striving to improve assessment of student learning. Administrators increasingly insist that course syllabuses include specific learning objectives and that professors assess students’ ability to meet each objective. These learning objectives resemble digital badges. If students took 40 courses to earn a degree, and each course had one unique learning objective, then upon graduation, a student would have earned 40 digital badges.

Digital badges, however, may face the same problem as college degrees. In order to increase revenues, degree-granting and badge-granting institutions may enroll as many students as possible. They may not care whether these students are prepared or willing to do the necessary work. They may invest a certain amount of resources to teach students. Then a certain percentage of students may withdraw or fail; another percentage may excel; and the majority in between these groups may pressure instructors to provide greater rewards than are deserved. As a result, employers may remain skeptical of graduates’ capabilities.

Of course, badge-granting institutions would probably not emphasize scholarship and research. Nor would they offer football games, beer-drinking companionship and the other pleasures of living away from parents.

But e-learning (distance education via the Internet) also fails to provide social opportunities on campuses. Yet e-learning in combination with face-to-face interaction may be the future of education, at least at the graduate level.

I’m living in Tbilisi, Georgia, and teaching a doctoral student, Matt Haught, who lives in Columbia, SC. Last night we had a 1.5-hour video Skype call to discuss his reading assignment, his writing and his career plans. Throughout a course, we talk once a week. E-learning for an independent study course has worked well for both of us.

If I had not interacted with Matt in Columbia for a year, however, I don’t believe that our e-learning experience would be as successful. I need some face-to-face time to build trust and to connect with a student.

I would be excited about participating in a visual communication doctoral program with students and faculty scattered throughout the world. It would enable me to work with the best scholars and best students. And what would be the downside (other than time zone problems)? How much difference would there be between my current independent study with Matt and an online course with 5 doctoral students on 5 different continents? Again, I’d just like a certain about of face-to-face time in the beginning.

So why isn’t there a true “international” doctoral program in visual communication? I guess the answer is money and bookkeeping. Imagine that University XX offered the degree and each student paid tuition for 48 credit hours to University XX. Of the 48 credit hours, only 9 were taught by faculty members “working for” University XX (i.e. living nearby). How much money would University XX keep for “overhead?” How much would it pay its faculty members? How much would it pay faculty members working for other universities? I don’t know, but I wish University XX would take a chance and experiment with an e-learning doctoral program in visual communication.



“Undermining” his home

From the left, Salome Sepashvili, Zaza Burchuladze ,Zaza Rusadze, Salome Jashi, and Ana Dziapshpa are members of a panel listening to CSJMM students pitch their ideas for a documentary film; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

CSJMM students had 14 minutes to pitch their ideas for a documentary film to a panel of film experts. They showed a 4-8 minute trailer and then fielded questions. Their presentations and their films were in Georgian, so all I could do was watch the moving images.

The two best ideas will receive $3,000 each from IREX so that students can complete their documentary films.

One winner concerns a tunnel being built underneath a village. Some of the houses have already collapsed due to the underground construction. One man, whose home sits directly above the tunnel’s path, works on the crew constructing the tunnel. Six days a week, he goes down into tunnel, works all day,  then returns above ground to see how much damage has been done to his home. He is literally undermining his home.

Zura Nizharadze, in the documentary film, Teacher From Khaishi.

The other winner concerns the Svaneti village  Khaishi, which will be flooded when a power plant is constructed. Teacher From Khaishi tells the story of Zura Nizharadze, who leads the opposition to the project. His family’s house will be destroyed as a result of Khudoni hydro-power plant construction, but he and other villagers don’t want to re-locate. Teacher From Khaishi shows how villagers currently lives and it includes interviews about their reaction to the construction.

Based upon the enthusiasm and passion students have been demonstrating, I suspect that even without funding, several students will continue to shoot and edit their films. Icommend Nino Orjonikidze and Tiko Nachkebia for doing such a great job of motivating and teaching the 2nd-year students. Panel members said they were well prepared and they were surprised by the high quality of students’ work.

Initial planning for a conflict reporting class for USC and CSJMM students

Gaby Peschiera-Carl, assistant director of Study Abroad at USC, conversing with us in Tbilisi via Skype.

One of the objectives of the “Journalism School Partnership Program” grant is to initiate student exchanges between the University of South Carolina (USC) and the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM). In order to fulfill this objective, we need to identify subject matter that USC students could learn in Tbilisi, Georgia, that they could not learn at USC. Ideally, USC students would be able to learn this subject matter better in Tbilisi than in any other city in the world. That’s a tall order. But we have an idea–conflict reporting. There are four conflict zones within a 1-day drive of Tbilisi: conflicts between Abkhazia and Georgia, South Ossetia and Georgia, Armenia and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan. Most important, students can safely approach one side of the conflicts and talk with people on that side.

The course we are imagining would differ from “standard” courses in a few ways. One, instead of studying with Americans, USC students will study with Georgian students. The opportunities for cross-cultural interaction will be high both inside and outside the classroom. Two, instead of learning from one professor, students will converse with multiple experts. The Institute of War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) and CSJMM have good connections with reporters as well as with citizen bloggers. Three, instead of studying inside a classroom most of the week and traveling on weekends, USC and CSJMM students will go on frequent field trips as part of their course.

Baadur Koplatadze, dean of CSJMM and Beka Bajelidze, region director of IWPR, will begin working on a syllabus and lesson plans. They also will begin to develop a budget. We need to provide housing and transportation for 10-16 USC students for 4-5 weeks. We also need to calculate the costs of the field trips. Meanwhile, assistant director of Study Abroad at USC, Gaby Peschiera-Carl, will guide us through the process of creating a new study abroad course.

We began with a Skype conference call. If you have any suggestions, email Keith Kenney at or comment on the blog.

Visit to and to Maestro TV to arrange internships

Maia Metskhvarishvili, editor-in-chief,, warns that we works interns hard. Maia recently was an intern herself at the large, prestigious newspaper The Minneapolis Star-Tribune in the United States. She expects interns to find good story ideas and she expects them to do in-depth reporting. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.


Khatia Kvatadze and Ilia Kikabidze work for Maestro TV, which is still moving into a building it is renovating. They want interns who have good technical skills, especially the ability to edit video. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.


Maestro TV has a new newsroom and it is still working on two production studios; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Internships for journalism students at CSJMM

From the moment that students first arrive at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at USC, they are encouraged to take an internship. Students who are nearing graduation passionately talk about the importance of getting “real world” experience, of building their portfolios, and of making contacts with professional journalists. Photojournalism students may have 2, 3 or 4 internships. Since some interns are not paid, however, the experience can be a financial burden. When I was a photojournalism intern at The Texarkana Gazette, I was paid, but not enough to cover all of my expenses.

The situation is similar in Georgia. Georgian journalism students want internships for the same reasons U.S. students want internships. In Georgia, however, interns are much less likely to receive a salary. In fact, they work for free.

Students at CSJMM have sometimes worked as interns at media organizations. I don’t think they received academic credit. I don’t think there were  contracts between interns and media companies. And I don’t think employers had a systematic means for evaluating CSJMM interns. But this is changing. Thanks to Tamuna Kakulia and Beverly Dominick.

As Career Services Director in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at USC, Beverly Dominick provides internship advice to all students. She also maintains a searchable database for internships. But, for CSJMM, the most important fact is that she created all of the necessary forms to have a successful internship experience. We are stealing her forms as well as the information she gives students about internships. We are using her Internship Note to Employers; her Internship Agreement and Goal Statement form; her Internship Progress Report form; as well as her Internship Student Evaluation form and her Internship Sponsor Evaluation form. With her permission, of course.

Tamuna Kakulia, project manager at CSJMM,  has kindly translated all of these materials in Georgian. Now we are beginning to visit the following media companies in Tbilisi in order to talk with editors about CSJMM’s internship program and to ask them to sign our forms.

·         Kavkasia (Tbilisi-based local TV station)

·         Maestro (Tbilisi-based local TV station)

·         Radio Sakartvelo (Fortuna, Fortuna Plus, Ar Daidardo)

·        Radio Hot Chocolate and magazine Hot Chocolate

·         Radio Komersanti

·         Radio Utsnobi (Tbilisi-based local radio station)

·         Liberali (web edition plus an 8-page insert to national newspapers)

·         Netgazeti (web edition)

· (web edition)

· (web edition)

·         City (glossy weekly magazine)

·         Mkurnali (magazine covering heath related issues)

·         Palitra media (a media company with radio, web-based TV, newspapers and magazines)

·         The Messenger (English language daily newspaper)

·         The Financial  (English language weekly newspaper)

·         Georgia Today (English language weekly newspaper)

·         Georgian Journal (English language weekly newspaper)

·         IWPR (Institute for War & Peace Reporting)

To apply for an internship, CSJMM students will need to have completed two semesters of coursework. Then they will go to CSJMM’s website, learn about internships, find all the forms, search the database, and email the appropriate contact persons at whichever companies suit their needs. CSJMM students will receive 2 credits for completing an internship involving between 160 and 320 hours of work.