I’ve just returned from helping deliver the first seminar about blogging and citizen journalism ever held in Sochi, Russia.

Just weeks away from launching my Knight News Challenge project, SochiReporter.ru, I organized a seminar for third, fourth and fifth year students from the five leading Sochi-based universities. Thirty-five journalism and IT students participated in the two day seminar called “Web and Journalism: The New Trends.” We received press coverage in over 30 online publications, in newspapers and from three of the city’s leading TV channels. Clearly, this city, which will host the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, is ready to embrace new ways of reporting and sharing information.

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Students at the SochiReporter seminar

The seminar was held on July 30 and 31 at the peak of the hot Black Sea summer, and at a time when the students are on break from their studies. We invited them to come learn about new media and share their experiences and knowledge. Most of the students turned out to be active web users who already had profiles on the leading Russian social networks. That was a good sign.

Presentation of SochiReporter

On the first day, I gave a lecture about the state of traditional and new media. I also discussed multimedia storytelling principles, demonstrated the difference between a newspaper article and a blog post, and talked about how to choose a topic for a blog, build its audience, and make it successful. The students definitely showed interest in blogging. We also focused on international user-generated content and citizen journalism projects, and the way Web 2.0 is empowering people worldwide.

My session culminated in a multimedia presentation about the SochiReporter project: its concept, structure, design, use of Web 2.0 tools, innovative features, and the opportunities the website offers the citizens of Sochi as they prepare to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

One goal of the seminar was to let the students, who are the most active web users in Sochi, be the first to learn about the project. We also want to give them the tools and knowledge needed to document and report on the changes in their city. SochiReporter is the first ever initiative to build a multimedia archive about the preparation of a host city for the Olympics. We expect to have many contributions from students.

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SochiReporter’s First Partners

Joining me as a presenter at the seminar was Sergey A. Stalnov, the director of public relations for Kodak Russia. He gave an exciting lecture on the invention, development and current state of photography in the digital age. One highlight came when we discovered that there was a 12-year-old girl in the hall with us. We presented her with a free camera, much the same way that Kodak did in 1930 when it introduced the Eastman Anniversary camera. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the company gave away roughly 500,000 cameras to 12 year olds in Canada and the U.S.

After that, each student introduced themselves and shared ideas about how they could contribute to the project. At the end of the first day, the students were given 20 portable HD Kodak Zx1 video cameras (they’re waterproof, which is an important feature in a seaside city like Sochi) and 10 voice recorders, all of which were provided by Kodak and Olympus, SochiReporter’s first partners. The students chose topics and themes to cover using the new devices and headed out into the field. On the second day, they presented their work. These stories and photographs will be the first content available at SochiReporter when the project launches in September.

The students showed a lot of enthusiasm and seem to be excited about the project. “I acquired new multimedia reporting skills at the seminar,” said Artem Shehovtsov, a student at the Sochi Institute of Information Technologies. “I definitely think that SochiReporter is a breakthrough, a really timely project for our city, which is now in constant change. I am anticipating SochiReporter’s launch [in order] to start uploading my content.”

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At the end of the two days, each student was given a certificate commemorating their participation. They also received T-shirts decorated with the project’s logo and a few words that I hope they will take to heart: “I am a SochiReporter.”