Buzz on Bees
Research View is published twice a year by the offices of the Vice President for Research and Development and University Relations at The University of Montana. Send questions, comments or suggestions to Rita Munzenrider, managing editor, 327 Brantly Hall, Missoula, MT 59812, or call (406) 243-4824. Production manager and designer is Cary Shimek. Contributing editors and writers are Brianne Burrowes, Vince Devlin, Patia Stephens, Shimek and Alex Strickland. The photographer is Todd Goodrich. Web design is by Patia Stephens. For more information about UM research, call Judy Fredenberg in the Office of the Vice President for Research and Development at (406) 243-6670.
“I think I’ve learned a lot more about Central Asia than I would have otherwise,” says Ekness, a UM associate professor of radio-TV, laughing.
Taabaldiev, a career journalist who has worked for a news service in his native Kyrgyzstan, the BBC in London and the United States Information Agency, arrived at UM in November to study rural media.
Montana was one of the four states Taabaldiev had listed as preferences when he applied for the Fulbright grant, along with Colorado, Utah and Missouri. He says he was looking for a landscape and population distribution similar to that in his home country.
Kyrgyzstan is a mostly mountainous nation in Central Asia, bordered to the orth by Kazakhstan, the south and east by China and the west by Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
But unlike most of its neighbors, Taabaldiev says, Kyrgyzstan has a relatively free press. What they lack are the finances and know-how to become truly effective.
“There is media in the big cities,” says Taabaldiev, who lives and teaches in the nation’s capital, Bishkek. “But in the larger regions of Kyrgyzstan, people cannot find proper media, especially electronic media, and there is less print media available.
“Some newspapers in some communities can’t even find a simple computer to type, lay out or print from,” he says.
The media, especially in print form, has an uphill battle in rural Kyrgyzstan. They lack money, and there is a vicious cycle that makes it almost impossible to obtain money by traditional means.
“They (newspapers) can’t issue enough papers because there aren’t enough local people who can buy them, so no companies are willing to advertise,” Taabaldiev says.
Though surprised, Taabaldiev says he had “no objections” to the decision, hoping it would bring in fresh people with fresh perspectives to move the agency forward.
When none of the alternate positions he was offered looked appealing, Taabaldiev, who also teaches college journalism classes, decided to apply for a Fulbright grant.
The Fulbright Program, which operates in more than 150 countries worldwide, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.
Kyrgyzstan, Taabaldiev grew weary of the bureaucratic
“Immediately after I was offered (the job) I got contacted by the embassy,” he says.
Taabaldiev knew right away that he would turn down the consulting job to come to the United States to conduct research and continue to observe the international media.
“I will keep my position at the university because they need a professor with international experience,” he says. It’s a qualification his time here will further bolster.
Media in Montana
Ekness figured the best thing he could do to help the visiting professional was to put him in contact with as many people as possible.
Taabaldiev says his work and research with television outlets here has been particularly rewarding in part because of his lack of experience in that medium, but also because TV is such a powerful and effective way to reach people.
“If I can explain the style and methods of how TV journalism works in the U.S., it will be more useful than other media,” he says. “In Kyrgyzstan the most influential media is TV.”
Ekness says that public broadcasting systems were of particular interest to Taabaldiev. So it was important for Taabaldiev to discover that KUFM, one of Montana’s PBS stations, is headquartered just out the back door of his office.
But for all the geographic and population distribution similarities between Montana and Kyrgyzstan, there are still plenty of differences that make Montana a slightly imperfect laboratory for Taabaldiev’s study.
“What is interesting here is that the mountains are heavily populated and not the plains,” Taabaldiev says. “It is vice versa in Kyrgyzstan.”
He also noted there are no great economic disparities between states or regions in the United States. People in Idaho live in much the same fashion as those in Montana. Taabaldiev says in Kyrgyzstan, which is smaller than Montana, there is a sharp contrast between the northern and southern regions of the country.
“The south side level of life is lower than the north side,” he says. “In the U.S. you cannot feel it — all people are in the relatively same condition.”
“I did not expect that UM was one of the top 10 schools of journalism in the country,” he says. “I did not expect it in this kind of state, which is not thought of as a leading state.”
Beyond the caliber of the faculty themselves, Taabaldiev has made note of the methods of teaching here as a model for some of the journalism courses he teaches in his home country.
“The media in Kyrgyzstan is in transition because many teachers and mentors were trained in the Soviet style,” he says.
Taabaldiev has tried to get international journalists to come in and teach to supplement his own international experience, so that the new crop of young journalists can one day mentor and teach a more independent, Western style of media.
Ekness says the challenges Taabaldiev faces in the education and practice of journalism are not that different from the challenges he will see here in America.
“It’s the same story as we have here,” Ekness says. “How do we get from large media markets to small-town Montana?”
What’s more, Ekness says, the demise of the traditional newspaper, burgeoning Web-based media and changing demographics are reshaping the industry at such a fast pace that even long-established Western media has a hard time figuring out how to cope.
“Local is what makes you unique,” Ekness advises, regardless of the tools. “If you concentrate on that you’ll be successful.”
And as Taabaldiev continues to observe the similarities between his country and Montana and to decide what will or won’t work, Ekness is keeping his eyes peeled for any insight it could give about ways journalism could be better here.
“I’ll be interested to see what he comes up with at the end,” he says.
— By Alex Strickland