The Internet and local news online is big part of the learning curve.
By Matt Coleman
To the untrained eye, a common Florida lizard might be a startling sight.
That's especially true for a group of visitors from a landlocked and chilly country in Eastern Europe.
"They did their research and heard there were a lot of alligators here," the translator said with a chuckle as she watched the tiny green lizard snake across the ground toward her foreign charges. "They thought that might be a small one."
Thankfully, they're not here to study wildlife. The five-person group of journalists from the Republic of Belarus spent the last week in the country as part of the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program. They represent five local TV stations from the presidential republic and were sent to America to learn about the day-to-day operations of mid-size news operations.
Jacksonville was the second stop on their five-city tour. They started in Washington, D.C., and will round out their journey with stops in New York City, Kalamazoo, Mich., and Los Angeles, said Evgeniy Dudkin, director of the Televid TV and Radio Co.
"All of our stations focus on local news stories that impact our viewers," Dudkin said. "But we don't have the technical support and fancy equipment of some of the larger networks. So we're here to learn tricks from America's local news."
Dudkin and his colleagues started the week shadowing reporters from WJXT TV-4 and later visited The Times-Union's newsroom.
But they took a short break Monday afternoon to field questions from a group of Jacksonville University broadcast students interested in how the media operates in their country.
Annmarie Kent-Willette, faculty adviser of the university's Dolphin Channel News operation, led the conversation, which touched on Belarus' press freedom and TV news hierarchy.
National stories are handled by a few large, state-run media conglomerates, while regional and local news is reported by the mid-market TV stations and newspapers.
Many of the smaller operations are learning how to leverage the power of the Internet for local news coverage, Dudkin said. They're learning how to migrate much of their content online while dealing with national bandwidth issues that make posting streaming video almost impossible.
Dudkin said the situation is comparable to how things were for the American media in the early '90s.
But he said his colleagues have already gained some valuable insight into operating more effectively with limited resources. They were intrigued by the "one-man band" concept they learned while following TV reporters in Washington. One reporter handles everything - on-air duties, camera work and editing - instead of deferring to a team.
"It would take training, but we'd like to try it," he said.
His most valuable takeaway from the First Coast visit, however, has nothing to do with the media.
Dudkin said he'll never forget his trip to Jacksonville Beach.
He's never seen the ocean before - much less jumped in.
"I was the only one in the water," he said. "It might have been cold for them. Not for me."