I recently spoke with a friend of mine here in Sochi, Russia. She is a specialist in modernizing the technological infrastructure of sanatoriums, which were the places where lucky Soviet working class heroes would be sent to rest and relax. (Think of them as health spas.)
It’s a challenge to transform the Soviet-era sanatoriums. For example, her job entails computerizing the files and data and modernizing the registration of new clients. But she said it’s exciting work. For her, the most enjoyable part of the job is organizing courses for the staff (doctors, waiters, janitors) who at first seem dazed and confused by the changes and new technology. Gradually, their puzzlement gives way to excitement. “How come we were doing this job manually for so many years?” they eventually ask.
Those many people, who are trying to modernize different aspects of Sochi culture and society for the upcoming 2014 Winter Games, can definitely relate to her experience. It’s not just about the modernization of the sanatoriums; it’s about every aspect of the locals’ lifestyle and the character of the infrastructure. Of course, this is what makes this process of transformation so exciting.
Our project, SochiReporter, a hyper-local citizen news website, is working to create an archive of these changes — an archive that is built by and for locals. And, as the website is reflecting change and transformation in the city, it changes itself.
Over the last several weeks we have been working at mastering our own technology. We added new features to the site, expanded the social networking component, added links to SochiReporter groups on other social networks (twitter, vimeo, flickr, livejournal, vkontakte.ru, ya.ru), and will add more changes over the next two weeks. Also of note is that the website is loading much faster, partly because of some back-end work, and partly because the new 4G WiMax Internet service called Yota was launched in Sochi at the end of March.
Becoming a Journalist-Entrepreneur
I have become part of the new breed of journalists-turned-entrepreneurs, and I’m finding a certain amount of pleasure in this lifestyle, crazy though it is.
First of all, I am living between two cities: Sochi and Moscow. Being in Sochi means working with contributors and the people who actually submit content to the website, and promoting the project at the local level. Moscow is a bigger source of financing, a business hub where I can meet with advertisers who might be interested in supporting SochiReporter.
Our team has recently been working on developing a sustainable business model, as the Knight Foundation grant money that enabled us to launch the project and start the experiment will soon run out.
Being an entrepreneur means being simultaneously responsive to two mobile phones, an iPad, a laptop and even a fax machine. It also means being very open to new collaborations and projects. You need to be open to taking risks, and adept at using the knowledge you acquired in traditional media reporting and applying it to new media.
Giving Newspapers a Chance
We recently decided to start giving the local Sochi papers, which don’t have an online presence, an opportunity to place their content on our site. This section is called News and it’s where we mostly have content from RSS feeds. It’s separate from the Reports section, which is filled with reports from citizens and includes original content.
The editor of the first Sochi paper to go on our site is extremely happy about the arrangement. He had been seeking a presence on the web. For our part, we’ll see how things go and will probably partner with additional local media. However, our main goal is to provide our content to local media. We hope to expand those possibilities by enabling people to submit reports and photos via mobile phone. Right now, people aren’t able to upload content using their phone, though they can read the site and add comments to the articles.
Just a final word about marketing, as it is now one of our primary goals. With the site now built and working, we are focused on telling people about it and getting them to use it. One way of doing that is by being part of big events in the area. We were recently chosen as a media sponsor for one of the biggest annual movie festivals in Russia, Kinotavr. It will take place in Sochi from June 6 to 13.
We are the only Sochi-based media outlet to be among the sponsors. The rest are Moscow-based media outlets. We will receive some very cool promotion during the event and the SochiReporter logo will be present in the Kinotavr daily newsletter, its brochures and on its website.