By JEFFREY MARKS
President, WDBJ7, Roanoke, VA
For 15 years, the little television station in Borjomi, Georgia, has been the consistent source of unbiased information for the 35,000 people in its coverage area.
Borjomi TV applied for three years to be part of a U. S. government-media training program conducted by IREX, the International Research and Exchanges Board and was accepted on the third try.
Georgia is on the east side of the Black Sea, south of Russia and northeast of Turkey.
WDBJ7, in Roanoke, VA, and KTUU-TV, in Anchorage, Alaska, volunteered to be Borjomi TV’s partners for this year-long program.
In October, WDBJ7 General Manager Jeff Marks and KTUU Digital Sales Manager Tony Freije made the trip to Georgia for an intensive week of training.
Marks worked with the reporters, anchors and photojournalists to make their reporting interesting as well as informative. He used clips from Schurz Communications, Inc. stations as examples.
One day, to respond to the reporters’ complaint that there’s little news in sleepy Borjomi, Marks took them on a walk and pointed out dozens of potential stories, including one about a building under construction. One of the news crews made it into a television report on the spot.
“Borjomi TV takes pride in being an independent voice in a country where the government may not appreciate it,” said Marks. “I have worked with media companies in several emerging democracies. Borjomi TV is the most committed to getting the truth out.”
Frieje found that the sales team in Borjomi was eager to adopt new techniques for selling sponsorships. He also coached them on how produce an ad that is a call to action for the viewer.
“The work with Borjomi TV was the most rewarding experience that I’ve had,” Freije recalled. “They were eager to learn and ever so grateful for the information that Jeff and I had brought to them. This exchange not only helped me to work on my training skills, but also energized me with ideas that I could take back to KTUU-TV.”
In December, four people, or 25 percent of the Borjomi TV staff, came to Roanoke to see how an American media company works.
They spent time in news meetings, on assignment, in sales training, conferring with the marketing team, and much more. And it’s a two-way deal–they brought with them ideas for outreach programming that could work at WDBJ7.
Borjomi TV manages to operate on a annual budget that is less than one week of WDBJ7′s or KTUU’s spending. Nevertheless, they find many ways to give voice to the people, and to hold government officials accountable for responding.
This spring, two more SCI professionals, one from Roanoke and one from Anchorage, will go to Borjomi for another week of training. Then, another group from Borjomi TV will make the halfway-round-the-world trek to Anchorage for a week of work at KTUU.
“KTUU-TV joins with IREX because we believe media coverage empowers people to make better decisions on improving their communities and lives,” said Andy MacLeod, president and general manager of KTUU-TV. “As Alaskans, we understand some of the challenges of operating in remote and isolated communities.
“IREX is a means of sharing our experience and knowledge and also a way to expand it,” he added. “We learn a lot. Our people come back with a larger vision of the world and the role media play in it, and that benefits all of us.”