Monday, September 10, 2012

A New Day in Nepal

GUFA GUFFAW:  Media Gufa participants share a light moment

Something rare and wonderful has just concluded in Kathmandu.

Deep in the bowels of the Hotel Mandap (The Little Hotel that Could), Nepalis came together.

Dharma Adhikari's Media Foundation held a "New Media Gufa"  or "cave" where 5 of Nepal's top tech-savvy journalists chained themselves to their computers for three days in a heroic attempt to determine the extent of internet penetration in Nepal and to see if Nepali stories could be accurately told and sourced through the conveniences and limitations of the internet alone.  It was a beautifully conceived and elegantly simple plan and its execution was wondrous. Competing journalists talked and worked together as colleagues; debated, shared ideas and source information; and all was well and good until:

A National Conversation Happened

First, let's back up a bit: Up until this event, with the exception of an exceptional few, Nepal's journalists were often seen as a reactive and somewhat insular group with only a passing interest in the deeper roles of journalism in shaping national opinion, providing checks and balances against corruption, and uncovering hard truths in the service of the public's "right to know." The 4th estate in Nepal was better described as the 4th estate-less. The New Media Gufa broke through the fog of journalistic self-loathing and paycheck-to-paycheck zombie scribbling and dared to ask:

"Who are we as journalists?"

The answers were not readily apparent, but working and collaborating under the Gufa format on topics selected by debate and consensus provided some insight and proved to be a liberating experience for the participants.  Gufa journalists were able to challenge themselves and take risks, under the full scrutiny, support and criticism of their peers. What this did, aside from scaring the hell out of everyone initially, was to give the participants, perhaps for the first time, a feeling that they were a part of a larger journalistic community and that their individual voices, words and stories carried real weight within that community.  Heavy stuff.  So, who are we as Nepali journalists? they asked. Well for one thing, and at least for one weekend, they were a community.

Why does any of this matter?  A free and fair media is one of the pillars of democratic society and Nepal can use all the pillars it can get these days.  Forming a sense of community among journalists--and let's make a wish and say this leads to a vibrant journalism community in Nepal--is the first step in building such a media pillar. Communities define themselves by establishing standards; and standards, at least for journalists, lead to greater integrity which ultimately results in solid public trust in journalism and the media overall. The end result, to quote Neil Armstrong is: "Houston, we have a pillar.(beep)"  (OK, he never said that, but you get the point.)

The biggest of the big pictures here is that perhaps we are beginning a new day--catching a glimpse, through the New Media Gufa, of an imminently possible Nepal where dialogues about what is best for the public outweigh the voicing of immediate, individual and selfish concerns; and Nepalis begin to find new and courageous ways to voice their opinions and take control of their lives and their country.

I'd like to believe that we can find our community. Not tribe, not corporation, but the community of Nepalis as a nation. We really have no excuse for not trying.

The New Media Gufa has shown us the way.