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Georgia: Regional Reporters

See Global Voices special coverage page on the South Ossetia crisis.

The conflict between Georgia and Russia over the breakway territory of South Ossetia was accompanied by cyber-attacks on several Georgian government and independent media sites. But rather than prevent journalists from utilizing the Internet to report on the war, it achieved the opposite. Many Georgians — media professionals and citizen journalists alike — set up blogs to report or comment on the conflict.

Global Voices Online's Caucasus Regional Editor Onnik Krikorian spoke to The Institute for War & Peace Reporting's Country Director, Shorena Ratiani, and Web Editor, Giorgi Kupatadze, on their own blog which covers the Georgia-Russian conflict: Regional Reporters [RU].

Onnik Krikorian: When was the Regional Reporters blog set up and why?

Giorgi Kupatadze: It was set up on 8 August when most of the local Georgian web sites were hacked and breiught down. We decided to create a blog although not in the classical sense. We just posted news with no comments from our journalists participating in our projects throughout the region. We received news from from reporters in Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and so on.during this period about the conflict.

As we found it later — yesterday, in fact, our blog was the 12th most popular of all the blogs hosted by WordPress.com. Page views are not very clear statistics, of course, but when we set up the blog in the afternoon, we had almost 30,000 page views in the evening and that was just for the first day. However, we had to turn comments off after many obscenities were left by the “other side,” shall we say.

OK: That's a pity because some kind of discussion in the comments section of each post would have been useful. Wouldn't it have been possible to moderate them?

GK: Yes, it's a pity, but we just didn't have the necessary human resources and time to do so. Comments were on for the first five posts before we announced the creation of the blog, but then in just five minutes there were more than 100 comments. Unfortunately, most of them needed moderation and we just don't have the resources to do that.

OK: The site was set up because of the events in South Ossetia, but why use a blogging platform?

GK: Well, we just decided that in such a situation it would be useful to have a source of news from people both inside and outside of Georgia. It was also necessary for people here, and especially in the regions where there is limited access to information.

Shorena Ratiani: IWPR has never used blogs before, but because we received so many phone calls from the beginning of the conflict it was necessary. We started with limited resources and a limited staff, but Giorgi managed to get it running and it became a huge success.

OK: Why did you choose WordPress over LiveJournal which is very popular in the former Soviet space?

GK: Mainly it was because I have more experience with WordPress and it seemed natural.

OK: Have you had much feedback from other IWPR offices about the blog?

SR: Yes, the IWPR main office [in London] are very pleased which is particularly satisfying as we weren't sure this blog would find as much success as it did.

OK: Are there plans to have posts in other languages other than Russian?

SR: This wasn't planned and it exists only as a voluntary effort.

OK: I assume you never had any experience of blogs before, but can you know see their potential as a medium for the dissemination of information.

SR: Yes, but it depends on our resources. However, while I couldn't say that blogs are popular in Georgia, now we've started on this, I've certainly become more interested in them.

GK: I'm not a very active blogger myself, but I'm an avid reader. For sure, it has huge potential. In terms of the Georgian blogs, there's more and more of them now, and I think that their number will increase.

Regional Reporters [RU] is at http://www.regionalreporters.wordpress.com.

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