CESMI is an innovative initiative that won the inaugural CESS Public Outreach Award. This occasional recognition is given for “for extraordinary work that contributes to advancing and making accessible knowledge of Central Eurasia to a broad audience“. Congratulations to the dedicated team maintaining this valuable network and resource!
Galvanized by a sense that scholars could have engaged much more helpfully with the media in reporting on the violence that gripped southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, the idea for a Central Eurasian Scholars and Media Initiative (CESMI) was born. Discussions at CESS in that turbulent year revealed that these concerns were widely shared with scholars working across the region. CESMI was thus designed as a bridge-building organization: firstly between scholars and a wider public, both in Central Asia itself and globally. And secondly, across language boundaries of media consumption and distribution of knowledge on Central Eurasia. The term ‘Central Eurasia’ was chosen to reflect an inclusive, rather than a politically-positioned vision of the initiative’s remit.
Over the past three years, CESMI has steadily expanded as a team of enthusiasts spread across the globe: in Almaty and Montreal, Hong Kong and Bishkek, Perm and Paris. All work for zero monetary reward, carried by the conviction that scholars have real skills that can and should be put to use in ways useful to the region itself. We set about organizing events such as a roundtable at the European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS) conference 2011 with prominent journalists such as Hamid Ismailov (BBC Central Asia) and Bruce Pannier (Radio Free Europe / Liberty). As a result, CESMI soon became a formal association registered in Switzerland, launched a website and a joint blog format (“My Take On…”) with BBC Kyrgyz and Uzbek.
In “My Take On…” scholars submit 800 word pieces on their current research in a style that is accessible to a wider audience. The articles are simultaneously published in English, Kyrgyz and Uzbek. Working beyond the headlines of the day, topics range widely from discussing sex-selective abortion in the Caucasus to pasture legislation reforms in Kyrgyzstan. More recently, “My Take On…” has also launched a series that makes the ideas of important social theorists such as Émile Durkheim accessible in these three languages. We use the cooperation with the BBC as a platform to make research accessible, but also as a ‘training camp’ for researchers attempting to translate from the conventional jargon of their discipline.
CESMI is also committed to fostering the best possible reporting by creating direct links between scholars and journalists. In order to strengthen these connections, CESMI hosts a free Experts Directory on its website, listing scholars according to topics, countries and languages in which they can be contacted. The directory provides the CVs and contact details of scholars well versed in working with the media, providing background information or interviews. The directory thus provides an efficient gateway for journalists to quickly access competent commentary and knowledgeable sources on Central Eurasia.
Over the last year, CESMI has also established a book review section, in collaboration with Bruce Pannier’s Qishloq Ovozi (“Village Voice”) site at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. The CESMI team recruits reviewers to discuss new academic books on the region, in an accessible and stimulating way.
Finally, CESMI regularly offers roundtables at conferences such as CESS and ESCAS in order to discuss obstacles and encourage best practice in linking the world of scholarship and journalism. These roundtables are important in brainstorming new project ideas such as a ‘Dummies Guide’ for scholars working with the media, an interactive time-line of Central Eurasian events, and media training opportunities for scholars in Central Eurasia itself. The CESS outreach award is a huge boost for our team, and has spread awareness of our different projects. We look forward to attracting further ideas, potential experts for our directory and collaborators for our ambitious endeavor via the CESS blog.
Jeanne Féaux de la Croix Till Mostowlansky
Co-Presidents of the Central Eurasian Scholars and Media Initiative