We have the honor of hosting Shain Abbasov, a 34-year-old journalist from Azerbaijan, for two weeks. He’s in process of opening a nonprofit, online only news organization in his home country called Hayatimiz.org — or “Our Life” — and is learning how we operate as part of a program of the International Center for Journalists.

He sent me along some observations yesterday that impacted me, and I asked if I could share them with you. He kindly obliged:

It is 2 pm and I am sitting in the very center of the newsroom of small voiceofsandiego.org, an online publication that is located in a cozy neighborhood that once served as military base in California. The small team of young journalists is working in this newsroom — almost all of them are from different parts of America, some arrived here just a few months ago.

Despite my 15 years experience in journalism in Azerbaijan, this trip has already taught me much. First, the voiceofsandiego.org is a completely new experience. The team of eleven journalists produces stories and features every day that are interesting to read even to me, someone who is not particularly interested in San Diego’s politics and local problems. The folks are efficiently using new technologies — Twitter, blogging — another brand new experience for me. Here I had to accept how strongly Azerbaijan’s journalism is lagging behind American journalism and how much new technologies local media are using in its work.

Yesterday I shadowed Liam Dillon, who covers local politics and government for the voiceofsandiego.org. We spent more than seven hours together, first at the Mayor Jerry Sanders press briefing and then following debates in City Council on local important issues — construction of the new central library and managed competition act.

While Liam asked questions, drafted story at his laptop and tweeted online, I have gotten chance to receive firsthand experience on how US democracy functions these days.

It is not my first time in the U.S. I spent six months in Washington, D.C. back in 2003-2004, however in San Diego I could witness literally democratic mechanisms and traditions at a local level. Here are some things that fascinated me a lot — the transparency level of city authorities; the level of participation of ordinary residents in decision-making on local issues; openness of the City Council’s meetings when anyone could attend and express his/her opinion. It is interesting to be a reporter here — you never know how the City Council members would vote on an issue in advance. Needless to say that the practice in my country — Azerbaijan — is completely different.

And finally my impressions would not be full without a few words about San Diego as a city. So far I have not had many chances to see the city. But what I have already seen is nice — the city is beautiful and could remind someone Tel Aviv or Barcelona. I still have ten days to explore the city, its media and traditions …

ANDREW DONOHUE

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