The Heartbeat of Society
The following are a few fascinating stories from students at Moscow State University and the University of Washington Tacoma that highlight the real and powerful results that journalism can produce.
"I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world."
Henry Luce, founder of Time Inc.
Every human body needs a heart to pump the life into its vital organs. Human society is quite the same.

Journalism taps into the beating heart of society, pulsing lifeblood through its arteries – newspapers, radio, television, internet – so that each limb of society can thrive healthily.

Whether it is sending antibodies to eradicate some malicious infection or perhaps pumping endorphins to combat depression, journalism is like a society's pharmaceutical factory.
The People of Alice's Wonderland
In 2014, the first Russian radio station created by people with mental illness was founded. Similar projects exist in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Switzerland and Sweden.
MSU Department of Journalism graduate Daria Blagova decided to follow the idea and founded the Russian radio station "Zazerkalye," roughly translated as Alice's Wonderland. Based in Moscow Psychiatric Hospital 1, the station is supported by the Club of Psychiatrists and charity fund Good Age.

Blagova's idea was simple: change the opinion of society towards people with mental disorders. According to data from the World Health Organization, every tenth person on earth has a mental disorder. In Russia, 8 million people ask for psychiatric help every year.

Daria Blagova
Founder of the Russian radio station "Zazerkalye"
"Among these people, and people everywhere, there are many talented, educated and interesting persons. However, in today's society there are prevalent negative stereotypes about psychiatry and about people who have their own psychiatric experience, and it is very difficult to combat these stereotypes."
The project began with two students and five patients from different mental hospitals. Blagova and her partner started by teaching them basic journalistic principles. Newcomers came with a variety of backgrounds, including in philology, journalism, music and even psychology. Soon the newcomers became full-fledged radio producers, conducting interviews on their own programs and podcasts and even live air.
"At one of our meetings I asked: 'What does a person with mental illness require most?" And all of them answered, "a job".
Daria Blagova

Employees of "Zazerkalye" are all patients of different mental hospitals. One such employee is Nikolay Voronovsky.
"Our job is peculiar: instead of a diploma, it requires a certificate that you are crazy."
Nikolay Voronovsky
"Zazerkalye" has become that needed platform of self-realization for them. Where society refuses to accept the certificate from the psychiatric hospital and stigmatizes them as dangerous and weird, radio stations doors are open.

The station created an interactive website where, among a variety of conversation, people talk about their own psychiatric experience and how they got ill.

Voronovsky was 17 years old when the signs of mental illness appeared. It was his graduation party and suddenly he felt very depressed, far away and different from others. Day by day, he describes, the depression became deeper and darker. A few weeks later he was walking alone through a cemetery, contemplating suicide among the graves.

Voronovsky remembers vividly walking the thin line between normalcy and insanity. He fortunately came to the realization that he was beyond the border of illness, and the next morning he called the doctor.

His illness was a serious struggle, but still Voronsvsky entered college and became an architect-restorer. He has lived with his illness for 26 years.
Daniil Milkus, the youngest participant of "Zazerkalye," noticed problems when he was taking his computer science exam at the university. By that time he was 20 years old. The antidepressants and neuroleptics that were recommended shut him down for a long time. Struggling with his illness, he took a year off and secluded himself in his home, paralyzed by deep depression and thoughts of suicide. Milkus said that the radio station was his only opportunity to realize himself.

"Zazerkalye" anchor Mikhail Larsov, was a successful radio journalist and rock musician. At some point he was taken hostage by one simple thought: "someone is following me, they will find me and put me behind the bars." He became deeply paranoid. Larsov took a day off to address this new issue and when he got back to work with the certificate from the mental hospital, he was fired without warning or reason.
"As a sighted person cannot truly understand the blind, a mentally healthy person cannot understand persons with mental issues."
Daniil Milkus
A Picture Says a Thousand…Dollars?
There is an old man sitting on a park bench, his eyes gazing emptily into the distance. The man's dog faithfully lays next to him. A young woman approaches and begins a conversation. Her suspicion is quickly confirmed: the man is blind. This spontaneous street conversation was the beginning of a lasting and powerful friendship.

Anna Fedotova is a photojournalist and a graduate of MSU Department of Journalism. Her work towards a diploma was complicated by the search for a topic. Fedotova had a strong desire to make a photo story about animals, especially dogs. She dreamed of a fluffy friend from an early age.

Her childhood was spent in an area where was a facility for the blind. She would often meet neighbors in the street, who were walking with their guide dogs, and loved to accompany them. When she met Igor Semenov and his guide dog, Umba, on the park bench, she was sure it was fate. Semenov happily agreed to help Fedotova as a main character in her photo story.
Despite the perfect relationship between the new friends, there were some challenges. Mostly, Fedotova needed to overcome herself.

"The photo filming process was pretty challenging," Fedotova said. "Usually I would have to ask him to do something in order achieve the composition of a shot. Once I even had to climb to the tenth floor to take a picture from the top. I coordinated Igor's route by phone. I had difficulties, mostly connected with emotions."

The challenges in the process were quickly overcome because Semenov is a very kind and open person, Fedotova said. Most people believe that people with disabilities need a thought out, individualized approach requiring heightened attention and patience. Fedotova said she didn't plan a special approach, she just wanted to connect with his life.

Anna Fedotova
Photojournalist and a graduate of MSU Department of Journalism
"When you have a sincere feeling, you get a real-life picture...If you do it without a soul, even if you are a professional photographer, you will never get perfect photos. You should treat people with an open and kind heart."
Besides a positive attitude, Fedotova has one more professional rule. She believes it is essential for photojournalists to know as much as possible about the character.

After spending a lot of time with Semenov and his companion, she began to notice opacity in the dog's eyes. Umba was going blind and it was worsening every day. The guide dog was heading towards the same fate as his owner.

Semenov lost his sight when he was 40, and he recalled how it started a new life for him from that moment. Every day of his life was like a fight. He was deeply concerned about Umba's health.

The veterinarians only offered him the disappointing diagnosis of destruction of the lenses in both eyes. Semenov was afraid to accept the idea of medical treatment for a long time, because there was a risk for Umba to lose his eyesight completely. At the same time, the pensioner faced the problem of payment for the surgery.

Semenov and Fedotova were frightened of losing their best friend and Semenov's critical companion. He was offered another guide dog, but he could not imagine the possibility of replacing Umba. For three years, Umba was doing his duty and was the eyes of this blind man, and Semonov decided that now it was time to change the roles and become the helper of the dog.

Fedotova, trying to do everything possible to help the dog, posted her photo story on the site of one charity foundation. The support was so strong that more than enough money for Umba's surgery was raised in less than two days.

After this incredible experience, Fedotova decided to present the story at the famous exhibition The Best of Russia, an annual Russian photography project. The photo story drew a huge audience.
"Someone actually called me wondering if Igor still needed help and how they can give him money. I have goosebumps when I talk about it. Only now do I realize what a huge impact this had. Among ordinary people there are many who can sympathise with other's troubles."
Anna Fedotova
The eye surgery was successful for Umba. The progression of blindness was stopped and he has regained 30 percent of his sight. The dog still guides its owner to various park benches.
"This is a great victory for me. My work had a positive result. People who have seen these pictures call me and ask how they can help Igor and his dog. If you really want do something you can move mountains. When you have a desire to help a person, the whole universe helps to ensure you to do it."
Anna Fedotova
Hilltop
For the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, Washington, the Hilltop Action Coalition has tapped into the beating heart of the area, and has sponsored an artery for the vital flow of life into the community: the Hilltop Action Journal.

This nonprofit newspaper focuses solely on this historic Tacoma neighborhood and takes as its mission the improvement of the lives of its residents.

Welcome to the Hilltop of Tacoma.
The oldest neighborhood in Tacoma, it earns its name from the hill it sits a top overlooking Downtown and the Commencement Bay waterfront. Its proximity to the Port of Tacoma largely contributed to a racially diverse population since its founding in 1873.

In its early days, the area attracted many immigrants working the booming new shipyards, mills and railroad. However, this is not what the Hilltop is commonly associated with today.

The population began a dramatic change in the 1950s and on when the area saw a flux of African Americans fleeing the oppressive Jim Crow South, according to research compiled by Artis D. Jenkins during his Master's thesis at the University of Washington Tacoma.

As more African Americans moved to Tacoma over the years, they were increasingly restricted to the Hilltop area. Continued segregation and hostility influenced further isolation of the Hilltop residents.
Limited job opportunities and resources, a growing population and declining property value negatively impacted the neighborhood, opening the way for gang activity and for the growing drug epidemic. By the late 1980s, the situation had worsened significantly and a crime and drug ridden neighborhood largely became the Hilltop's identity.

However, in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, strong resistance rose against the current the neighborhood was being swept away by. Jenkins cites long time Hilltop residents who recall a network of individuals, churches, schools and community organizations working together with the city and police to initiate the shift that led to the slow revitalization of the Hilltop.

It was then that the Hilltop Action Coalition emerged. In 1989 the HAC was formed by the community and had a significant role in organizing a neighborhood block system for community policing, assisting the authorities to combat the drug and gang activity. Today, the Coalition is a non-profit organization of neighborhoods and businesses focused on empowering community residents through connections, friendships and information about valuable job, housing, medical and various other resources.
"Economic development and gentrification – there's no way one avoids the displacement, the rising prices, the stuff that comes with that…I don't think the trick is to try to freeze things where they are and keep rent prices the same way. The trick is to raise the community with the waters." - William Towey, Director of Community Outreach, HAC
The HAC has its hands in many pots in the Hilltop. The organization hosts community wide meetings and has partnerships with the City of Tacoma to respond to the needs that surface in the monthly discussions. It connects local businesses, schools, churches and youth centers to advocate for beneficial policy. The HAC played a leading role in organizing Tacoma Whole Child, a partnership between the UWT and Tacoma School District to help develop sustainable school systems, as well as Graduate Tacoma, a movement focused on support from the "cradle to college and career."

Such an active community organization naturally attracts and cultivates individuals who share that altruistic passion.

The Hilltop Action Journal (HAJ) was an idealistic desire without framework until one such individual realized the vision. Korbett Mosesly, degree from UWT, position at work, local resident took full responsibility to actualize the HAJ.
Korbett Mosesly
Degree from UWT, position at work, local resident took full responsibility to actualize the HAJ
A need to communicate effectively with the people who don't have easy access to internet and popular social media methods of communication was identified through the community dialogues. The HAJ is designed to reach this population with information that can be critically helpful, according to Mosesly in an interview with the Tacoma News Tribune.

"We know that the Hilltop has an older population. It's not all on Facebook. They still write letters. They do things the traditional way. How do you create a platform to reach them?"

The newspaper is written in response to the priorities continually identified at the community meetings. It contains articles about jobs and trainings, youth programs, senior programs and guides to access medical and even homeownership resources. The paper also highlights efforts and activities organized to benefit residents and businesses.
Such an endeavor requires a staff of people to visualize, organize and actualize. That's where William Towey comes in.

Towey, who immigrated from Ireland – specifically Dublin, he made sure to distinguish – did his master's work in the MAIS program at UWT and is a HAC board member and the Director of Community Outreach. Among his many responsibilities, he is tasked with recruiting members of the community who have an interest in working for the newspaper.

With their longstanding cooperation, the UWT is a valuable resource for the HAJ.

William Towey
"We see that the University of Washington Tacoma offers a chance to activate community engagement from campus into community in ways that are truly meaningful and to the communities that need it the most. For communities of color here on the hill, to have students of color come in and work with them, and provide the real-life example that's more than just a walkthrough, that's more than just a 'you know, I saw this person,' that instead gets to the sort of mentoring and relationship building elements that undergird really effective social capital in the community is powerful and interesting."
The recruits get an opportunity to gain professional experience and publish their writing. Towey shared that the volunteers can be involved in the newspaper in a multitude of ways including planning, writing, editing and layout.

Danielle Bürch, UWT graduate and former Editor in Cheif of the student newspaper The Ledger, was involved in the planning of the March issue of the HAJ. She also wrote an article highlighting the Tacoma Community House and Tacoma immigrants' concerns over recent U.S. policy affecting immigration.

Also among the UWT recruits was Jenny Miller, creative writing major and president of both the Writer's Club and Spanish Language Club on campus.
Miller joined the HAJ volunteer staff out of a desire to expand her writing experience. While she has significant creative writing experience, when she encountered the call for UWT student volunteers, she jumped on the opportunity.

While initially joining to gain experience, Miller found that she aligned well with the journal's mission to support its local community.
Jenny Miller
Creative writing major and president of both the Writer's Club and Spanish Language Club on campus

"I haven't done any news articles ever, and the whole idea was really intriguing…So, it turned out to be I just wanted the experience, but it ended up being that I also like to help people succeed."
Miller will graduate with a Bachelor's degree in creative writing in April and hopes to continue contributing to the HAJ.

Towey plans to continue working with UWT with hopes to include non-profit major students to help them gain professional experience in their field.

The pitch for the HAJ and success of both the pilot and March issues were a critical for securing funding for the newspaper and HAC alike. Towey shared that the City saw the newspaper as valuable enough to offer significant financial support. In addition to being pivotal in securing grant funding, the HAJ brings sustainable funding of its own through advertising dollars. With 4,000 copies printed and distributed per issue, it has caught the eye of local businesses and advertisers.

For now, Towey shared a few concrete goals for upcoming issues. The HAJ will publish articles aiming to promote local jobs, as well as contribute to securing job opportunities specifically for historical residents of the Hilltop. The newspaper will be a catalyst to not only raise awareness, but to increase usage of available programs and resources by the community and at the same time expand a network that can have real advocacy impact.
"We're trying to make sure that residents are aware of the variety of programs that are around that help support them, that create neighborhood stabilization and provide economic opportunities that are linked to the current residents.

The journal acts as an entry point, a door opener, for creating really important community relationships. It creates the link upon which real work gets done. And that is what enhances our ability to mobilize."
William Towey
Authors:

Marina Bocharova (text, photo)
Justin Lawrence (text, photo, editing)
Ekaterina Palashina (text, photo, design)


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