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Ukrainians get a taste of free press during Hagerstown visit

July 25, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Members of the Ukrainian media company New Day answer questions from Herald-Mail employees Thursday morning after touring The Herald-Mail building. Pictured, from left, are Natalie Yarova, sales manager; Dmytro Burkhan, director of information technologies; Yaroslav Brychka, interpreter; and Irina Shepitko, news editor.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Backyard barbecues have become a staple of American culture, and they are something that Natalie Yarova won’t soon forget.

“It was a great experience,” said Yarova, sales manager for a Ukrainian media company called New Day.

“After this, we realized that we are in America.”

Coordinated by the nonprofit organization IREX, Yarova and a handful of New Day co-workers arrived in the United States on Sunday as part of an exchange program with HM Media’s parent company, Schurz Communications, Inc.

In Ukraine, where IREX has an office in Kiev, the company oversees training programs for independently-owned media outlets. The program’s focus this year has shifted to digital media, the wave of the future for news delivery.

“This program is of big importance for us,” Irina Shepitko said through an interpreter. “We are impressed by the technologies that you use.”

Shepitko serves as the news editor for New Day’s first and largest newspaper, 21 Channel, that was established in 1992. She also oversees content on the company’s website, www.kirovograd.co.ua.

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Today, New Day, also known as Tele Radio Publishing Co., has grown and now produces four weekly newspapers in Ukraine, but company executives are looking to grow its digital presence, a major emphasis of the partnership with Schurz.

“During the few last days, we’ve gotten so much information,” Shepitko said.

After flying nine hours from Frankfurt, Germany, to Washington, D.C., the group traveled to Roanoke, Va., to visit another Schurz-owned company, CBS-affiliated television station WDBJ-7.

With the help of interpreters to bridge the language gap, Shepitko, Yarova and New Day’s director of information technologies, Dmytro Burkhan, spent time working with the station’s department heads to learn more about television production.

Shepitko said it was especially interesting to get to witness a live newscast from behind the scenes.

“The way you here present weather on TV, it was very interesting for us,” she said through an interpreter.

“It’s the first time in our life that we have seen such a weather presentation,” referring to the green screen behind the meteorologist.

The group, which arrived in Hagerstown on Thursday, will spend the next day learning more about the inner workings of HM Media’s products, including print, digital and television, as well as touring the Washington County area.

Liz Thompson, digital director for HM Media, led the group on a tour of the Herald-Mail building on Summit Avenue before the New Day group gave a presentation about their country and company history to about 20 Herald-Mail employees.

Based in Kirovograd, a Ukraine city with a population of about 250,000, 21 Channel was established by three families in 1992 after the country gained independence from the former Soviet Union.

In the United States, media outlets enjoy a level of free speech that other countries do not, Thompson said.

Ukraine is one of those countries.

Although the country was freed of Soviet rule in 1991, violent activity by communist extremist gangs still plague areas of Ukraine, and in 1996, a bomb was set off in the offices of 21 Channel, ripping through the newsroom of the Democratic newspaper.

Nobody was in the building at the time of the bombing, Shepitko said during the presentation, but all the newspaper’s equipment inside was lost.

Shepitko said she “remembers the day as if it were yesterday.”

Thompson visited with New Day officials in the Ukraine this past February as the first leg of the exchange program. She said lawsuits against media outlets there are common today, even if the news they report is true and accurate, because they do not have the same protections for a free press.

“They face pretty scary stuff,” she said.

In addition to the utilization of new technologies, the New Day crew said they admired the hardworking character and professionalism of the employees at HM Media.  And, overall, they found Americans to be very friendly and hospitable throughout their week in the U.S. They will fly home this weekend.

Schurz Communications has participated in the IREX program in years past, but this was the first time in which the focus was on digital and online strategies.

As leader of the company’s information technology department, Burkhan said through an interpreter that he was impressed by American television and digital productions, especially how developed they have become.

“We hope that sooner or later we’ll achieve that level in Ukraine,” he said.

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