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Turkish journalist informs, inspires JCU students

October 27th, 2011

“This job is done with love. It is just like flirting; if the girl does not encourage, we [men] try harder. If we [as journalists] encounter problems, we go on,” said Kerim Balci Monday evening when he spoke about his job as a Turkish journalist. Balci visited John Carroll on Monday, Oct. 24 at the invitation of Carrie Buchanan, of the Tim Russert Department of Communication and Theatre Arts. The journalist was in Cleveland this week for a conference titled “Challenges to Contemporary Islam: The Muslim World 100 Years After Nursi’s Damascus Sermon,” held by Zeki Saritoprak, the Nursi chair in Islamic studies at JCU.

The meeting took place in the communication department conference room where 18 interested individuals packed in close to one another for the opportunity to listen to and question Balci. Those in attendance predominantly consisted of journalism students, as well as Buchanan and one interested community member, Susan Schaul.

Balci began the session by introducing himself, explaining proper Turkish pronunciations and meanings for his name, and outlined his past and current positions in journalism.

“I was a lucky journalist,” he reflects when asked about his job experiences prior to becoming the editor-in-chief for The Turkish Review. Thanks to a thorough education in journalism and languages, Balci had no problem achieving a job offer from the Zaman Media Group. ZMG, founded in 1986, is a prominent media agency in Turkey to this day. Balci worked for ZMG’s various daily publications over the years as a foreign correspondent in Israel and London. He currently resides in Istanbul, Turkey working as editor-in-chief at The Turkish Review, a two-year-old English publication. Among other work, Balci advises Aksiyon, another Turkish newspaper, as well as comments on foreign policy issues for other publications. Though his present work only requires him to travel from two to three times per month, Balci still considers himself a “traveling journalist.”

Susan Schaul, a freelance writer for CoolCleveland.com and a local citizen interested in learning more about Islam, asked Balci to share a story from when he was a young journalist rising in the ranks. In response, Balci told about an assignment to Palestine when he was a war correspondent. He commented that the experience was “very scary” because he expected to be welcomed since he was a Turkish Muslim journalist. To his surprise, he was stoned several times by young people because he looked western in appearance. A lesson from his story when in other cultures: “If you know other languages, I encourage you to speak in English because you may learn valuable information as they speak amongst themselves. This was the first time I realized that my appearance gave me away as a westerner.”

But Balci’s explanations about his work with ZMG and The Turkish Review proved to offer his audience quite the contrast from traditional journalism.

“Often, journalist language is pejorative, negative. The mentality of journalists before us is bad news is good news,” he said. He qualified his comment by explaining that ZMG still publishes “bad news,” but they do so on their own conditions. “Whenever we have bad news items, we must have analysis, asking why this bad thing is happening,” Balci said. “Because most readers are looking not for information but for entertainment.” Thus, the ZMG publications accompany more depressing or upsetting news with analysis and offer a potential solution.

They do not put horrific pictures on the front pages of their papers. “[In order to avoid sensationalism], we believe socially responsible newspapers should do that,” he said.

Balci later discussed comparisons between Turkish and U.S. culture. When asked if Balci considered himself a westerner, he replied, “Yes, yes in fact I do,” and said that Turkish and U.S. philosophies are quite similar. But when working in Israel, he said he met a lot of young American Jews who “didn’t know about the world. Some American youngsters are not willing to learn other languages. Many Americans do not know where Turkey is.” He encouraged the students present at the meeting to come to Turkey, advertising it as one of the stronger regional languages and as the only healthy regional economy besides Germany. “Many people are moving towards Turkey,” Balci said. “In that sense, not because I am Turkish but as a journalist, I see a bright future for Turkey and whoever comes to Turkey. We are quite similar to the ideological version of the United States.”

Before departing, Balci was able to offer some advice for the journalism students. “After college, don’t think life will be easy, especially if you want to be a journalist,” he said.

He told students to be aware of the convergence that is sweeping media culture where journalists will be required to do the job of multiple positions – writing, editing, filming, photographing, and uploading. While he admitted that English is a journalistic language all journalists should know, he advised young Americans to learn many languages.

“We are competing with citizen journalism and mobile content,” he said, so young people should learn other languages, be aware of convergence, and simply know about the world.