Written by Dinah Spritzer
So you want to start a Whatzine?
Over in the hallowed halls of Male namesti 2, across from one of Kafka’s many former homes, there is an interesting experiment going down.
“Should we have a top ten list?” asks April, a newly anointed editor-in-chief. “Everyone likes those,” she suggests.
“I think leading with a dating story is going to get us a lot more readers than starting with HIV,” posits Nick.
“Will you please just tell me how you want the logo to look?” pleads Myla.
“This is a newspaper, and people who write for newspapers need to know they will be edited, they can’t just print whatever they want,” declares Megan.
American college students spending a mere four months in Prague for a semester abroad are creating a Webzine. Or is it an E-zine? Maybe an Internet magazine?
When you are not even sure what you are creating, you can imagine the challenges ahead.
But a group of intensely determined, typically American optimists want to create the first ever Web publication at a New York University (NYU) campus abroad. New York University in Prague is among 8 of such off-site campuses, which include Accra, Ghana and Shanghai.
This Friday, March 7, their ambition should be fulfilled. Students who had little or no experience editing, writing headlines, creating picture essays or managing a newspaper will put out the first issue of “The Prague Wanderer.”
The Prague Wanderer features student works submitted in a travel writing class I taught last semester at NYU as well as some bloggish columns we solicited this semester. Readers can learn if Czech hip hop is a flop, get tips on dating for foreigners and find out how it feels to be a Filipino-American among a sea of white faces.
You are cordially invited to go to www.praguewanderer.com to observe and even take part in the experiment.
Now, I know as well as anyone that expatriates are a tough crowd. Reading the recent discussion on Expats.cz about the bloke who had some bad service and wanted to understand the Czech attitude towards foreigners, it’s clear that no one is more critical of an expatriate than other expatriates.
But before turning an acerbic eye on a student effort, maybe it would be interesting to grasp the kind of issues that arise among well-meaning students making sense of their new surroundings.
First, the students have a full load of courses and plans to explore as much of the Czech Republic and Central Europe as possible. They travel, they party and sometimes they do homework. Just like me, their advisor, except replace homework with a full-time job as journalist. We are stretched for time.
The most important time-stretched person on our team is Simon the Web master, as some of us can barely use email, and none of us could create a Website.
Simon is learning as he is doing, he has never undertaken a project like this before. He last created a Web site when he was 13 years old!
Simon suffered all of our silly requests with the knowing stoicism of an army chief in Iraq getting demands for caviar by U.S. embassy staff. Not that this would ever happen….
Besides technical obstacles, an issue that keeps cropping up is how much to edit student works. This is their product, they are doing the editing. When do I step in?
It is a very tough call.
After living here for 6 years, the last three-and-half years with a Czech partner, I more or less know what Czechs find objectionable when it comes to how Americans and foreigners in general view them and their country.
I want the world to read the students’ writing! But I want the world to see works without condescension, stereotyping or patronizing phrases toward Czechs.
That is a lot to demand from new arrivals who spend 99 percent of their time with other Americans.
Censorship and expatriate political correctness? Is it okay to let it slide when students refer to “liberal” Czech girls who “make out” on the dance floor, or “typical” Czech waiters who give poor service? How about just girls who make out, and poor service, without feeling obliged to mention that the people involved are Czechs. I am proud to note that it was Megan, one of our student chiefs, who came up with that idea.
The students are the editors, I am a mere conduit, but I try to let them know what certain phrases, or whines, sound like to the Czech ear. And with that in mind, we will be relying on the terrific Czech resident assistants who work at NYU in Prague to help us along with our mission of reflecting on life in Czech, while respecting life in Czech.
In the meantime, there is nothing more fulfilling than watching students grab hold of a project and run with it as a team. The fantastic seven – the editors, that is — have had to deal with the mundane tribulations that befall professional journalists.
Correspondents who don’t write back, writers who don’t want their copy touched, and lingering questions in articles such as, is the Children’s Island Open at Night?
Our photo editor Myla spent hours walking around Prague searching for a Kinder chocolate ad with gooey brown stuff dripping from a woman’s lips and never found it; April, stayed up until 4.30 a.m. editing an article about the London Underground.
So, dear potential Prague Wanderer readers, it’s not easy learning how to produce a Web whatchamacallit. But the thrill is in the learning, so give us a try and we look forward to learning from you too.
Dinah A. Spritzer is the Central and Eastern Europe Correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and teaches international reporting at New York University in Prague.