Journalists sometimes get lost in the whirlpool of their daily routine. Driven by this need for a fresh perspective, I flew from Skopje, Macedonia and arrived last week at the Community Media Workshop.

My name is Mirkica Popovik and I’m on a four-month media fellowship here in Chicago as part of the Macedonian Media Leaders Program. The program, which started last year, is meant to “help strengthen the media sector in Macedonia through the professional development of journalists,” as it says on the IREX website.
It’s a program organized by the US Embassy in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, and IREX, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.

That’s how I got here, but who am I?

For five years, I’ve been working in Athens as a newspaper correspondent, running with angry mobs, marching with citizens protesters, listening to opinions on how the financial crisis has affected the people, sitting with many different prime ministers and politicians listening to their plans to deal with a country sinking in live sand.

Reporting from Greece is not simple for a Macedonian, mainly because nothing is simple when it comes to the politics of these two countries. If I even call myself a Macedonian in Greece, it could easily start a long, heated discussion.

Still, objective reporting in general — the way you supposedly do it here in America — is difficult for all Macedonian journalists.

Let me tell you why: The political system in the country is borderline autocratic.

The Freedom House, a nonprofit global watchdog in the U.S., annually assesses the status of the media in countries around the world by rating them from 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free). Macedonia, which was ranked 32 in 2009, fell to 123 in the Freedom of the Press Index in 2015.

Several years ago, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski publicly ordered our nation not to read “Utrinski Vesnik,” the national daily morning paper where I worked because it was critical of certain government policies. And in our latest wiring taping scandal, it was the government caught taping journalists — among the long list of others.

Last year one of my country’s most popular journalists, Nikola Mladenov, who was also a severe government critic, died in a car accident under suspicious circumstances. Another journalist, Tomislav Kezarovski was arrested and sentenced to prison after investigating Mladenov’s death. Journalists protested this and Kezarovski’s sentenced was changed to house arrest.

Yet, that unity among journalists is rare.

The government controls the majority of media outlets, much of which produces one-sided stories aimed against anyone who speaks out against the government.

Those in the media who are critical of the regime struggle with constant attacks from not just the government but from the government-controlled media, which discredits the work and labels these journalists as traitors.

Those voices of opposition who report objectively are few and far between — many are online and do not reach many people.
Coming from this media environment where political oppression is constant and more and more journalists are silenced every day, I am curious to see how journalism in Chicago works.

Are there any parallels to the pressures in my country and your country?
How do the journalists in the city that works deal with political pressures?
How do investigative, critical stories get done and still reach a wider audience?

During my four months in Chicago, I will act as a sponge, a media voyeur and an urban explorer. I will be shadowing journalists on their day-to-day and investigative tasks at the large papers, the small papers, the television and radio stations as well as the places where journalism is taught.

I will be writing monthly reports on my experience and perceptions on the various media here, hoping that in that process, I will learn valuable media lessons.

As a journalist and as a person, I like to explore, wander around the streets, run into unexpected art or citizen’s initiatives to make the city a more friendlier place and I will be translating some of those experiences into these posts for the Community Media Workshop in order to give Chicagoans a foreign eye perspective on the Windy city’s urban rhythm.

And I’d like your opinions too. I would love to hear what you think about what I’m thinking.

Nice to meet you all.