Aug 6, 2012

Catching up with MADE: Turkey Coach Itir Erhardt

Follow @itirerhart
Itir Erhart is a social entrepreneur on the move. Literally.

Itir found a way to turn her personal passion of running into a public good by co-founding the Adim Adim Initiative, which since 2008 has brought amateur athletes together and helped them prepare for sports events in return for their undertaking to raise cash for charities. AAI has grown to more 1200 members and, to date, raised more than a million USD for groups such as the Community Volunteers Foundation (TOG), Educational Volunteers Foundation of Turkey (TEGV) and Paraplegia Foundation of Turkey (TOFD). The money bought 194 battery powered wheelchairs for paraplegics, 940 children received educational support and 53 ecological farms were added to the TaTuTa Network (Eco-Agro Tourism and Voluntary Exchange) of Buğday Association(Buğday).

Itir, who is also Vice Dean of the Faculty of Communication at Istanbul Bilgi University, is amongst the international team of inspirational speakers and coaches contributing to the first 48-hour MADE: Turkey Weekend for Media Strartups that kicks off at 6pm on Friday, Oct 5 at the Energy Museum on IBU's Santral Campus.

Q1 - Turkey remains a challenging place for independent journalism. What
role do you think digital news entrepreneurs have to play in an increasingly
connected country?

Being an independent journalist is not easy in Turkey. Yet from day one we
encourage our media students to start their own blogs and connect their
social media accounts to these blogs and comment on each other’s posts.
Once they get a taste of expressing their ideas and sharing their stories
freely, without any pressure from an editor or a “boss” they start realizing
that their options are not limited to working for one of the mainstream TV
networks, print journals or newspapers.

We strongly encourage them to become digital entrepreneurs and practice
independent journalism. I think that’s what we need most in Turkish media
at the moment.

Q2 - Like in most of Europe, Turkey's mainstream media is dominated by a
few cross-media conglomerates. What opportunities do you think there are
for grassroots media startups to challenge the status quo?

I think they are the only ones who can challenge the status quo. It is no
secret that mainstream Turkish media is becoming increasingly more pro
government and more conformist. That is why more and more the readers
and viewers turn to independent sources to get their news. They read
blogs, follow columnists on twitter, listen to Acik Radyo (Open Radio) and
subscribe to updates from BIA (Independent Communication Network). I
see the future of Turkish media in independent media startups.

Q3 - Is it wise for entrepreneurs to take risks with digital innovations at time
when many in the traditional media are struggling with it?

It is harder for traditional media to “digitalize” itself. When you decide to
replace your print newspaper with an Ipad version of it you risk losing a
customer who has been reading your print newspaper for the past 30 years.

You may lose them just because they are used to seeing ink stains on their
hands after they read the paper. Entrepreneurs don’t carry this baggage.
They can be as innovative as they want without the fear of upsetting/
disappointing their royal readers/viewers.

Q4 - The MADE project is, so far, operating in the UK and soon in Turkey.
How do you expect the project activities to differ in the various locations,
particularly given the different economic and socio-political factors in the
two countries?

Turkey ranked 148th in the 2011/12 Press Freedom Index. Most of us are
watching the arrests of journalists with concern. Not one day passes by
before another “outspoken”, “non-conformist” journalist loses his/her job. In
this media climate everyone is looking for an independent outlet to work for
or follow. Some are very eager to create one if only they knew how to. That
is why, I think, the motivations of the participants may be different in the two

APPLICATIONS for one of the 20 places on the MADE: Turkey Weekend for Media Startups are being accepted until 5pm on the September 5th. For regular updates, follow us on Twitter and join the conversation in the MADE Network group on Facebook.

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