To some, the Palo Alto High School Media Arts Center has become a go-to hangout spot, a second home during production week or a prime place to take a nap. To Aleksandar Atanasov, it served as inspiration for the future.
Two years ago in Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, Atanasov came up with the idea to build a platform for Macedonian youth to voice their opinions and address issues relevant to their generation – the first of its kind in the nation. After spending four months in the United States, Atanasov left last week, ready to set his plan in motion.
Atanasov’s proposal to establish a Macedonia youth journalism association consists of multiple steps, including finding domestic and international organizations that are interested in supporting his idea. Once he finds enough backing, he will host discussions on youth journalism in Macedonia and officially form the association, working out the structural details, including resource distribution.
Atanasov divided his time in the U.S. evenly between working at the San Francisco Examiner and spending time at Paly to get both the professional and youth-centered sides of journalism that he hopes to bring together in his own project.
Atanasov’s initial plan was to focus on youth journalism in Skopje. However, after seeking out the advice of his friends in the field and Paul Kandell, a Paly journalism adviser (and adviser to The Paly Voice), Atanasov realized his idea would best serve the public by broadening his scope to all of Macedonia.
“The founding of the association would be more beneficial for the youth in Macedonia,” Atanasov said. “You will have a place where anyone that [has] an idea to do something that will benefit the youth can be heard and can get people that want to work with him or her in doing that and get the support and resources. … It would [speed up] the process of advancing the youth media in the first place.”
Macedonia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, and Atanasov compared the state of press rights at that time to a “free, wild-west environment,” with few regulations instated. Atanasov personally has not encountered the threat of censorship, which he partially attributes to his work in international news rather than domestic issues. Atanasov’s positive experience with journalism while working for the past five years at the Macedonian Information Agency, a public information and news service, influenced his proposal.
“I was lucky to end up in a working environment and doing the work [I] love,” Atanasov said. “If I could provide something similar for as many students as possible, it would be a very rewarding thing.”
As Paly’s inaugural journalist in-residence, Atanasov expressed his appreciation of the guidance he received.
“You [Paly] are open – [an important aspect is] not that you’re leading in the United States or in California, but that you’re also open to show the way or to lead someone to do similar things in other countries, like a role model,” Atanasov said. “It’s not just doing something, but also giving the chance for someone to participate and see how you’re doing things, to learn from you.”
During his time at Paly, Atanasov drew inspiration from not only the student publications, but also from how the MAC seemed to impact the way the publications are run. Despite the opportunities that the MAC presents, Atanasov recognizes that emulating the MAC in Macedonia will not be feasible for years to come.
“It [the MAC] serves [as] a good vision to follow, but it does not fit very well for a plan or a blueprint for a potential project in Macedonia,” Atanasov said. “You need years and years of working and resolving things to come into a position to have a facility like this. I like what I see here, but I’m more focused on what I can truly take and start from scratch in Macedonia.”
Ultimately, Atanasov says he believes that once he gets his project started, the rest of the plan will fall into place.
“You will find really engaged students who want to learn, and there are a lot of stories that are untackled in the society,” Atanasov said. “They [the students] will eventually be the first to write about some things that are happening, so it will be easy to get the readers after they [come] out with interesting stories.”
Atanasov imagines a future Macedonian newsroom aflutter with students preparing for the production of Skopje’s student newspaper. But it’s not just in Skopje – it’s also in Bitola, Kumanovo and other cities all around the nation, all working to achieve the goals they have set forth for themselves, the same goals that Paly journalism strives for. After all, according to Atanasov, the new generations in the U.S. and Macedonia alike talk “about the same stories, TV series or the last movie that came out or what happened to [the] Kardashians – it’s the same.” So why can’t journalism be the same, too?