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Culture and Art with an Iranian Accent

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Sepideh Saremi is editor of Pars Arts, a collaborative citizen media project covering culture and art related topics in Iran. She talks with us about the project, its goals and its challenges.

Q: Please tell us about yourself and the Pars Arts project

Pars Arts is a collaborative blog by, for, and about young Iranians everywhere. The goal of the site is to provide smart, relevant, and frequently updated content to the young Iranian diaspora. I'm the founding editor and an Iranian-American writer/editor/blogger who grew up in Los Angeles. I started Pars Arts in late 2006 because I was interested in learning and writing about Iranian things online, and I wanted to do it with a community of people interested in doing the same.

Q: Pars Arts is a collective project where several people including some bloggers contribute. Do you consider it a citizen media project?

I don't personally think of it that way but at the same time, I don't think that's necessarily an inaccurate description. In the broadest sense of the term, Pars Arts could be considered a citizen media project because none of its writers are making any money from it now and I don't think any of us has extensive, traditional, professional journalism experience. That said, all of our contributors thus far live in North America, where none experience any outside censorship and the media are not state-controlled. Also, Pars Arts’ focus is art and culture, and not political advocacy or activism, which is usually what “citizen media” connotes to me.

Q: What is the added value of Pars Arts as a site?

We try to make sure each post has a take-away: something new for readers to watch, listen to, read, think about. Hopefully this keeps the pontificating to a minimum and makes the posts useful. We're not at the point where our coverage is as comprehensive as I'd like it to be yet. We need more writers to get there.

Q: Do you have any plan to develop the project? Where do you get funding?

Ideally at some point we can either generate some ad revenue or partner with like-minded sites and non-profits in order to get some of our future plans off the ground. But the priorities now are getting more writers, continuing to create good content, increasing our readership, and then expanding to other plans as we meet those goals. Our biggest obstacle is getting the word out. We have a small Facebook group, but we have put the bulk of our time into site content and need to do more in the area of outreach.

Pars Arts is financially independent, so we are not funded by any government, political party, think tank, or religious organization. I paid for the hosting and our WordPress template was very graciously designed for free by the site's technology director and contributing writer Javod Khalaj (javod.com).


Q: Why is your site in English and not Persian?

Our primary audience is the young Iranian diaspora, and there's a pretty broad spectrum of Persian language proficiency within that audience, whereas English is pretty universal. My own Persian reading is slow and my writing is dreadful, so it would take me forever to write a post in Persian, and then it would likely still have lots of spelling mistakes. While I work on my “dicteh,” I still want to learn and write about Iranians, so I do it in English. Some of our contributors could probably write in Persian just fine, but it started in English and I'm not comfortable editing Persian yet. And it'd be nice for everyone if non-Iranians learned a little more about Iranian culture, too.

Q: You say you focus on cultural and art issues that other news sites ignore. What do they ignore and why? What is really missing in top Persian sites or Iranian sites in English?

I don't think other sites necessarily ignore art and cultural issues. However, there's a lot of non-political stuff happening that gets marginal attention. For instance, a few weeks ago we had a post about the Iran Cheetah Project , and one of my favorite posts is about online Iranian food shopping.

Of the non-political content that does exist in English, well, one of the reasons I called the site “Pars Arts” was a very nerdy play on the word “parse” – for all the sifting I was doing to get to well-written content. Frequently there's not sufficient copyediting on some sites, and it's hard to take get through an article when it's replete with typos and poor grammar.

That said, I do think Pars Arts has a long way to go, a lot of work to do, and ultimately needs more good writers to be great. I want to see more English-language content with high editorial standards, and I really hope that Pars Arts can provide it.

Q: How do you evaluate the Iranian blogosphere of recent two years? Are you blogging? How do you see the female presence on the Iranian web?

Because I read mostly English-language blogs, I don't have sufficient background to answer the first question. Regarding the second question, I've had various personal blogs in the past and now have a website that mostly has samples of my writing and will have a small blog component as well. This likely won't be a very personal blog. As far as female presence on the Iranian web goes, I think it's pretty great but I'd love to read more blogs by Iranian women in English, and more that are about topics other than politics.

Q: Any ideas to share with us?

Yes! As far as I've observed, there's not a lot of coordinated work among Iranian publishers/journalists outside Iran, and I wish we had a tighter professional network. I wish there was a greater spirit of mentoring and collaboration. We can produce better work if we're working together, after all, or at least learn from each other. I suppose a wish is not an idea, but that's all I've got for now. If anyone wants to work on making it happen, I'm so there.

2 comments

  • […] this week – lots coming as soon as I have a minute, I promise. In the meantime, check out this interview about Pars Arts with Global Voices. I really love the Global Voices blog, so many thanks to them for the interest and for so kindly […]

  • […] Iran blog included an interview with me about Pars Arts, late last month. It’s available in English, Arabic, or two kinds of Chinese (traditional and simplified). I have a great deal of respect for […]

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