Monday, May 13, 2019

Northern Ireland media: A Primer

As I’m making my final preparations for my Northern Ireland peace journalism project, sponsored by the US Embassy in London, I thought I’d assign the class some reading to get you up to speed on the media situation there.

First, take a look at the mainstream media in Northern Ireland. These include the Belfast Telegraph https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/ and Irish Times newspapers https://www.irishtimes.com/ . It will be interesting to visit with journalists from these outlets about how they perceive their coverage, and particularly to what extent it’s colored by sectarianism and bias.

An online outlet, Slugger O’Toole-- https://sluggerotoole.com/ , “takes a critical look at various strands of political politics in Ireland and Britain. It tries to bring its readers ‘open source analysis’ from both the mainstream media and the blogosphere.”

The site is full of interesting and deeply analytical reporting about Northern Ireland. For example, in an article analyzing Derry’s central role in the dissident republican movement titled “Why Derry,” writer Steve Bradley has an interesting postscript:

“It has taken three attempts over eight months to write this article – from the time of the July rioting in Derry last year, to the murder of (journalist) Lyra McKee at Easter. What has prevented completion on those previous occasions was concern at the response it would provoke. Some will seek to dismiss this article as providing excuses for Dissident activity (it does not). Others will brush it off as just ‘Derry whinging’ (as if there isn’t sufficient weight of evidence for people there to justifiably complain). Others still just don’t want to hear the fact that Northern Ireland’s second city has been cut adrift from the rising tide of post-Troubles prosperity. But I believe that each significant outburst of Dissident activity in Derry makes the case for this article stronger, and proves that the issues and questions it raises can no longer be brushed aside…”

I’m excited that my sponsor at the Queen’s University in Belfast has arranged a workshop for me with the Slugger O’Toole staff. It will be fascinating to discuss their approach to journalism. 

Finally, take a look at a different kind of outlet called Shared Future News-- https://sharedfuture.news/ --This is “an online publication dedicated to providing news, information, and personal stories on the topics of peacebuilding, reconciliation, and diversity. Posts are published at least once weekly to an audience interested in the history and politics of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We believe that it is important to spread the news of those working for a shared future in Northern Ireland.” 

I hope to be able to arrange a meeting and/or workshop with their staff. Their approach sounds very much like peace journalism, and I’ll be interested in hearing about their successes and challenges.

I’ll be enjoying Scotland and Ireland for the next few weeks, but will be ready to plunge into Northern Ireland later in May. Stay tuned for details.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Prepping for PJ in Northern Ireland
I'm eagerly anticipating my upcoming peace journalism trip to Northern Ireland. My project, funded
Queen's University-Belfast
by the US Embassy-London, is titled, Peace Journalism and Reconciliation in Post-Conflict Northern Ireland. My partners at the Queen's University in Belfast and I are working now on finalizing the program, which will include seminars for professional journalists and university lectures.

The task of discussing peace in Northern Ireland is daunting, yes, but no less so than in other places I've been like Kashmir or South Sudan.

Stay tuned to this blog for details about the project, which begins May 22.

Peacebuilding Ambassador
As an offshoot of my duties with the Center for Global Peace Journalism, I am also active in Rotary, where I've started a new position as Peacebuilding Ambassador for my Rotary district, which consists of the Kansas City area plus roughly the northern half of Missouri.

Below is a brief column I wrote for the district newsletter introducing myself and the peace ambassador concept.

Peacebuilding Ambassador: Important, but hardly glamorous
When District Governor Elect Marc Horner asked me to be District 6040’s Peacebuilding Ambassador, I imagined that, as an ambassador, I would hobnob with glitterati, attend swanky receptions and high-brow cultural events, rub elbows with the rich and famous, and advise powerful government officials.

It wasn’t until I was stuck behind a stinky semi on my way to Jeff City for the state conference that cold reality struck.

My name is Steven Youngblood, and I am breaking in the new job of district peacebuilding ambassador. While my new job isn’t exactly glamorous, the opportunity to work with my fellow Rotarians on peacebuilding projects is nonetheless exciting.

As district peacebuilding ambassador, my duties will include:
1. Educate Rotarians and Rotary Clubs about the concepts of peace and peacebuilding through presentations (in person, via Skype) and through online resource materials;
2. Work with Rotarians and Rotary Clubs to develop viable projects that promote positive peace, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post conflict reconciliation both locally and globally;
3. Work with Rotarians and Rotary Clubs to locate peacebuilding grant opportunities, and serve
as a resource person during the project development and grant application process.

As my first official education duty, let me quickly fill you in on a rich peacebuilding opportunity: the Rotary World Peace Conference 2020. The conference will be held in Ontario, California Jan. 17-18, 2020. The two-day conference will have six general sessions, 13 tracks of breakout sessions for a total of 104 breakout sessions, two special dinners, a House of Friendship, and a concert. 150 expert speakers will be discussing peacebuilding issues and solutions. I am honored to be one of these speakers. You can learn more about the World Peace Conference at https://peaceconference2020.org/ .
After you’ve checked out the peace conference, I ask that you begin a conversation in your club about peacebuilding. Are there peacebuilding opportunities in your community or worldwide that you feel need to be seized? If so, let’s discuss your ideas, and work on formulating a plan or project. If your plans require grant funding, I can help with that, too. (I’m writing a Global Grant now, in part to become more familiar with the process) Finally, feel free to invite me to your club to speak about peacebuilding. This may be in person or via Skype.

If you’d like to learn more about me, my short bio is pasted at the end of this article.

Despite the dearth of champagne and lobster puffs, I genuinely look forward to working with each of you to advance Rotary’s peacebuilding mission.

Steven Youngblood Bio
District 6040 Peacebuilding Ambassador Steven Youngblood is the founding director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, Missouri USA, where he is a communications professor. He has organized and taught peace journalism seminars and workshops in 25 countries. Youngblood is a two-time J. William Fulbright Scholar (Moldova 2001, Azerbaijan 2007). He also was named U.S. State Department Senior Subject Specialist in Ethiopia in 2018. Youngblood is the author of  “Peace Journalism: Principles and Practices” and “Professor Komagum.” He edits “The Peace Journalist” magazine, and writes and produces the “Peace Journalism Insights” blog. He has been recognized for his contributions to world peace by the U.S. State Department, Rotary Club-Parkville, and the UN Association of Kansas City.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Northern Ireland media teaches lesson on responsible coverage
In any conflict or post-conflict zone, the hundreds of journalists I’ve worked with agree that they bear a particular responsibility to serve their communities by not exacerbating ongoing conflicts or re-ignite simmering ones.

Sadly, this point was driven home last weekend with the murder of 29-year old journalist Lyra McKee during civil unrest in Derry.

It would have been understandable, if regrettable, if the press in Northern Ireland had gone on a rampage after the murder, making false accusations, inflaming sectarian passions, using extreme and demonizing language, and generally pouring gasoline on the fire.

A small study of reporting about McKee’s murder shows that this did not happen, and that instead Northern Irish media actively sought to not make a bad situation even worse.

I randomly chose 15 articles* about the murder and its aftermath, and analyzed them using a content analysis rubric developed by my students at Park University and I. 8 of the 15 articles were classified as non-inflammatory journalism; 5 of the 15 showed some characteristics of inflammatory and traditional (inflammatory) journalism; and only 2 were considered traditional journalism.

One of the two traditional journalism stories was an opinion column that appeared in the Independent. Especially noteworthy was its angry tone, name calling (“dinosaurs”), and homage to the Troubles (“blood spattered past.”)

Otherwise, the reporting worked hard to remain informative and objective without exacerbating the situation. Sectarian bias was seldom on display. Many voices across the political spectrum were heard, and they universally condemned the murder. Most of the language used in the articles was measured, although overly sympathetic, victimizing language (seem in 9 of 15 articles) was hard for many writers to avoid.

One key point: Historical wrongs (the Troubles, in this instance) were mentioned in only four of the 15 articles. Imagine covering every contemporary Northern Irish news story, like this murder, through the prism of the Troubles. The impact, to continuously re-open wounds and re-stoke the flames of sectarianism, could be devastating to peace.

Many of the stories analyzed featured portrayals of McKee—an emphasis aligned with responsible journalism that focuses on victims instead of perpetrators. There were several excellent articles featuring memories fromMcKee’s partner, and one other article about the outpouring of support McKee’s family has received. In addition, her picture, and links to her outstanding Ted Talk, were posted everywhere.

How could this reporting be even better? I would have liked to see a few more of the articles look forward, the way that Alex Kane’s column does in the News Letter. Is this murder, and the underlying unrest and political turmoil, part of a growing trend? What lessons can be learned from this tragedy, and how can it be a gateway to a more peaceful future for Northern Ireland? In fact, this theme was prevalent in articles about McKee’s funeral in Belfast. More of the coverage could have examined solutions, especially those that transcend merely catching and punishing the perpetrator(s).

I will be in Northern Ireland next month working with journalists and students on a State Department project that deals with just these issues of responsible, non-inflammatory reporting. Based on the coverage of this incident, it looks like my Northern Irish colleagues will be teaching me a thing or two.

*Articles analyzed from Irish News, News Letter, Independent, Derry Journal, Belfast Telegraph.

NOTE: Lyra McKee's friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page. The money will go towards her funeral expenses and "to decide her legacy."

Friday, April 12, 2019

Somber anniversary reminds journalists of responsibilities

This weekend marks a somber anniversary in greater Kansas City—the fifth anniversary of a racist-motivated shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park that killed three people.
At the time, I was concerned about coverage of the event in the Kansas City Star that “gave voice to racism and hatred,” but encouraged by a thoughtful column that ran a few days later titled, “Reporting on Extremism: Ignore it or expose it?” See my full column below.

Five years later, these same questions about how to cover extremism and terrorism remain. Just last month, I published a column in the Kansas City Star upbraiding the paper, again, for its coverage. This time, my concern was about whether the Star should have printed a lengthy piece analyzing the New Zealand shooter’s racist manifesto.  I wrote, Printing manifestos in whole or in part gives shooters exactly what they crave: publicity for their hateful ideas.”

Yesterday, the Star ran a revealing interview with a white supremacist about his transformation away from hatred. The forward looking, solution-seeking tone of the article was excellent, as was the online publication of photos of each of the victims. However, I was disappointed, once again, to see the Star publish another photo of white supremacists giving a Nazi salute with a Confederate battle flag in the background. Isn’t publishing this photo giving the haters exactly what they want?

As I said in my column about the New Zealand shooting, “Media outlets walk a fine line between providing necessary context and giving violent racists or terrorists a megaphone. Next time, and there will sadly be a next time, let’s hope journalists err on the side of choking off publicity for the haters.”


Peace Journalism Insights, April 16, 2014
Does KC shooting coverage give voice to hate, extremism?

Peace journalism is about much more than peace and war.

That lesson is being underscored this week in Kansas City, where we are in mourning over a series of shootings that killed three people last Sunday.

Peace journalists always consider the consequences of their reporting, and, at minimum, pledge to avoid exacerbating an already bad situation—to not pour gasoline on an already raging fire.
The balance, the fine line, between giving the public the information they need and fueling the fire has been on display the last few days here in Kansas City.

From a peace journalism perspective, or the perspective of journalism in general, there’s no question that this story had to be covered. Peace journalism, contrary to some misperceptions, doesn’t ignore or soft-peddle violent acts.

On Monday, the day after the shootings, The Kansas City Star ran a banner headline that read, “Black Sunday.” The front page featured an article about the shooter titled, “Racist views, a prison record.” The following day, The Star’s front page showcased a large photo of the shotgun-wielding shooter framed by KKK flags.

Was the Star’s coverage appropriate, or did they sensationalize the crime and give voice to hate and extremism?

The Star’s coverage of the victims was outstanding—thorough, thoughtful, respectful. Profiles of the victims were prominently displayed on page one on Tuesday, as they should have been.
The difficult question for the Star and others covering this was how to handle the alleged shooter. This is the same dilemma faced when covering other hateful acts. The Boston bombing anniversary, for example, has sparked new stories about Dzokhar Tsarnaev and questions about whether he deserves even one more word of press coverage.

In the KC case, Peace journalism asks, what is the consequence of giving voice to the alleged shooter’s extremist, racist views? What impact does showing a KKK photo have? Does any of this coverage give credibility, gravitas, to the alleged shooter or his racist cause?

I agree that the alleged shooter must be covered, but I disagree with the Star’s decision to cover him on page one, particularly on Tuesday, where the shooter’s profile was carelessly laid out alongside profiles of the victims. (Click here to see .pdf of Tuesday's front page). Some might believe that this implies some equivalency between shooter and victim. As for the front page photos of the shooter (mug shot on Monday; shotgun-toting KKK flag shot Tuesday), I challenge the decision to run these on page one. Does featuring a prominent front-page photo of the alleged shooter that is much larger than the tiny photos of the victims imply that the alleged shooter is of primary importance? That certainly wasn’t the Star’s intention, even though the way the page is laid out might leave some with that misimpression.

To their credit, The Star ran a thoughtful, introspective column by reporter Dave Helling in Tuesday’s paper titled, “Reporting on Extremism: Ignore it or expose it?” In this piece, Helling wrote, “It’s unlikely daily front-page coverage will stop the damage from the worst people out there. It could make it worse.” I agree. Will the kind of celebrity now enjoyed by the alleged shooter encourage others to act on extremist views?

Helling is also correct when he wrote, “The journalist’s usual answer is balance—expose what you can without overexposing the rantings of an anti-Semite.”

It’s encouraging to see Helling’s analysis of the impact of the Star’s reporting. It is this kind of reflective, deliberate decision making about coverage, as opposed to the press’ usual reflexive sensationalism, that gives me hope that journalists can operate more professionally and responsibly.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Global reporters discuss self-censorship, inflammatory content

I had an interesting exchange with journalists at the Global Sisters Report yesterday at their Kansas City headquarters.

After my presentation on peace journalism basics, I opened up the floor for Q&A. One journalist was concerned that peace journalism amounts to no more than self-censorship. This is because it asks journalists to consider the consequences of their reporting and yes, to exclude words and images that are inflammatory without adding any value to the story. This is, incidentally, an oft-repeated criticism of PJ. My response was that I do not consider this to be self-censorship. Instead, this is journalists merely employing a filter—the same filter that journalists use hundreds of times a day to make decisions about newsworthiness, appropriateness for audience, what information to include or exclude, etc. Why not also filter out inflammatory, sensational content?


The journalist then followed up by noting, correctly, that sometimes reporters need to give raw, unpleasant details in a story. He cited a story he did on rape as an example. I agreed that stories like this, and negative, violent news in general, must be covered. The question is how. I hope journalists would ask themselves is this: are these details important for an understanding of the story, or are they merely sensational? Does including gory details re-victimize the victims? Does including these details help open the door for a possible solution, or at least a recognition generally that something must be done?

Interestingly, I've had the same exchange repeatedly with journalists in Cameroon, one of whom asked, "How can we cover a story when police shoot unarmed protesters in a way that reflects peace journalism?" My answer: sometimes the best we can do, the only thing we can do, is to report such stories without making a bad situation worse, without pouring gas on the fire.

This was my second such visit with the Global Sisters Report staff. I continue to be impressed with the quality of their journalism and with their commitment to telling stories from around the world about those who are embracing and facilitating peace, often against long odds. You can see their work at: https://www.globalsistersreport.org/ .