Wednesday, 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. 

--Follow me on Twitter @peacejourn --

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lebanese peace journalists face dilemma 
If you’re a peace journalist, how do you report about a hated, sworn enemy?

Vanessa Bassil on Skype, speaking to the Park PJ class
This is a challenge facing peace journalists in, among other places, Lebanon. This quandary was a chief topic of discussion today as Vanessa Bassil, founder/director of the Media Association for Peace in Lebanon, met via Skype with the peace journalism class at Park University today.

Bassil said that on one hand, she is a patriotic, and does not want to see war raged against her country. She said she understands why Lebanese media use the term “the enemy” instead of the more neutral label “Israel.”  Bassil told the class that she understands that using “the enemy” is not peace journalism, but also that, at this time, the use of a more neutral term is just not possible in today’s Lebanon.

When asked about this dilemma, she was honest in saying that this is an issue that she is still wrestling with. How can she promote peace journalism, and objectivity, in an environment where there is nothing but animosity against Israel?

The discussion left me asking, as I did last summer when I visited Lebanon, how even a modest peace proposal could ever get off the ground in a society so weighed down by animosity against “the enemy.” (For more on my 2013 PJ trip to Lebanon, click here.)

University for Peace 
During her Skype visit, Bassil also discussed the University for Peace, in Costa Rica, where she is studying a master’s degree in Media, Peace, and Conflict Studies.

UPeace’s mission is "to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace and with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The new Peace Journalist magazine has arrived!

The April, 2014 edition of the Peace Journalist magazine has been published. Click here to get the lastest peace journalism news from Northern Ireland, Fiji, Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, Colombia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. 

The Peace Journalist is dedicated to disseminating news and information for and about teachers, stu­dents, and practitioners of peace and conflict sensitive journalism.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. The next edition of The Peace Journalist will be published in October, 2014. Submissions are welcome from all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What’s a peace journalist to do?
As peace journalists, we’re used to often being a lone voice in the wilderness. At no time is that more true than today.

Yesterday, a man who is arguably the most hated person in the country died. 

I refuse to even write his name to avoid giving him even one more byte of publicity. Of course, I am alone in not further inflating this man’s infamy. Unfortunately, his death has given media one more opportunity to revisit his legacy and teachings-- one more chance to unintentionally spread his gospel of hate. On the day of his death, his demise was the lead story on, and was displayed prominently on as well. I heard it twice on NPR. The following day, his death was on the Kansas City Star’s front page.

As a peace journalist, my stance is clear: I will not further acknowledge the deceased. Journalists have a choice to ignore nut jobs, bigots, and haters. Is this man’s death really news? Front page news? One could argue that he led only a tiny fringe group, and that his Neanderthal attitudes are hardly new, novel, or even interesting. 

While I think it is okay as an opinion columnist or blogger to use this opportunity to attack the deceased’s vile beliefs, I believe that news media should have ignored his death in the same way that they have justifiably ignored his life (and the lives of his followers) for much of the past decade.

Cyprus leftovers
 I have posted a photo album from our recent peace journalism mission to Cyprus. Enjoy.For more on the Cyprus trip, see posts below.

While in Cyprus, I had the opportunity to appear on MYCY radio to discuss our PJ project. The show is posted here. Bon apetit.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Peace journalism seeds take root in Cyprus
I have taught in corn fields, in freezing cold classrooms, under trees, in sweltering meeting rooms fighting off aggressive mosquitos, and in sterile auditoriums under the suspicious gaze of official "handlers." However, until last Thursday and Friday, I had never led a seminar held in no-man's land--in a place that is, literally, neither here nor there. 

My most recent peace journalism seminar convened last week at the Cyprus Community Media Center (CCMC). The CCMC is located in a buffer zone between the Turkish-Cypriot region in the north and the Greek-Cypriot region in the south. The zone extends 180 km across Cyprus, and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers. It is as many as 2 km wide in some places, but here in Nicosia, where the CCMC is situated, the buffer zone is a little less than 1 km wide. (For more on the buffer zone, see: ).

The CCMC sits right next to a UN base here in the buffer zone. It's just a few feet from the CCMC's door to a razor wire fence that delineates the base's perimeter. (see photo above)

As I was teaching, I could help but glance to my right and see the razor wire and UN flag limply presiding over the base. This didn't make me nervous, since this hasn’t been a shooting war for decades, but it was nonetheless a constant reminder of the necessity of our peace journalism training here in Cyprus.
The CCMC seminar, with 14 participants, was outstanding, and the attendees were productive and engaged from the event's inception. Our two-day seminar brought together journalists, grad students, and NGO professionals from both the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. We had some lively discussions about the nature of the Cypriot conflict, and about the need for peace journalism here. All agreed that peace journalism would be beneficial as a counter-weight to biased, negative "us vs. them" narratives which are pervasive in media on both sides of the buffer zone.

The seminar's hands-on activity was a reporting exercise. The participants were sent out to report peace-journalism style stories about refugees, migrants, or asylum seekers. The reporters were instructed to produce stories that countered the existing, negative media narratives about migrants. What they came up with were compelling stories about a refugee and his cat; a Pakistani student discussing Cyprus and how it welcomes immigrants; an asylum seeker from Togo; and a Syrian immigrant who is working hard to assist those escaping the mayhem in Syria.

As we wrapped up the event, the participants collectively took a step that confirmed the success of our work at CCMC and earlier in the week at Eastern Mediterranean University in northern Cyprus. Some participants met for a few minutes after the seminar’s conclusion and formed their own peace journalism press club. They have an interim president, a tentative first meeting date, and a list of invitees from both sides of the buffer zone. 

It’s encouraging to see peace journalism take root so soon after the seeds were planted.

As for the next step, the CCMC, Eastern Mediterranean University, and the Center for Global Peace Journalism are already working on plans for a more comprehensive peace journalism project in Cyprus. Once the plan is complete, we will pitch it to potential funders. We believe the success of this short term project will demonstrate the viability of our larger project.