Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Reconciliation and media in the U.S.
Today, the day after the election, I thought it would be interesting for my peace journalism class at Park University to do a little brainstorming about reconciliation in the U.S. and how media can bolster reconciliation processes.

Toward that end, I asked student groups to identify reconciliation issues, and then list a few stories the media might tell about these issues that might generate valuable discussions about the issues at hand.

One group chose the victims of hate crimes and their perpetrators, and listed as "healing" reports stories where the perp openly discusses his crime, and stories about how he is reaching out to victims in various ways. A second group chose as their issues reconciliation between African Americans and police, and listed stories including contextual pieces about overall arrests and trends involving African Americans and joint (African Americans and police together) projects to assist those in need in the community. The final group chose reconciliation between Middle Easterners and the larger society. This group would promote stories that told stories about Middle Easterner academic achievers, and about common challenges in employment.

I kicked in my two cents and chose the related topic of reconciliation between Christians and Muslims in the U.S. The stories I would report would include how the two groups have joined forces on political campaigns, and features on how discrimination cuts across religious boundaries.

As always, I learned more from my students than they learned from me. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Conference highlights power of peace radio

Because of its close connection to everyday people, radio offers a unique platform for peacebuilding.

That theme was prominently displayed at Park University on Oct. 26 as conference participants discussed, “Radio as an Effective Peacebuilding Tool: Achievements from Africa and America.”

The discussion began with a three-way Skype between Park University and peacebuilders from the
Via Skype, Rev. Fobang (l) and Alexander Vojvoda (r).
Cameroon Community Media Network (CCMN). Alexander Vojvoda and Reverend Geraldine Fobang introduced the 45 attendees to the CCMN, which is an association of media houses seeking to develop Cameroonian media and practice peace journalism. They discussed two recent peace journalism projects in Cameroon, one of which was raided and shut down by police.

Rev. Fobang also discussed the many steps taken to promote peace by the radio station she manages, CBS radio in Bamenda. These include a program called “Eyole-Wind of Peace” and a radio drama titled, “A Call for Peace.” Vojvoda discussed as well the importance of community media as a way to leverage peace journalism, provide a voice to the voiceless in Anglophone communities, and build bridges between communities in conflict.

The peacebuilding activities by CBS and CCMN are occurring against a backdrop of escalating conflict between rebels in Anglophone regions and Francophone authorities. October has been an especially difficult month, the presenters noted, due to the presidential election and one-year anniversary of the declaration of an independent Anglophone “nation” in northwest and southwest Cameroon.

The conversation then moved to East Africa. I discussed how radio has become a peacebuilding tool in that region, and played audio stories for the audience. These included peace and electoral journalism radio reports from Uganda and peace and reconciliation journalism stories from South Sudan.

The ability of radio to foster conversations was emphasized not only in Africa but in Kansas City as well. Speakers from two KC radio stations discussed how their outlets have fostered peace.
Laura Ziegler and Ron Jones from public radio station KCUR presented about the station’s “Here to Listen” community engagement project. Ziegler said the project was “designed to tell stories from the perspective of those who live the story.” Stories disseminated by this project are underreported tales from small towns around Kansas City which are told to “build empathy on all sides,” according to Jones.

KCUR's Laura Ziegler
Ziegler and Jones also discussed KCUR’s “Beyond our Borders” initiative which, in the truest spirit of peace journalism, seeks to build bridges across Kansas City’s geographical and racial boundaries and, in Ziegler’s words, “to defy stereotypes.”

The radio and peacebuilding event concluded with a presentation by Spencer Graves, board member of community radio station KKFI. He gave examples of peace initiatives broadcast by KKFI or disseminated on its website, including events and rallies by PeaceWorks Kansas City.

The Oct. 26 radio session was part of a three-day Greater Kansas City Peacebuilding Conference which featured a keynote address from Ambassador Bill Taylor, executive vice president of the United States Institute of Peace. He discussed USIP’s peacebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and surprised many when he stated that he has hopes of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The conference was jointly sponsored by the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University (Parkville, MO), Johnson County Community College (Kansas), the International Relations Council (greater Kansas City), and Avila University (Kansas City).

Monday, October 22, 2018

New study:
Media more negative than sympathetic toward caravan migrants

A study of news media reporting about the migrant caravan in Mexico using the Lexis-Nexis database shows that negative mentions about the migrants outnumber positive ones, and that news media are guilty of exaggerating the “threat” posed by the migrants.

In the study of news reports by the Center for Global Peace Journalism from Oct. 1-22, negative mentions more than double sympathetic ones in newspapers (2,773 articles); while negative mentions outnumber sympathetic ones by about 25% in broadcast transcripts (1,444 stories). Negative mentions included terminology like “surge,” “threat,” “flood,” “stream(ing),” “criminals,” “force,” “illegal/illegals,” and “crisis.” Sympathetic terms searched for included “poor,” “asylum,” “hungry,” “dehydrated,” “sick,” “misery,” “migrants,” “flee,” “refugee,” “poverty,” and “murder rate.” The most used negative terminology in both newspapers and on broadcasts was “illegal/illegals,” which appeared in 26% of broadcasts and 58% of newspaper stories.

The study also shows the media are exaggerating the “threat” posed by the number of migrants. The Guardian reports there are 3,000 caravan migrants (Oct. 19), while CNN says there were 2,200 on the bridge connecting Guatemala and Mexico, while 900 tried to cross the border illegally (Oct. 22). How many migrants constitute a threat is debatable. Still, much of the media are engaging in hyperbole by using subjective labels for the caravan like “massive,” “enormous,” “huge,” and even “large.” There were 383 of these exaggerated terms in the 1,444 broadcast stories analyzed, and 184 exaggerations in the 2,773 newspaper stories in the study. Broadcast stories used these exaggerations (by percentage) about four times as often as their newspaper colleagues.

Interestingly, the broadcast stories about the migrant caravan were simultaneously more negative (39% of the stories) and more sympathetic (31% of the stories) than their newspaper counterparts (19% negative and 8% sympathetic). One might conclude that the newspaper stories were more neutral and less sensational generally, which is understandable given the partisan ideological extremes present in broadcasters like Fox and MSNBC.

The data does not take into account duplicate words appearing in any one story. For example, "asylum" and "flood" could appear together in one or more stories. Thus, reaching any conclusion about the tone of any individual story is difficult, though the number of times each word is used can give us some useful information about the tone and narrative of the reporting in general.

That said, these findings are consistent with previous research in the field that indicated predominantly negative narratives about migrants, including framing of migrants as invaders and hype about the “threat” and “crisis” which labeled migrant groups using terms like “flood,” “tide,” and “waves.” (Peace Journalism Principles and Practices, 2016, p. 158).

See below, full data from the study.

Findings of study conducted Oct 22, 2018:
Oct 1-Oct 22, Lexis Nexis, all broadcast transcripts
Database searched for "caravan."1444 stories produced. In these 1444 caravan stories, we searched for the terminology listed below.

Negative terminology—surge-25; threat-28; flood-11; stream(ing) 11; criminals-18; force 151; illegals/ illegal 148; exploding 5;  crisis--168  --565 negative mentions
Exaggerated terminology—massive 34; enormous 13; huge 296; large 40  --383 exaggerations 
Sympathetic terminology—poor 3; asylum 215; hungry 2; dehydrated 3; sick 55; misery 3; migrants 6; flee 25; refugee 13 ; poverty 81; murder rate 48;   --454 sympathetic mentions

Oct 1-Oct 22, Lexis Nexis, all Newspapers
Caravan 2773 hits

Negative terminology—surge-41; threat-11; flood-6; stream(ing) 2; criminals-9; force 148; illegals/ illegal 298; exploding 0; crisis-1  --516 negative mentions
Exaggerated terminology—massive 120; enormous 6; huge 7; large 51  --184 exaggerations 
Sympathetic terminology—poor 25; asylum 21; hungry 6; dehydrated 0; sick 31; misery 1; migrants 12; flee 35; refugee 10 ; poverty 66; murder rate 2;   --209 sympathetic mentions

--Negative mentions more than double sympathetic ones in newspapers; about 25% more in broadcast transcripts
--Negative mentions in 39% broadcast; 19% of newspapers
--Most used negative terminology—illegal/illegals –26% of broadcast; 58% of newspaper
--Exaggerations in 27% of broadcast stories but just 7% of newspapers
--Sympathetic mentions in 31% of broadcast; but just 8% of newspapers

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Article: Role of media in conflict; community media and conflict
I'm honored to be featured in a new publication titled, "Civilian Peace Workers and Conflict Prevention," produced by the Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) and financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Here is an excerpt from the Q&A featured in the magazine that I did with my colleague Alexander Vojvoda of the Cameroon Community Media Network:

AV--What unique opportunities do community media offer to facilitate dialogue in conflict situations? How do peace journalistic tools and methods support community media in their work?

SY--Community media are in a perfect position to facilitate dialogue among players in a conflict. They can do this at the smallest local level, and in such a way that the discussion itself is seen as productive rather than threatening. One of peace journalism’s key tenets is giving a voice to the
voiceless. This is precisely what community media can do best. In providing this voice, those who have been traditionally marginalized feel empowered, and are less likely to strike out violently.

The principles that underlie peace journalism also provide a compelling justification for community media in Cameroon and elsewhere. These include not just giving a voice to the voiceless, but encouraging dialogue, exploring solutions, and rejecting simplistic “us vs. them” narratives. Community media are uniquely positioned to promote each of these principles. Community media are in a perfect position in facilitating dialogue, exploring solutions, and rejecting simplistic “us vs. them” narratives.

AV--How can community media using peace journalistic principles better serve IDP’s and refugees and the communities that host them?

SY--Content analysis research in places that host large numbers of refugees like Turkey, Lebanon, Austria, and Germany show that migrants are typically portrayed negatively by news media, often as a burden, and often through the use of dehumanizing language (flood, wave, infestation, etc.) Peace journalism asks journalists to offer counter narratives that portray the displaced in a more three-dimensional way, not ignoring the challenges their presence creates, but also reporting the positive impact that they may have on communities. PJ also recommends reporting that humanizes refugees and promotes the idea that the displaced themselves should be employed as reporting partners, especially on stories that analyze the situations encountered by the displaced.

The entire publication can be accessed at: 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The New Peace Journalist is here!
The latest edition of the Peace Journalist magazine, a semi-annual publication of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, has arrived. This edition features a series of reports about the safety of journalists in Nigeria, Kashmir, and Cameroon, as well as an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists. Also featured are articles from Zimbabwe, Lebanon, and India.

For flip-through format on Issuu, see: 

For .pdf of the magazine:

The next issue will be April, 2019. The copy deadline will be March 3, 2019.