Monday, August 25, 2014

Ferguson, media article published in Kansas City Star

My op/ed article, "The media went overboard in Ferguson," is published in today's Kansas City Star. I've gotten lots of interesting feedback, most of it positive. Many of the comments were about my observations about the video of Michael Brown allegedly robbing the convenience story. Is this video relevant, and was it well handled (and properly put into perspective) by the media?

Also, I met with about 25 reporters on Friday at the Kansas City Star. We had a robust discussion about the Ferguson coverage specifically, and generally about media responsibility and ethics. As usual, I learned more from my audience than they learned from me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Covering Civic Unrest: A Peace Journalism Perspective

The unrest across the state in Ferguson, Missouri has fueled a number of questions about how reporters should cover the violence there. Indeed, how to report about Ferguson (and future Fergusons) will be at the top of the agenda when I meet with reporters at The Kansas City Star newspaper on Friday. As I prepare for Friday's discussion, I have come up with a tip sheet for covering civic unrest. Of course, any suggestions or input you might have would be most welcome.

Peace Journalism and Covering Civic Unrest
Be proactive before violent unrest occurs—engender dialogues, offer a platform to the marginalized, and contextualize reporting about contentious incidents between officials and citizens.

Reporting in general:
A.      Provide analysis and context, not just play-by-play;
B.      Give voice to the voiceless;
C.      Avoid official propaganda, or at least offer critical analysis of this propaganda;
D.     Avoid us-vs-them characterizations (Black vs. White, Christian vs. Muslim, etc.);
E.      Report about the invisible effects of violence;
F.       Use non inflammatory, non-sensational language;
G.     Report counter-narratives that offer non-traditional perspectives on all the players involved;
H.     Give peacemakers a voice; report about sustainable solutions (not just cease-fires)

Visual reporting—questions to consider:
A.      Are these images sensational? Bloody? Offensive to some, or most?
B.      Are the images necessary for a complete understanding of the story? 
C.      Are the images prejudicial in a way that does not reflect the reality of the situation? 
D.     What about the families of those involved—police or protesters beaten, bloody, or otherwise injured? Do we take into consideration the reaction of affected families?
E.      Do the pictures in any way glorify the violence, making it seem attractive? Is our coverage offering 15 minutes of fame to attention-seekers? (Particularly, live TV coverage)

Steven Youngblood
Director, Center for Global Peace Journalism
August, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Call for Papers—The Peace Journalist magazine

The Peace Journalist is a semi-annual publication of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, Missouri.

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

Submissions are welcome from all. For the October, 2014 edition of The Peace Journalist, we are seeking short submissions (300-550 words) detailing peace journalism projects, classes, proposals, academic works in the field, etc. We also welcome longer submissions (800-1200 words) about peace or conflict sensitive journalism projects or programs, as well as academic works from the field.
The Peace Journalist will not run general articles about peace initiatives or projects, but rather seeks only articles with a strong peace media/peace journalism/conflict sensitive journalism angle.
Please submit your article via email to Also send a 2-3 sentence biography of the author, as well as a small head and shoulders photo of the author. In addition, please submit photos and graphics that could accompany your article.

Submission deadline is Sept. 15. However, given the limited space available in this issue, it’s recommended that you submit your article early.

The April, 2014 issue of the Peace Journalist can be seen at:

Thank you in advance for your interest in the Peace Journalist.

Steven L. Youngblood, Editor, The Peace Journalist
Director, Center for Global Peace Journalism
Park University
Parkville, MO USA
(816) 584-6321
Twitter: @PeaceJourn

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

 In Mexico City, journalists strive to become agents of change

Despite the challenges, journalists can be agents of change.

This important and encouraging message was the most critical take-away from the symposium, “Journalism for Change”, held last week in Mexico City. Sponsored by the NGO Ashoka, the symposium gathered influential Mexican and Latin American journalists as well as other interested parties like the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), Poynter Institute, Corresponsal de Paz (Peace Correspondent), and the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University.

One intriguing and unique example of journalism for change was presented by Molly Swenson of is a website that links news to action—it’s “what’s going on in the news and what you can do about it,” according to the site. For example, at the end of a story about the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, readers can learn more, donate now, or get involved (by joining Swirl, an organization committed to cross-racial dialogue). Swenson told a roundtable discussion that Ryot doesn’t pretend to be objective, and that, in fact, it’s okay to not be objective as long as that bias is known up-front to the readers.

Another journalist for change at the symposium was Pablo Espinosa, director of the Columbian magazine Innovacion Social. Espinosa describes his magazine as taking an alternative viewpoint to most of the Colombian press that eschews sensationalism and offers more analysis and solutions-based reporting.

Of course, the practice of change journalism, and peace journalism, faces many obstacles both in Colombia and Mexico. Javier Garza, a newspaper editor and representative of ICFJ, told a symposium roundtable about the obstacles to responsible journalism posed by both economics and by violence in Mexico. He said the Mexican public suffers from “sensationalism fatigue” because of the onslaught of reporting about drug killings. One related, and chilling, scenario was discussed: Can murders become so commonplace that they cease to qualify as news?

A professor from Universidad Iberoamericano (UI) in Mexico City presented survey data that underscored the challenges that Garza introduced. In a UI survey of Mexican journalists, 50% reported having been threatened by criminals or politicians, 60% reported earning less than 10,000 pesos ($760) per month; and 40% said they work for at least two different media outlets in an attempt to make ends meet. The good news is that despite these problems, a majority of Mexican journalists see themselves as agents of change.

The symposium concluded on an optimistic note, as several break-out group participants pledged to unite to disseminate change-oriented stories and to continue to exchange ideas about how to leverage media for positive change.

Monday, July 21, 2014

War journalism fuels hatred, violence in Gaza, Israel

As the inconceivable war in Gaza continues to unfold, so, too does the predictable propaganda war playing out in the media.

This propaganda takes several forms. In an insightful piece in the New York Times, writer Jodi Rudoren talks about a “clash of narratives” about the war, and about the use of euphemisms. On the Israeli side, these include substituting “forced obstruction” for “assassination” and “uninvolved” for “civilians.” On the Palestinian side, media are advised by officials to always add the term “innocent citizen” when discussing casualties. 

PeaceVoice Editor Erin Niemela, in an article analyzing coverage of Gaza, cites similar examples. Al Jazeera online currently (July 21) posts a banner headline that says, “Gaza Under Siege: Naming the Dead.” This regularly updated webpage lists the names and ages of the Palestinian victims in Gaza. The war and propaganda journalism viewpoint is also present on the Israeli side. Niemela cites a July 18th article from The Times of Israel. The title is: “20 Hamas fighters killed, 13 captured in first hours of ground offensive.” The lead justifies the campaign: “IDF says soldiers in Gaza destroy 21 rocket launchers, find several tunnel openings; Eitan Barak, 21, from Herzliya, is first IDF fatality; 80 rockets fired at Israel.” 

Not only is this traditional war journalism evident on websites and in articles, but it can also be seen in visual reporting (photos and video) of the conflict. Specifically, I examined a series of 10 photos in two online publications—one Israeli, the other Palestinian. These photo albums were analyzed using a rubric my students at Park University and I have developed during the last three years. This rubric, which is still a work in progress, attempts to put a point value on images that are inflammatory, misleading, or represent propaganda.

My mini-study showed that traditional war journalism was evident in the photos posted on both Hareetz (Israel) and the PalestineTelegraph on July 20. In Hareetz, the 10 photos included one mug shot of two Israeli victims, two shots of injured Palestinians, two photos of tanks, two shots of rocket shell casings that fell into Israel, one destroyed building, one artillery firing shot, and one picture at night of artillery firing. Hareetz’s photos seemed pro-military, showing the efficacy of the IDF campaign, but not showing too much suffering. To their credit, at least there were two shots of injured Palestinians. However, the victims portrayed looked only moderately injured, at worst, thus the photos weren’t especially bloody or gruesome. 

Not surprisingly, the Palestine Telegraph photos told a different story. Of the 10 photos posted or linked from their website, there were four shots of kids in the rubble of blasted buildings. There were three pictures of injured or dead children, one shot of rubble, one of a destroyed building, and one of an Israeli rocket launch. Noteworthy is the fact that seven of the 10 pictures featured children, leaving one wondering if there is a directive of some kind at the Palestine Telegraph mandating photos of young victims. Also noteworthy was one truly awful, heartbreaking photo of a bloody toddler (1 or 2 years old) who was either dying or deceased.

What we are left with, then, are two different narratives—one sanitized and pro-military, and one sensationalized. As peace journalists, we ask ourselves the question, what is the effect of these visual narratives? In Palestine and the Arab world, these sensational images do nothing but stoke hatred against Israel, and empower hard liners who see only violence as the only response. In Israel, these sanitized, pro-military images support the government’s version of events, and reinforce the notion that the military action is succeeding with minimal suffering on the Palestinian side.

Peace journalism—indeed, good journalism—mandates coverage that doesn’t pour gasoline on an already blazing fire, and coverage that values peaceful alternatives while giving peacemakers a voice. Failure to practice peace journalism in this instance is further dividing the parties, inciting hatred, and helping to make peace virtually impossible.