Monday, July 16, 2018

On Language: What exactly is a massacre?
My recent presentation introducing peace journalism to the journalists at Canal Duex, a TV station in Douala, was punctuated by some thoughtful, pointed questioning about language. Latching onto an example that I used, a journalist and I had an interesting exchange about the word “massacre.”
Considering PJ and language at Canal Deux, Douala, Cameroon

I told the journalists that I thought “massacre” was a term to be avoided, since it is subjective and imprecise. It’s the kind of term, I think, that can fuel anger and exacerbates an already bad situation. The journalist challenged this thinking, saying that if authorities drag children out of their huts and shoot them (which is a real-life scenario here), that this is definitely a massacre, and that using the word only verifies the obvious. I held my ground, re-stating that what Person A labels a massacre is different than what Person B thinks is a massacre. How many people must die, I asked, to qualify as a massacre? This is where the vagueness of the term, and its inflammatory nature, must be considered.

Though we didn’t change each other’s minds, we agreed that the discussion itself was valuable, and that the important thing is that we as journalists are thoughtful and intentional about the language we use. 

Cameroon PJ seminars moved, shortened
(CAMEROON)—Our peace journalism seminars planned for the next two weeks have been moved out of the northwest and southwest regions. The participants will instead travel to attend the seminars in safer parts of Cameroon.

The move was necessitated by escalating violence in these regions, including deadly attacks against police as well as roadblocks (snarling traffic on main roads) in the last few weeks. Also, separatists are calling for general strikes (called “ghost towns” here) today (Monday) through Wednesday. All activity in the northwest and southwest regions will cease—there will be no meetings, business activity, etc. No vehicular traffic will be allowed. I’m told those who ignore the strike are violently punished by the separatists who are organizing the “ghost town.”

This is the second batch of strikes I’ve encountered this year. Opposition protesters organized similar city-wide shut downs earlier this year while I was teaching in northern Ethiopia.

Moving the seminars will mean that some participants won’t be able to attend since they can’t travel to the new, secondary site. Both of the northwest/southwest region seminars will have to be shortened to work around the strikes and to accommodate travel schedules and budgets. 

This all means that I’m going to have some unanticipated down time here during the coming weeks. 
I’ll let you know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Does just discussing peace mean you're taking sides?

(CAMEROON)—After less than one day in Cameroon, a theme for this project has already emerged: the safety of journalists, and those who train journalists.

My first meeting today was with a journalist who fled the western Anglophone region of the country after he and his family were threatened. I won’t use his name here for obvious reasons. In those Anglophone regions, the northwest and southwest, there is a violent, anti-government insurgency led by separatist rebels. My new journalist friend said he was targeted by rebel groups for doing his job and reporting factually.

Hearing this, I shared the story of an editor I worked with in Indian controlled Kashmir several years ago who was recently shot and killed for nothing more than doing his job. (See my blog below).

This led to a discussion about how a journalist, or a peace journalism trainer like me, becomes a target in the northwest or southwest regions. The reporter said that discussing peace in the Anglophone regions put him in jeopardy since a pro-peace message is seen by the rebels as a pro-government, anti-rebel stance. He said that he’s even been accused of being bribed by the government to discuss peace.

Selfishly, perhaps, I asked about what this means for me, and for our month-long peace journalism project held with the Cameroon Community Media Network, much of which is scheduled to occur in cities in the northwest and southwest regions.  The journalist firmly advised me to not go to the regions because he believed the seminars' trainers and participants would be targeted by rebels. He said the rebels would see our peace journalism program as pro-government, and that some rebels would even believe that I am being paid off by the government to blanket the region with pro-peace and thus anti-rebel messages. 

Of course, this is preposterous, I commented. My friend agreed, but said that the rebels would believe this nonetheless. He pointed out that anti-government forces actually accused UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres of being bribed by the government to come to Cameroon and advocate for peace. I guess if they think the UN secretary general was paid off by the government, it’s not a stretch to believe that I could be paid off, too (presumably for much less than Guterres!)

Based on the journalist’s advice, and on information we are receiving from other experts on the ground, it now looks like we won’t be traveling to the northwest or southwest.  Instead, we will transport journalists from those regions to safer locales to learn about and practice peace journalism.
We can keep the journalists safe for a few days during the PJ seminars. It’s their safety after the seminars that worries me.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Airline gods trifle with peace journalist

If you see any of these headlines in the coming days, you’ll know the person referenced is me:

Passenger’s head melts at airline ticket counter; Authorities baffled

Man, on hold with airline reservations, crushes cell phone into dust with bare hands

Desperate passenger has “Is that ticket confirmed?” tattooed on forehead

I was supposed to be in Cameroon now, ready to begin work on my month long peace journalism project. However, the cruel airline gods had different ideas. Long story short—I got “O’Hared” Thursday (thunderstorms; delays; cascading missed connections). I had to wait until Saturday to try again. I made it as far as O’Hare, but had to turn around and come back to KC because the tickets I was assured 4,877 times were confirmed were not, and I would have been stuck in Istanbul for at least two days. I’m trying it again Monday, this time routing through Brussels. 

Yes, I know this is a “first world problem,” and that it not even remotely suffering in any way. Still, any of the headlines above is a real possibility if I don’t make it to Cameroon this time. Wish me luck.

Cameroon primer
Two recent media pieces about Cameroon’s troubles caught my eye. The first, in the New York Times, chronicles the mounting violence there, and the struggles of the English speaking (Anglophone) community.

The second is an excellent video by the BBC examining claims that Cameroonian authorities have burned homes and villages in the Anglophone regions of the country.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Annapolis coverage elevates victims; de-emphasizes shooter

If media coverage of the Annapolis newspaper shooting is any indication, perhaps the “No Notoriety” principle is beginning to sink in.

“No Notoriety” is a movement started by the families of mass shooting victims that asks media to change the way perpetrators of mass shootings are covered. They recommend showing the shooter’s name and image only once, or at minimum, as few times as possible. This relegates murderers to the obscurity that they deserve, depriving them the “media spotlight and celebrity they so crave” while discouraging copycats, according to, which also recommends “elevating” the victims to show that “their lives are more important” than the shooter and his actions.

These goals align with the values of peace journalism, which seeks less sensational reporting about mass shootings and more thorough, compassionate coverage of victims.

Anecdotally, these “No Notoriety” principles were on display during at least one of the Sunday talk programs—CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” Though the program was devoted almost entirely to Annapolis, the name and photo of the shooter were not used. Instead, extensive coverage was given to telling the victims’ stories. Host Brian Stelter and his producers should be especially proud of last Sunday’s program, which was equally enlightening and moving.

According to a small study, “Reliable Sources” wasn’t alone in de-emphasizing the shooter and elevating the victims. A Lexis-Nexis database “all news” search of 1,067 articles about Annapolis during the previous week showed just 200 hits using the shooter’s name. In contrast, each of the victims was mentioned in news reports more times than the shooter—Gerald Fischman (286); Rob Hiaasen (282); John McNamara (249); Rebecca Smith (299); and Wendi Winters (287). 

The flip-flopped Annapolis reporting that minimized the shooter and elevated the victims is encouraging, and a stark contrast to reporting during past mass shootings. Though writing about the Charleston shooting, Bethan McKirnan’s observations could apply to coverage of any mass shooting. She writes, “The media turns killers into anti-heroes by using dramatic timelines of events, voyeuristic mobile phone footage and endless reconstructions of the killer's past and motivations is just as relevant today in the wake of the murder of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. Repeatedly showing us a killer's face isn't news, it's just rubbernecking, and what's more this sort of coverage only serves to turn this murdering little (twit) into a sort of nihilistic pin up boy.” (The Independent, June 20, 2015)

Let’s hope we’ve see the last of the rubbernecking and voyeurism, and that it’s replaced with reporting that reflects the respectful principles outlined by “No Notoriety.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Photo exhibit transcends
"the otherness of fear"

What do peace journalism images look like?

The easiest answer begins with discussing what PJ photos aren’t. They aren’t sensational, exploitative, inflammatory, or stereotype-reinforcing, and they don’t distort reality (like misrepresenting the size of a crowd attending a rally).

Conversely, peace journalism style photos would accurately reflect events while offering unique, counternarrative perspectives that would seek to humanize subjects and build bridges between those from different national, racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.

Put more simply, peace journalism-style photos look a lot like the work being done by young photographer Carlos Gregory, whose work is on display at Park University in an exhibit titled “Images of Kenya.”

Gregory, who runs Carl Gregory Studio photography, graduated from Park University in 2011, and was one of my students. I wish I could take credit for his work, but can’t, since he came to my classes already possessing a fertile mind and intellectual curiosity that are evident in his photos.

In Gregory’s self-description of his current display, he writes that he hopes it “provokes joy, curiosity, respect, and dispels the otherness of fear” while reflecting the uniqueness of each ethnic group represented. Sounds like peace photojournalism to me.

Gregory’s “Images of Kenya” accomplishes his goal of rejecting “the otherness of fear” while planting the seeds of understanding in the viewer. The photos are more than aesthetically pleasing. The subjects almost leap off of the canvas to impart stories about themselves, their lives, and their cultures.

“Images of Kenya” is on display on the Park University campus in Parkville, MO at the Campanella Gallery inside the Norrington Center. The exhibit runs through July 27, and will be open Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except for July 4). A reception for Gregory will be held on Friday, July 6, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the gallery.