Monday, September 9, 2019

KC Star gets it right on murder epidemic coverage
Given the daily violence in our world, and the political polarization inherent in the gun debate, it might seem that journalists, and particularly peace journalists, have no choice but to impotently stand by and do little but report about the carnage.

However, recent coverage in the Kansas City Star is disproving that theory.

First, The Star’s coverage has increasingly focused on victims, rather than just the usual recitation of a murder’s gory details. Stories like “Relatives of P&L shooting victims speak out” (https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article234365432.html) and “Family mourns KCK shooting victim” (https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article13063739.html) follow a key peace journalism principle, giving a voice to the voiceless, in this instance, the friends and families of murder victims. Articles like these correctly take the spotlight off of shooters, and put is squarely on the victims whose lives were cut short. It’s gratifying that a platform is available for families to make statements like, ““He was known for being humble and he always asked for advice on life and what he could do to make himself better.”

In addition, The Star has attempted to move beyond just “play by play” coverage of crime, and instead is discussing solutions, another key PJ principle. One example is a recent guest column by a criminal justice professor who lays out possible solutions to the gun violence epidemic in Kansas City, including focusing on gun accessibility, the local jail, and on anti-violence technology. (https://www.kansascity.com/opinion/readers-opinion/guest-commentary/article234578187.html)

Finally, a recent Star editorial pulls no punches as it admonishes the community for its indifference to epidemic violence that is impacting especially the African-American community, noting that the “incredibly, and indefensibly, this city has reacted to the growing (gun violence) crisis with a collective shrug.” This crisis includes the recent murders of three Kansas City, Missouri Public Schools (KCPS) students in a nine day period. The KCPS are a majority African-American district. In a much needed slap in the face for readers, the editorial asks what the reaction would be if the young murder victims were from white majority school districts. “What would the public be if these shootings had occurred in more affluent suburbs like Blue Springs or Lee’s Summit… or if students from (exclusive) private schools like Rockhurst High School or St. Theresa’s Academy had their lives cut short by gun violence?”
 (https://www.kansascity.com/opinion/editorials/article234675022.html#storylink=mainstage)

While journalism alone can’t solve society’s problems, we as journalists can take a cue from the Star, and remain vigilant while reporting with victims and solutions in mind. As I wrote in Peace Journalism Principles and Practices, “Peace journalists would cover daily crime in a way that is less episodic and more analytical, and be proactive in exploring community issues that explain crime. PJ would also offer counter-narrative crime stories that show the deep impact that crime has on communities, and explore possible solutions other than incarceration.”


Friday, August 30, 2019

Gandhi enlightens Park U. students
A once in a lifetime opportunity…A class I’ll never forget…Inspiring… These were among the avalanche of positive comments from Park University students who were fortunate enough to attend one of several presentations this week by professor, author, and scholar Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. 

Prof. Gandhi visited two Park peace studies classes (Intro to Peace Studies and Peace Journalism) and held an informal discussion with new student seminar freshmen as well. 

In peace journalism class, Prof. Gandhi addressed the shortcomings of media, but left the students hopeful that media can become more responsible. He said he was impressed by the work that many U.S. journalists do, and the “commitment and quality of social journalists.” Prof. Gandhi said he was depressed because of a “lack of substance,” media bias, and the media’s desire to “keep viewers glued to the screen” through sensationalism. He was critical of Fox News’ “unfortunate bias” that supports the “curious notion” of white supremacy that suggests that only whites are the rightful owners of the U.S. “The way to confront them (white nationalists) is with the real American ideal” upon which the country was founded. “The U.S. has stood for justice and equality. We have to remind America of this,” he said. 

The discussion about nationalism in the U.S. and elsewhere continued in Intro to Peace Studies class. Gandhi said that nationalism in the U.S. means ”reclaiming” of the country for whites; and in India, “reclaiming” the country for Hindus, despite Mahatma Gandhi’s lifelong struggle trying to build bridges between Hindus and other religions. Prof. Gandhi also answered a question about the viability of non-violent approaches to peace. While he acknowledged that these tactics haven’t always worked, he said it is an unassailable fact that “violence hasn’t brought peace.” Gandhi further defended non-violence with the logic that violence begets violence, leaving non-violence as the only viable option. 

In both of his classroom stops at Park, Prof. Gandhi discussed the current crisis in Kashmir, where 2,000 people have been arrested, the internet and phone service shut off, and over 400,000 Indian troops are deployed. He mentioned-repeatedly-that the recent Indian government decision to strip Kashmir of its special limited sovereignty status was made “without consulting even one Kashmiri.” He firmly believes in the right of self-determination for Kashmiris, a right he said has been trampled by the current Indian government. 

Park University students were thrilled to meet and be inspired by Prof. Gandhi. “I was impressed by the transmission of calmness and knowledge when he talks,” said Marcelo Aquino. International student from India Aadarash Chandan noted, “His views about the events are realistic, practical, and yet polite. His audacity is unmatched.” Destiny Webb spoke for many students when she commented, “He gave good advice and a better outlook on a non-violent society. His words were extremely wise.” Finally, Nathan Moore said, “His views and thoughts on peace were very informative and got me to thinking about peace in my community.” 

I know I speak for my students when I say we were truly honored by his presence and his wisdom. 

Next: Some personal reflections on the 72 hours I spent with Professor Gandhi.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Gandhi: The first peace journalist
When asked to describe Mahatma Gandhi, most would say he was an Indian independence leader, human rights defender, and spiritual guide. However, “People don’t think of him as a journalist” even though “he was a journalist from an early age, and died as a journalist.”
Prof. Raj Gandhi, on peace and peace
journalism, at Park U.
(Photo by Phyllis Gabauer)

This is according to professor, historian, and author Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. Professor Gandhi was the featured speaker at a program titled “Gandhi: The First Peace Journalist,” held at Park University on Aug. 26.

The evening began with a presentation by Gandhi documentarian Cynthia Lukas about Gandhi’s background as a journalist. Gandhi was a prolific journalist and editor who was well-known in India for his articles stressing social justice in such publications as Indian Opinion, Young India, and Navajivan (A New Life). Lukas said his writing avoided inflammatory, “poisonous journalism” (as Gandhi termed it). Instead, Mahatma Gandhi emphasized civility and politeness in his articles, striving always to “step into the shoes of our opponents.”

Professor Gandhi agreed, adding that it is “certainly correct to describe Gandhi as a journalist.” His grandson said Gandhi was a staunch defender of the free press who nonetheless understood the need to avoid inflammatory rhetoric, to “put a curb on his own pen.”

My presentation followed, and supported the premise that Gandhi was indeed a peace journalist. I listed several characteristics shared by Gandhian and peace journalism. These include rejecting “us vs. them” narratives; journalism as public service; media as a tool to de-escalate conflicts; using journalism as a means to foster reconciliation; carefully choosing one’s words to avoid sensationalism; giving a voice to the voiceless; and emphasizing facts and truth.
Gandhi: The First Peace Journalist, 8/26 in the Park University chapel.
(Photo by Phyllis Gabauer)

Regarding language, I shared a quote with the audience. Writing about the “Indian Opinion” journal, Gandhi said, “I cannot recall a word in those articles set down without thought or deliberation, or a word of conscious exaggeration, or anything merely to please…”

The truth, and facts, had no more strident champion than Gandhi. I presented this telling quote from 1926: “The way to peace is the way of truth. Truthfulness is even more important than peacefulness. Indeed, lying is the mother of violence. The truth of a few will count; the untruth of millions will vanish even like chaff before a whiff of wind.”

Professor Gandhi agreed with my assessment that Mahatma Gandhi was indeed a peace journalist. He cited an incident where the Mahatma called out those who had labeled an opponent a snake. “To liken someone to a snake…is a degrading performance,” the professor quoted his grandfather.

The final speaker was Park professor Abhijit Mazumdar, who discussed inflammatory and often hate-filled speech in South Asian media. He cited examples from social media, including hash tags like #HatePakLovers, as well as inflammatory name-calling on Indian TV like “shrieking raccoon” and venomous snake.” In addition, he noted many examples of false news that have been reported by Indian television. Professor Gandhi added that Indian media often spread “toxicity.”

The event closed with a Q&A session for the presenters, though the questions were understandably directed at Professor Gandhi, who shared his frank assessment of the media’s shortcomings as well as his optimism that media can be more responsible. Several questions asked about how individuals can be peacebuilders. Prof. Gandhi encouraged the audience to spread the word about what he believes is oppression of the Kashmiri people. He reminded the audience that anyone can be a peacebuilder, and inspired them with his hope and belief that the world can become a more peaceful place.

The event was sponsored by Park University’s Center for Global Peace Journalism.

PERSONAL NOTE:
It was thrilling, and surreal, to share the stage with a peacebuilding icon like Professor Raj Gandhi. It was heartening to hear that we share many of the same attitudes about peace and those who impede peace, and about the potential of peace journalism to guide a more productive discourse in the media. It’s gratifying to have one’s work validated by one of the world’s most celebrated peacemakers.

Next post: Prof. Gandhi visits Park University students, classes.


At Park U event, L to R: Barbara Youngblood, Usha Gandhi,
Prof. Raj Gandhi, Dr. Greg Gunderson, Park U.President,
Laurie Gunderson,Steven Youngblood











Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Big event-- Gandhi: The First Peace Journalist

Join us at Park University (Parkville, MO; Greater Kansas City area) for an event celebrating Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birthday. The event features Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi, scholar, author, and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

7:00-8:30-Monday, Aug. 26, Park University Chapel
Gandhi: The first peace journalist 

What lessons can Gandhi teach us about journalism and public service, and about the responsibility of journalists in a conflicted society? This program features Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi, scholar, author, and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi; Gandhi filmmaker Cynthia Lukas, and Park University Professors Abhijit Mazumdar and Steven Youngblood, who is also the director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism.

Admission is free, and no pre-registration is required.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Call for submissions: The Peace Journalist
You are invited to submit an article for the October, 2019 edition of the Peace Journalist magazine. We are seeking articles of 500-1500 words about peace and media projects, workshops, seminars, courses, and so on. Our magazine is journalism and media focused, so we do not seek articles about peace projects that do not relate directly to media and journalism. The deadline for submissions is September 5. Feel free to submit photos as well.

The magazine usually fills up quickly. You can increase your chances of publication by getting your article in early.

You can find a copy of the April, 2019 edition of the magazine here: https://www.park.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Peace-Journalist-Apr2019-web.pdf  .

Thank you for your interest in the Peace Journalist.

Steven L. Youngblood
Director, Center for Global Peace Journalism
Editor, The Peace Journalist magazine
Author, “Peace Journalism Principles and Practices”
Park University, Parkville, MO USA
steve.youngblood@park.edu
@PeaceJourn