Thursday, December 29, 2011

Postscript: First two peace media-terrorism seminars build bridges

They work together, but they usually don’t like each other. Yet, because of their working relationship, they need to at least display some superficial cordiality, no matter how difficult that may be.

They are journalists and government officials in charge of security (local leaders, police, and army personnel). Before our peace media and terrorism project came along, they would have never dreamed of spending three days together.

During two recent seminars in Kampala and Gulu, Uganda, the security officials and journalists came together to build frameworks of collaboration and cooperation for preventing and mitigating terrorism. My pitch was simple: although you have disagreements and even conflicts, you share the common goal of stopping violent extremism and, if it does occur, mitigating its effects.

Towards that end, we spent much time analyzing media, police, and army conduct during and after the July, 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala. The consensus—mistakes were made by all. The government officials acknowledged that they probably were too restrictive and secretive with information, while the journalists admitted that they were too sensational and that their coverage was often superficial.

(These were just the first two seminars of the peace media and terrorism project, funded with a $150,000 in US State Department grant. The project will continue in May and June with more seminars, and will culminate in the fall of 2012 with an online course. Click here for more details about the project.)

On the last day of these initial seminars, the officials and journalists split into teams and drafted proposed agreements that outlined how they would collaborate on anti-terrorism efforts. Security officials agreed to be more forthcoming with information and to collaborate with journalists in developing messages designed to blunt efforts by terrorist organizations to recruit Ugandans. Journalists agreed to be more vigilant in verifying their stories and to consult security officials when stories may jeopardize efforts to prevent terrorism or prosecute terrorists. They all agreed to meet regularly to discuss issues surrounding media and terrorism and to continue working to develop protocols and procedures that would help each side do their job more effectively.

I’m still not too sure how much they like each other, but I sincerely believe that after the seminars that the participants had more respect for one another. At the very least, the journalists and security officials understood their joint responsibility to keep Uganda safe from attack.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn --

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Security officials, media join forces to discourage potential terrorists

GULU, UGANDA--At the Peace Media and Counterterrorism seminar this week, participants (reporters, editors, and government security personnel) are working to bridge their differences and find common ground in the battle against terrorism. (For a photo album from the Gulu seminar, click here.)

Toward that end, the participants have created public service ads for printed media or the Internet. These ads are targeted at those who are at-risk for violent extremism--in other words those who may be targeted by recruiters for terrorist organizations. These ads are presented here.

The Peace Media and Counterterrorism project will continue through next September, and include seminars this May and June for security officials and journalists. An online course will also be taught next September by Park Univ professors.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Security officials, journalists seek understanding

MUNYONYO, UGANDA--The often-strained relationship between government and media was put under a bit more pressure today as the first peace media and counterterrorism seminar concluded.

Specifically, government spokespeople from the army, police, and local government and journalists sparred over whether the Ugandan government was justified in banning live coverage of protests earlier this year, and restricting official updates of the investigation of the July, 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala. Each side played its part, with the journalists crying foul at the heavy hand of the government while the security officials maintained that the moves were designed only to protect people and property. Predictably, no consensus was reached. I did express my opinion that the ban on live coverage represented a journalistic decision, and thus should not have been made by the government. (Photo-eager seminar participants)

As the State Dept-sponsored seminar wrapped up, however, the government officials and journalists did find agreement in their desire to prevent terrorism and mitigate its effects if it does occur. Towards that end, they jointly developed an agreement—a collaborative framework—that laid out their responsibilities vis-à-vis terrorism.

Within the framework, the journalists pledged to not use inflammatory language or engage in sensationalism, to verify information, the “preach the gospel against terrorism”, to respect security officials, and to provide a platform for the government to inform citizens about counterterrorism. For their part, the security officials agreed to look on journalists as their allies and to respect them, to make themselves available when needed by journalists, to collaborate with the media in identifying terrorist threats, and to protect the media when violence does occur.

I was thrilled to hear these frequent adversaries agree on the need to protect their fellow Ugandans. As the seminar ended, I lauded the participants for their commitment, and encouraged them to follow up by discussing their pledges with their colleagues in security and in the media. It’s my hope that we built some permanent bridges during the last three days that will ultimately benefit not only the participants but more importantly Ugandan society in general.

Click here for photo album of peace media-terrorism seminar.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stuck in the mud, searching for answers

KAMPALA, UGANDA--We started the day today stuck in some gloppy mud about halfway to our destination, a hotel in Munyonyo where we were needed to begin teaching the first day of our peace media and counterterrorism seminar. Fortunately, our stay in the mud was brief—just a minute or two.

The seminar went just fine, and the participants were energetic and engaged. At the end of the day, I think I can speak for the attendees (mostly journalists with a few security officials) when I say that that I was a bit in awe of the wide swath of issues that we covered in one day. As we wrapped up day one, we were left with many more questions than answers. These include:

What is terrorism? Is a terrorist different than a freedom fighter?
How do terrorists attempt to use the media?
Should journalists give terrorists a voice? Under what circumstances?
How does a peace journalist report violence and terrorism?
How well did Ugandan journalists report the July 11th bombings in Kampala? What did they do well, and how can they improve?
Should media self-censor to protect lives?
How should media collaborate with government officials regarding terrorism?

I’m hoping that we are able to extricate ourselves from the mire of these intractable questions by the end of the seminar. I just hope we’re able to find an answer as deftly as our driver did this morning.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jittery prof aims for mediocrity in commencement address

I’m all ready for Saturday’s Park University commencement address. My topic will be “Inciting Peace”. If you can’t make it to the ceremony, the speech will be recorded and posted online. It should be linked either at or .

Most commencement speeches are dull, platitudinous, cliché-ridden monstrosities. I’m hopeful that mine can transcend the typical speech and achieve, at minimum, mediocrity. If I reach that goal, given the sorry state of most commencement speeches, perhaps my address will be remembered semi-fondly.

Peace media and counterterrorism project begins next week

I’m off to Uganda on Sunday to teach the first two seminars in a new peace media and counterterrorism project that I’m directing. The goals of the project are to discourage at risk people from being drawn into violent extremism and to create durable linkages between government, police, army, corrections, media, community and the at-risk population.

The first two seminars in December will be for members of the media. Seminars in 2012, which I will team teach with Park University criminal justice professors John Hamilton, Ken Christopher, and Carol Getty, will target police, military, and security officials.

For more details on the project, click here.

Stay tuned to this blog for dispatches from Uganda beginning on or around Dec. 13.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Peace speech plug

I'm finishing last minute prep on my Park University commencement speech next Saturday, Dec. 10. (Click here for details). Hope to see you all there. If that's not possible, the speech will be recorded and posted online. Stay tuned here for details about how to access my speech, which is titled, "Inciting Peace".

Young peace journalist heads for Jordan

Park University PR and peace journalism student Andi Enns continues to demonstrate her promotional skills. The latest piece about her appears in the Independence Examiner. I wrote about Andi a few weeks back (see my post from Nov. 4). She will leave in a few days for her peace mission to Jordan. Good luck, Andi.

Professor pens peace piece

My colleague and friend Professor John Lofflin recently blogged about Andi (no surprise there) and peace journalism. (See the Henry Wiggen blog, Nov. 27th post).

Lofflin and I have spent hours discussing the principles and ethics of peace journalism, so I was not surprised to read that he is “not completely comfortable with the principles of peace journalism… The catch is this: peace journalism is about suppressing the inflammatory language in reporting, language which can lead to violence and death... The rub is I'm old school about journalism -- somebody said it, I report it. Somebody is angry, I report somebody is angry. ..But I see the other side, too, how inflammatory language can actually cause injustice and war. And, I haven't always been in love with the way journalism is done in the world. That's why I became a teacher. You can hide behind the idea of objective journalism only so long before you realize doing journalism ought to do more than line the pockets of a few corporations.”

I responded, “I am comfortable with the fact that you are uncomfortable about peace journalism. It is quite a leap, after all. You are correct in saying that peace journalists like Andi "don't sweat the principles". As I have written, debating these principles is healthy. However, let's not allow that debate to slow us as we strive to give our communities a chance at peace and development.”

The last word discussion-wise on Lofflin’s thought provoking piece came from a former student of ours, the wonderfully perceptive Tiffany Miller. She wrote, “When I was taking Peace Journalism I felt like I was fighting years of bad thinking and taking words for granted. I agree you have to report things the way they are said, but slant should be avoided if possible; even though we all argued in Ethics that it can't be avoided completely since we're all human and have opinions no matter how much we try and keep them to ourselves. Since Peace Journalism class I never read stories the same way, just like I can't watch the news since I've made television packages and know how edited and scripted they can be. All my journalism classes at Park taught me to be ever mindful of the world around me, and never to take information for granted. It's rare for me to find a source I trust completely…”

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kansas City Star needs peace journalism lesson

NOTE: This was an editorial column that I sent last week to the Kansas City Star, my hometown newspaper. I have not heard back from them, so I'm assuming that they are not going to publish it. This is no big surprise since the columnn is pretty critical of a piece published by the Star about a member of the Phelps family/Westboro Baptist Church. For the uninitiated, this is the "Christian" church that hates just about everyone, and has even picketed funerals of gays and servicemen.

I wrote this column the day after the Star's story was published.

When someone is spewing inflammatory, hateful words, are we in the press obliged to report those words?

At a Conflict Sensitive Journalism workshop in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this year, journalists from around the world and I debated this very issue, which was raised by an attendee from Zimbabwe who asked if his newspaper should report the racist, destructive words of that country’s authoritarian president Robert Mugabe. The consensus response was that, as a conflict sensitive or peace journalist, the editor must report those words but then provide the context needed for readers to examine Mugabe’s language and decide for themselves if it incites hatred and encourages divisiveness and sectarianism.

I am hopeful that, at minimum, there was a similarly robust discussion in the editorial offices of the Kansas City Star as the decision was made to publish the story, “An heir to hate” (Nov. 20, 2011).

From the perspective of peace and conflict sensitive journalism, the decision to run this story, and the choices that were made about how to frame the story, were ill-considered.

Among other things, peace journalism asks reporters and editors to make choices that are conducive to peace, reconciliation, and development in their societies. This doesn’t mean abandoning their objectivity—it simply means that journalists should frame their stories in such a way to give peacemakers an equal voice to those who would spew hateful speech. Peace journalists also consider the consequences that occur as a result of their reporting.

This examination of the consequences clearly didn’t occur as editors crafted their approach to telling the story “An heir to hate”, which profiles Megan Phelps-Roper, one of the ringleaders of Topeka’s infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

First, while not flattering, the piece was unbalanced and insufficiently critical of Megan and her fellow hate-mongers. Most of the story is a matter-of-fact presentation of Megan’s life peppered with her quotes reflecting her philosophy. In fact, there are only several paragraphs in the story dedicated to criticism of her hateful beliefs (from the Southern Press Law Center), but these are precious few, and buried half-way through the piece. In the parlance of a Reporting 101 course, the story lacked balance.

Perhaps the lack of balance was a deliberate technique by the editors to give Megan enough rope to hang herself with her own ugly, ridiculous utterances. Assuming this is so, despite the laudable intent, this technique is too clever, too nuanced, to be effective. It’s dangerous, especially in dealing with an incendiary topic like this, to assume your readers will detect such subtleties. It’s just as likely that some will see the piece as tacitly approving of Megan and Westboro, even if this isn’t the intent.

Second, the decision to print this story at all, regardless of how it was framed, was a poor one. By publishing “An heir to hate”, The Star has simply provided a platform for promoting her church and her hateful beliefs, which are too distasteful to repeat here.

The Star’s decision to tell this story is not without its irony. The piece includes, briefly, the tale of one of Megan’s cousins who escaped from Westboro Baptist Church’s clutches, and is now happily married. The implication is that Megan, who is unattached and without any prospects, could escape and find a completely normal, married life just like her cousin. The irony is that by running this story, The Star has added a few minutes to Megan’s 15 minutes of frame, thus seemingly justifying with its media spotlight Megan’s decision to keep preaching hate even if it means that she probably won’t have a husband or family of her own. If Megan can get Sunday-paper publicity for her cause, then she must be doing something right.

In fact, I had been under the impression (perhaps mistakenly) that the media understood Westboro’s thirst for publicity and had tacitly decided to stop covering them. This is the essence of good peace journalism—refusing to give a platform to those who hate. Besides, do the rantings of a few dozen lunatics really constitute news? Many would argue no.

I will soon embark on teaching a peace journalism and terrorism project in Uganda for the U.S. State Department. In my workshops, I will be using “An heir to hate” as grist for a discussion about the symbiotic relationship between extremists/terrorists and the media. Surely, the Phelps gang is no better than other terrorists who seek to manipulate the media for their own purposes. My message to the Ugandan journalists will be to continue to report on terrorists when necessary, but to frame their stories in such a way as to not give “aid and comfort” to those who advocate hatred and violence.

Perhaps The Star would like to send some editors and reporters to my peace journalism and terrorism seminars in Uganda.

Steven Youngblood, associate professor of communications, teaches peace journalism, broadcasting, and reporting at Park University in Parkville, Missouri. He has taught peace journalism workshops worldwide. Youngblood will be delivering a commencement address titled “Inciting Peace” at Park University’s December 10 commencement.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ugandan students shine in online course

I always learn more from teaching than my students learn from me.

This was certainly the case with my just-completed online Advanced Peace Journalism course. The online course was the last activity of a 16-month, $270,000 US State Department/USAID-sponsored peace journalism project in Uganda.

The eight week course, team taught by myself and Ugandan peace journalist Gloria Laker, was “attended” by 10 radio journalists who had prior, face to face PJ training in Uganda. The students analyzed peace journalism case studies (in Gaza and Macedonia, for example), confronted the reservations expressed by PJ’s critics, and looked at how peace journalism can be applied to the reporting of current events like the Casey Anthony trial in the U.S. or the mass shootings in Norway. As a culminating activity, the reporters produced excellent radio stories with a peace journalism theme. (Click here to listen).

The students posted volumes of insightful comments, none more so than when we discussed if peace journalists should publish gruesome photos of ‘dead Gaddafi’. One wrote, “I would censor a photo/video that would cause violence because if the photo/video is too graphic it can escalate the conflict because the affected side, say if they see the mutilated body of their leader, may never forgive the opponents.” Another radio reporter wrote, “As a peace journalist, I do think that such a picture is inciting and results into violent and very unprofessionally published, Instead they should have torn down by fading face and publishing in black and white to reduce the sensitive of the image and the reducing violence.”

This led to a more general discussion about how to handle controversial and potentially volatile stories. A student wrote, “Most reporters do think that big news is controversial news… Sometimes reporters do forget that they judge and begin to nickname some one like murderer, thief, rapist, killer etc. making one side look dirty hence … bias minds toward one side. We should try as much as possible to be fair to all (because) emotions, discriminations and bitter statements may result in another war or even genocide because of the negligence of some reporters and editors.”

He concluded, “When media don’t provide complete, accurate information delivered with a dose of anti-government skepticism, they become little more than government propagandists.”

The online students unanimously agreed to the need for continued peace journalism training in Uganda. One wrote, “Peace Journalism is essential to journalists in Uganda if the current strife from the community and government is to be addressed. A number of journalists have been victim to the current accusation of bad journalism on Ugandan practitioners. Some have been imprisoned, some murdered in mob violence for ‘not being objective. We should not say journalists in Uganda are practising bad journalism but they only lack skills in Peace Journalism which will make them be appreciated as important people in the community.”

Another said, “The best way to reach my colleagues is to use case studies where peace journalism has worked. I would convince them about the utility (usefulness) and power of peace journalism by telling them that peace journalism is solution-orientated because it gives a voice to the voiceless. It also humanizes the enemy and exposes lies on all sides. I would also convince them that peace journalism highlights peace initiatives and also focuses on the invisible effects of violence, such as psychological trauma.”

The dedication of these students, who overcame some major technical obstacles in completing this online course (including brown-outs and typhoid), has stoked my resolve to continue teaching peace journalism in Uganda and elsewhere.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A cheap oil change? We can do better

Is anyone else uncomfortable about the seemingly endless barrage of gratuitous Veteran’s Day offers from businesses? I’ve seen today a free meal deal at Applebee’s, a free car wash, and, strangest of all, a discounted $15 oil change for veterans that was advertised in the Kansas City Star.

Is saving vets a few bucks the only way to thank those who have sacrificed so much for us?

A better idea might be to support veterans when they get home, and not just with a few sweet deals. By support, I mean encouraing businesses to actively recruit vets for jobs, and actively (and vocally) supporting enhanced public and private sector support for vets struggling with the mental and physical after-effects of combat.

Of course, much has been written, but not enough done, about serving and saving homeless veterans. Vets make up 9% of the overall population, but are 15% of the homeless population.(LA Times)

The freebies are fine, but their effects are as fleeting as Veteran's Day itself. If we value the contributions of our veterans, we need to stand up and be counted, and not just one day a year.

Peace Journalism Podcast

I spoke at a recent Parkville (MO) Rotary Club meeting about my adventures teaching peace journalism in Uganda. The speech was especially salient for the Parkville Rotary, which has generously donated $4000 to feed hungry kids at a poverty-stricken school in Arua in northwestern Uganda. A week after my presentation, I was interviewed about Uganda and peace journalism for a Rotary Club podcast. Click here to listen to that podcast. (Be patient…the first two minutes of the show touches on other Rotary business).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Peace journalism student readies for Jordan

The article below is about Andria Enns, who traveled with me on a short term study abroad program to Uganda in the summer of 2010 on a Peace Journalism mission. Congratulations, Andrea, on this great honor.

Next step: Jordan (click here for full article)
By Rob Roberts-- Lee's Summit Journal

"Andria Enns, a junior at Park University from Lee’s Summit, is getting to see lots of the world she wants to change through better communication.

Enns, who is majoring in public relations and broadcasting, will be leaving next month for a nearly month-long stay in Amman, Jordan, most of which is being financed through grants from the Creative Learning foundation and United Planet. In August, Enns was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, a Creative Learning initiative aimed at enhancing the capacity of local organizations around the world to improve lives in their communities. More recently, she won the $2,000 grand prize in the 2011 United Planet Day Contest for an essay she wrote about her 2010 trip to Uganda, where she worked on a peace journalism project. In Jordan, Enns will work for Friends of the Global Fund, a nonprofit organization aiming to end malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Toward those ends, she will be writing grant proposals, creating marketing materials and doing video journalism."

Andi's essays (blogs) about Uganda were outstanding. You can click here to see her blog, which is incredibly insightful. Of everything Andi wrote about Uganda and Peace Journalism, this was my favorite:

"Today was the first day on the trip that I felt angry. I have been enamored with the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the land, the differences of – well – everything! I’m not even sure what I’ve eaten, I just take what I’m handed. But I’m not just angry with the corruption that dominates the lives of Ugandans. I am angry – maybe even more angry – about life in America. (Photo-Andi Enns and friend in Uganda)

In America, we throw everything away because it costs us more (or so we say) to reuse and recycle than to just get a new one. Paper plates, plastic bottles, soda cans. Ugandans use everything over and over. Trash cans aren’t a common sight – there is very little to throw away. Glass soda pop bottles are recycled. Dishes are ceramic. Clothes are used within an inch of their life.

More than angry even, I am ashamed. I am embarrassed that I ever complained about living in Dearing. It’s a paradise compared to what the average Ugandan lives in. In Dearing, I have as much clean water and hot water as I want, reliable electricity, indoor plumbing that always works, air conditioning, constant internet… I probably can’t name all of the things I took for granted. Those things aren’t all present in the nicest hotel in Fort Portal. Imagine going to a hotel in the States and even one of those items missing. You, and admittedly I, would throw a fit. Unimaginable that even the Motel 6 not have hot water or wireless internet.

We live in opulence. And we complain about it. We are so self-centered.

Let me rephrase. I am so self-centered. I am so immature. I am so ungrateful."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Controversy may distract from peace message

One of the leaders of the peace journalism movement is getting into some hot water over comments he’s made about a research forum his Australian university is having with Israeli academics.

The research forum, “Shared Challenges, Future Solutions”, will be held next week, and will “bring together academics from the University of Sydney and leading Israeli institutions to discuss research innovations in key thematic areas including medicine; water, food and agriculture; pedagogy of teaching second languages and Dead Sea Scrolls; energy and information technology.”

Peace Journalist and Associate Professor Jake Lynch has urged his colleagues to withdraw from the research gathering, and the university administration to cancel it.” Why? Because he says that the event may offend Muslims, since the forum involves Israel.

In The Australian newspaper, Lynch said, “"The university risks sustaining reputational damage if the forum goes ahead." Dr. Lynch believes that the university “risks being seen as condoning the complicity by Israeli universities in Israel's breaches of international law and indirectly raises problems with the university's social inclusion policy."

I greatly admire and respect all the work that Lynch (among others) has done to legitimize peace journalism, and am concerned about the controversy that has been generated by these comments. I disagree with his stance, incidentally, but that’s not the point.

For me, the lesson that I take away from this controversy is to pick your battles. I won’t shy away from controversy if it is generated while I spread the word about peace journalism. However, I’d hate to generate any dispute over anything that isn’t peace journalism. For example, when I lived/worked in Uganda, I could have publically railed against that country’s proposed (and reprehensible) anti-homosexual law. I bit my tongue, however, because I knew that my tirade about the law would have only distracted from my peace message.

Given this, I wonder if Professor Lynch regrets disturbing this hornet’s nest.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Graphic Gaddafi images feed cycle of violence, retribution

The publication of photos and videos of Gaddafi’s demise raise a number of peace-journalism related issues.

I asked my Park University students if they would print or post graphic photos or video of dead Gaddafi. Some said yes, some no. I asked them to be thoughtful and deliberate in their choice, regardless of whether they would publish the photos/video or not. I also asked the student-journalists to consider the consequences of their actions. (This is particularly salient for media in the Arab world and in Libya itself). Would publishing these images inflame an already volatile situation (perhaps inter-tribal conflicts)? Would these images, if seen publicly, feed a cycle of retribution (violent act leads to retribution leads to more violence, ad infinitum).

I also “discussed” the Gaddafi death images with my online peace journalism students who are all Ugandan radio reporters. Here are some of their comments:

Stephen: “The photo is shocking and horrific! I even saw it in the national vernacular daily (Bukedde) and failed to give it a second sight! Such photos hardens the heart of the reader for more violence. No wonder, many people all over the world suggested that they would rather have Gaddafi tried than killed. Possible reasons for this could be due to the photos and footages shown on the killing of Libyan former president."

Mathias: “The picture is in bad taste, the media and news-wire administrators may not all be sensitized in peace journalism/conflict sensitive journalism approaches. But this cannot exonerate them from ethical level of responsibility required in handling gory scenes of this nature. Remember the ethical questions in publishing, and I do not need to recount this here. Always ask the question: what will it achieve, does it add value to the information already available to the reader/ listener? The 'Shock and Awe' style of journalism is exiting out the corner.”

Betty: Publishing dead Gaddafi's photos is just too inflammatory. If it was for assuring the world that he is dead, it would at least be a decent body, not naked and with all that blood oozing from every part of his body. So irritating to look at indeed.”

As the editor of an American or online publication, I would have probably posted some of the less bloody-images. As the editor of a Libyan publication, I would not have run any of these pictures or video because such images would feed a cycle of inter-tribal conflict and might even contribute to violent retribution. Certainly, Gaddafi's tribe and the rest of Libya now need to reconcile, and I believe publishing these images would make this reconciliation much more difficult.

Friday, October 14, 2011

History repeats itself in lynch-mob mentality media

Irresponsible, rumor mongering journalism, as an outstanding piece in the Kansas State Historical Society magazine reminds us, is hardly a new phenomenon.

The article, “A Public Burning: Race, Sex, and the Lynching of Fred Alexander” by Christopher C. Lovett, reminds us that the kind of writing and reporting that encourages hatred, inflames violence, and ignores or disdains peaceful conflict resolution is a hardly a creation of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Lovett’s piece chronicles the case of a lynching in 1900 in Leavenworth, Kansas that is a noteworthy lesson for journalists about the terrible power we had, and have, to create an atmosphere conducive to conflict and even mob violence.

What is truly fascinating is how applicable the principles of peace journalism (like not spreading rumors, understanding the consequences of what you report, and giving peacemakers a voice) would have been over a century ago.

Lovett’s article chronicles the racially motivated lynching (actually, ritual burning at the stake) of a rape/murder suspect, a black man named Fred Alexander, and the media’s role in encouraging this vigilantism. The article stated, “In the late summer and fall of 1900, right before the election, rumors spread throughout the city that a number of white females had been sexually assaulted by unknown black males. E. W. Howe of the Atchison Daily Globe, writing after Alexander’s lynching, put the number of alleged assaults at thirteen. A review of arrest records does not support this claim. Even still the Leavenworth Times made no effort to dispel the rumors…Even though it reported this was “the only instance,” the Times and other papers did nothing to refute the popularly held belief that a black male was roaming Leavenworth streets preying upon vulnerable white females.”

As I teach peace journalism, we talk a great deal about atmosphere—specifically, a journalist’s responsibility to help create an atmosphere where peace and non-violence can flourish. Clearly, the opposite occurred in Leavenworth in 1900. Lovett wrote, “The reports of Pearl Forbes’s death (for which the mob murder of Fred Alexander occurred) appeared in all the local papers, but it was especially the Times that fomented the public’s outrage and escalated the racial prejudice that captivated Leavenworth.”

Not only were the newspapers guilty of nurturing a lynch mob atmosphere, they even went a step further. “…The newspapers fabricated and encouraged the assumption that the assailant was black, with no hard evidence to support that supposition, particularly when the Times reported ‘a colored man well known in the southwestern portion of the city who was seen walking west on Spruce street about the time of the murder . . . is behind bars and . . . he had in his pocket a handkerchief with the initials of the girl on it. Like in many police inquiries, rumors and impending arrests proved to be untrue,” according the article.

Think this is all behind us, that we’re too sophisticated today to repeat the Leavenworth Times’ errors from 110 years ago? I believe the media-induced lynch mob is alive and well, and exhibit A is Nancy Grace and Casey Anthony, who hasn’t been lynched but is undoubtedly the target for any number of potential vigilantes thanks to hateful press coverage. Exhibit B are the many sad examples of media induced violence worldwide in places like Kenya (2010, following presidential elections), Uganda (tribal/racial violence stirred by radio in 2009) and even Rwanda, where radio played a large role in the 1994 genocide.

Moreover, I would argue that an anti-terrorism (some would say anti-Muslim) frenzy whipped up by an irresponsible media has in part created an atmosphere where Americans are indifferent or even tolerant when our government chooses to murder terrorists (including an American citizen) abroad rather than dealing with them using non-violent means.

Unfortunately, the kind of irresponsible journalism practiced by the Leavenworth Times in 1900 is still thriving today.

Also see:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Are peace provocateurs ethical journalists? Does it matter?

Journalists in conflict situations are constantly toeing the line between journalistically ethical and unethical behavior.

I for one have been in conflict or post conflict situations wondering if I should fork over some cash to help ease things a bit for a poor victim. I usually donate that money, but often ask myself if I should do more to assist, even if this means crossing the line, journalistically speaking.

An interesting case has just surfaced in Indonesia wherein citizen journalists may--or may not--have crossed the line. Social media wielding citizens calling themselves “peace provocateurs” are taking action to defuse a volatile situation in Ambon, Indonesia.

Part of what they are doing—verifying stories and discrediting potentially inflammatory rumors—is classic peace journalism. That this is being practiced in the social media is especially noteworthy, given, for example, Twitter’s tremendous potential to spread both constructive and destructive information.

However, some of the peace provocateurs’ activities (like connecting neighborhood leaders) probably cross the line of what traditionalists would consider ethical journalistic behavior. These activities involve the provocateurs in the story to the point that they are no longer observers and reporters, but active participants.
Whether they are ethical journalists are not, these peace provocateurs are nonetheless ethical citizens who are striving to prevent violence in their community.

The following report is from The Interpreter-Lowry Institute.

…”Last month in the Indonesian city of Ambon, the suspicious death of a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver led to clashes between Muslims and Christians in this provincial capital and raised fears of a return to the communal fighting that wracked the region from 1999 to 2002. At one point, rumours swirled by SMS and word of mouth that a Christian child had been killed (she had not). Muslim houses were set on fire, and retaliation against Christians soon followed.
By the time it stopped, the two days of violence had left seven dead and dozens wounded. Over 150 homes, roughly split between the two communities, were burned to the ground.

What is most remarkable is not that violence re-occurred (something sadly all too common in post-conflict societies), but how it was stopped, in part, through some far-sighted networking and deft thumb work by a group calling themselves 'peace provocateurs' who worked across communities and together with local officials to calm down a volatile situation.

It was an extraordinary effort by a group of about ten people, Christian and Muslim, who decided, at enormous risk to themselves, to go into the areas where violence had erupted to seek truth and then text, upload, and share it.

Every time they heard a rumour, for example, that a church was burned down or that a mosque had been damaged, they went and took photographs of the actual site. With even provincial capitals well serviced by mobile telephone and data services, it was then not hard for them to circulate this proof on Twitter and Facebook using their mobile phones. Given that Indonesians are some of the world's most avid users of these social media, it was an inspired strategy. They sought to calm the level of violence, and it worked.

…They identified influential 'strategic partners' in border neighbourhoods and put them in touch with one another to help coordinate the dissemination of information. They were very conscious of the impact national media could have on the way the unrest was being portrayed outside Ambon and designated one person to monitor the reporting and send clarifications as necessary to the relevant journalists. Their activities focused on collecting and verifying reports of attacks, threats, street blockades, injuries or crowds massing, and then trying to defuse the threats.
Had it not been for their messages, tweets, and posts, the violence would have been infinitely harder to bring under control.”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Goodbye, Parkville Luminary

NOTE: The following is the "obituary" I wrote in the last edition of my hometown newspaper, The Parkville Luminary, which was one of the best weekly newspapers anywhere. Thanks, editor/publisher Mark Vasto, for giving me, and peace journalism, a voice.

No flowers, please

From the Parkville Luminary

There’s nothing I hate worse than our society’s death rituals, which run the gamut from maudlin to nearly barbaric.

I, for one, refuse to walk past an open casket to see the dead guy. I’d prefer to remember the live person, thankyouverymuch, even though everyone at a funeral always comments on how good the corpse looks. In fact, my aunt and I have a macabre pact. Whoever goes first, the survivor is required to march past the stiff and then pronounce, very loudly, “man, he looks like sh&*.”

I also hate the custom of wasting hundreds (thousands?) of dollars on flowers. Although I like flowers as much as the next guy, I do not want them when I am dead, since I will not be able to enjoy them as much. If you’d like to send me flowers now, I’ll gladly accept them (Park University, Copley Hall, room 210). However, if you waste one cent on flowers for me when I’m vertically challenged, I’ll haunt you.
Overall, our death rituals make a bad situation worse.

Keeping this in mind, I will neither send flowers nor stroll past the casket as we say goodbye to our good friend The Parkville Luminary this week. Instead, in the spirit of a good Irish wake, I’d prefer to remember the good times.

The best times, from a journalistic perspective, are surely the Luminary’s unswerving opposition to the cabal that runs downtown Parkville from the shadows. As a Parkville resident, I only hope that enough light has been shed on this situation to render it transparent, or more transparent, than it was before the newspaper’s crusade. I worry about who, if anyone, will be left to point out conflicts of interest and cronyism in our fair town.

There were also some awfully good times in the Luminary courtesy of the paper’s emeritus columnists Bill Grigsby and Nancy Jack. Some of my favorite times with Nancy were during the Luminary Hour, a radio show that aired on KGSP 90.5FM. I initially thought the Luminary’s publisher was picking on Nancy (“here with a comment is the Luminary’s hip-hop correspondent Nancy Jack”) until I learned that Nancy was as defenseless as a mountain lion.

The Luminary also provided an important forum for our local glitterati. I loved Dr. Don Breckon’s last piece rightly criticizing the decision not to place the KC Zoo issue on the ballot, and scratched my head at Catherine Bleisch’s column about a free-thinker’s conclave in New England. Bill Gresham appeared too infrequently, but always had something important to say. I sincerely hope their voices will not go silent.

Of course, during the last six years or so, the Luminary has also provided a platform for my odd musings, most of which had little or nothing to do with Parkville. In what other weekly community newspaper could readers hear about Ugandan orphans or my holey underwear? (My wife was accosted by a stirred up patron at a local grocery store who inquired about how she, my wife, could send me to the Republic of Georgia with only three pairs of shredded underwear).

One of the things I admire about the newspaper is its commitment to provide a range of opinions, even though the publisher clearly sits right of center politically. Thus, during the last presidential election, I was allowed to rant on about the qualities of Barak Obama even though this nauseated the publisher and most of the Luminary’s conservative readers.

So as we say goodbye to our old friend, let us remember these good times, and thank the Luminary’s publisher Mark Vasto for showing the world that newspapers are still viable, and vital, to the health of our communities. I’m sure Mark would appreciate a thank-you cocktail. However, the family requests no flowers, please.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Peace Portal Picks People for Publication

Got some good news this week: A story I wrote about the Uganda peace journalism project will be featured in an upcoming book to be published by the Peace Portal. The story will be included in the book "People Building Peace 2.0" which includes tales from around the world about peacemakers and peace projects. Click here to get a sneak preview of some of the featured stories.

Peace Journalism online course enters second week

Week one of our online course for Ugandan peace journalists was a success. We held a lively discussion, and the students worked on a peace journalism guide that they will share with their colleagues. I've combined the best elements of their individual guides into one publication, which is posted below. Good work journalists!

Peace Journalism:
Peace Journalism is simply responsible reporting. It is reporting that requires a Journalist to present facts about an event or an issue giving due consideration to the salient tenets of ideal journalism. As Journalists, we have an obligation to the people we report about, and to the society to whom we report the news.

Peace Journalism is the trade of gathering, analysis and dissemination of information through any media that is aimed at creating peace rather than fuelling conflict and orchestrating violence. As a Peace Journalist, one has an obligation to study and understand conflict and conflict resolution generally before reporting on it.

• We have a duty to establish the background and case of the conflict this bearing in mind that even perceived grievances are important to perpetuating and in resolving the conflict.--Stephen
• The language used in reporting also counts a lot is Peace Journalism. Understand the language you use in reporting; having in mind the aspirations, traditions, norms and customs of your audience. Choose you works carefully, select images that don’t cause hullabaloo amongst your audience. Avoid words used by parties in conflict that exaggerate events.—Stephen
• Journalists are also expected to desist from partisan politics because they are expected to be the voice for the voiceless through expressing people’s opinions—Anatory
• Media houses should Endeavour to own whatever is said and done; must ensure social responsibility. --Anatory
• You should fight to stick on your core values. Do not let money overpower your ethics. Make that politician who is trying to bribe you or any other person that you are not working for him but for the good of the people.--Alison
• Identifying the goals of the various parties involved directly or indirectly in a conflict, and possible contradictions between them.--Ruth
• A Peace Journalist should expose the truth / untruth on all sides and try to name all wrongdoers and treat equally seriously allegations made by all sides in a conflict without exaggerations and propaganda.--Betty
• Talk show host especially political or panellist even moderators should avoid using bad languages in their show and even controls callers from using bad languages during their shows.--James
• PJ represents the trauma and experiences of all the parties in the conflict. This is done in a very professional, balanced, fair and non exploitative approach --Emmanuel
• A journalist shall not originate or encourage the dissemination of information designed to promote or which may have the effect of promoting tribalism, racism or any form of discrimination.--Felix
• A peace journalist must practice impartiality to avoid taking sides in any conflict. Peace journalists should never take bribes, hand outs, free machinery as these acts could distort the news.—Gilbert
• As a Peace Journalist, you ought to give a wide ear to those involved in bring peace. Report on the efforts of those working on peace and reconciliation every bit as much as those who exacerbate the conflict. Seek wide explanations and analysis from those outside the conflict like experts. Get their view on the causes of the conflict and also seek their views on how a conflict can be resolved peacefully.—Julius

Friday, September 16, 2011

Afghan peace journalist inspires

In an inspiring piece in the LA Times, Afghani journalism Emal Haidary writes about his experiences as a journalism fellow in the US, which he calls a “strange paradise”. Haidary's column works on many levels, but it was the conclusion that I found most compelling.

“No one knows what will happen as the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan. Will the Taliban run the country again?

But I still want to pursue what I call "peace journalism" in Afghanistan. Rather than running from bombing to bombing, writing almost entirely about sadness and destruction, peace journalism tells about the struggles and triumphs of a place. It tells of history, hope and happiness.

I can see peace journalism in my mind's eye. I must make it happen.”

It is because of Haidary and his journalistic brethren in the developing world that I continue to spread the word about the benefits of peace journalism. These journalists have all the ability in the world, and all they are lacking are the tools to transform their reporting into something constructive rather than destructive.

I have seen first-hand how peace journalism principles brought together former adversaries in the Republic of Georgia and prevented media induced violence in Uganda. Imagine the positive impact that a dozen or a hundred Afghani journalists like Haidary "touting triumphs and hope" could have on their society?

Earlier this year, I was flirting with seeking a media training grant to go to Afghanistan, but decided against it for security reasons. After reading Haidary’s piece, if another offer came my way to go to Afghanistan to teach peace journalism, I’d have a hard time saying no.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Post 9-11, Media Embrace Conflict, Shun Peace Journalism

EDITOR'S NOTE: Part I of this piece appeared last week. Here are Parts I and II together, and revised as well.

As we examine the first 10 years after 9/11, one can’t help but wonder if the media have learned any lessons. Would we respond to another terrorist attack with the same facile, xenophobic coverage, or would we offer our viewers and readers a more nuanced perspective? Would journalists again be seduced by the superficial beauty of war without, in the words of the old hippie anthem, giving peace a chance?

While the first 48 hours of 9/11 coverage was almost universally praised, many agree that the media in the days and weeks after the attacks were characterized by reflexive vitriol. These statements, compiled by Accuracy in Media in 2001, appear shocking in retrospect:

"There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them even if they are not immediately directly involved in this thing."
--former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (CNN, 9/11/01)
"The response to this unimaginable 21st-century Pearl Harbor should be as simple as it is swift -- kill the bastards. A gunshot between the eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to. As for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts."
--Steve Dunleavy (New York Post, 9/12/01)
"America roused to a righteous anger has always been a force for good. States that have been supporting if not Osama bin Laden, people like him need to feel pain. If we flatten part of Damascus or Tehran or whatever it takes, that is part of the solution."
--Rich Lowry, National Review editor, to Howard Kurtz (Washington Post, 9/13/01) "Time to take names and nuke Afghanistan.”
--Caption to cartoon by Gary Brookins (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/13/01)

These are just a few of hundreds of such hateful, irresponsible statements trumpeted by the media post-9/11. (Yes, these are all right wingers, but there was plenty of pro-war propaganda coming from the left, too. I’ll detail this momentarily). Before disseminating such bellicose statements, the media would have done well to take a deep breath and consider peace journalism, which is when editors and reporters make choices that improve the prospects for peace. One of the principles of peace journalism is to avoid airing inflammatory statements (vengeful comments that appeal more to emotion than to reason) since these statements can induce a rush to war. Post 9-11, not only were these hateful statements published, they were met by nothing but nodding agreement by the public and media. (Osama graphic from

Aside from bitter statements, media coverage post 9-11 has been often superficial, painting only a one-dimensional picture of terrorism. Robert Hackett from Simon Frazier University writes, “Mainstream media are far more likely to focus on the destructive actions and future threat of insurgent terrorism, rather than on its grievances or even the social conditions that breed it.” ( Peace Journalism teaches that a failure to examine the underlying causes of violence creates an atmosphere where violence tends to repeat itself.

Superficial and hate-filled coverage contribute to a cycle of violent retribution, which is easy to justify in a sensationalism-saturated media environment featuring patriotic “us vs. them” coverage. Peace journalism teaches that conflicts are never as simple as just “us vs. them” and that patriotism should have a different meaning for journalists. The most patriotic thing a journalist can do is to arm citizens with complete, accurate information that they can use to function in a democratic society. Did Americans have the full story before we rushed into war during the last 10 years?

When media don’t provide complete, accurate information delivered with a dose of anti-government skepticism, they become little more than government propagandists. Indeed, many journalists assumed an unfortunate cheerleading role in the run-up to the violent retribution inflicted by America during the last decade. A number of journalists have expressed regret about this reflexive rush to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, wrote that “the suddenly apparent menace of the (post 9-11) world awakened a bellicose surge of mission and made hawks of many — including me — who had a lifelong wariness of the warrior reflex.” (NY Times, 9-6-2011). His was an anti-Iraq bellicosity shared by a group of liberal journalists he calls the “I can’t believe I’m a hawk club” that included unlikely war proponents Thomas Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, George Packer and Jeffrey Goldberg, Richard Cohen, and Christopher Hitchens. Keller said he and his liberal brethren were “still a little drugged by testosterone. And maybe a little too pleased with ourselves for standing up to evil (Saddam’s Iraq) and defying the caricature of liberals as, to borrow a phrase from those days, brie-eating surrender monkeys.”

Thus, with pro-war propaganda coming from both the left and the right, the public inevitably got the message that the Iraq and Afghan wars were both desirable and, most frighteningly, inevitable.

Peace journalism teaches that journalists must resist the propaganda, put aside the testosterone and bellicosity, and help our readers and listeners understand that there are options other than war. We in the media have the responsibility to soberly present our viewers and readers the full story, especially when society is drunk with rage. This full story includes putting peaceful solutions on the table, and giving peacemakers a voice while being careful not to lead a rush to violent retribution. Being a peace journalist means promoting neither peace nor war, but at minimum presenting the peaceful and non-peaceful solutions as equals, thus arming our audience with the information they need to make informed choices. The people may still choose war, but at least we will know that they have done so after considering a range of possibilities.

Keller believes that the media have learned a lesson from the mistakes they made during the pre-war, post 9-11 period of the last 10 years. He cites more responsible coverage of the Libyan revolution as evidence to support his thesis. “This time we all — president, public and press — picked our way more carefully through the mess, weighing the urge to support freedom against the cost of becoming part of a drama we don’t fully understand,” Keller said. “That is the caution of a country feeling more threatened these days by our own economics than by foreign enemies. But for some of us it is also the costly wisdom of Iraq.”

While Keller is correct about the improved coverage of Libya, I’m not convinced that the media have turned a corner in terms of practicing responsible Peace Journalism. I’ve witnessed first-hand too much irresponsible, war-mongering journalism in places as diverse as the Republic of Georgia, Kenya, and yes, the United States. In one example, the bitter witch hunt against Casey Anthony demonstrates the lack of maturity in the media, which seemed far more interested in inflammatory sensationalism than in quashing our primitive retributive instincts. In another example, a just-released study of U.S. and U.K. newspaper coverage of violence in Somalia detected a strong preference for war journalism (characterized by inflammatory and demonizing language, “us vs. them”, elitist sourcing, etc.) over peace journalism. (Global Media Journal, Spring 2011). Author/researcher Tewodros W. Workneh wrote, “This study portrays how war, conflict and violence, remain the primary raw materials for international journalism…(The) model of peace-oriented reporting has not yet made an impact on international journalism. These observations and concerns suggest the question of whether the drafting of a strategy for a “peace journalism intervention” into the practices of international journalism should be considered.”

This “peace journalism intervention” will succeed if it gets journalists from the biggest daily to the smallest mom-and-pop radio station to ask this: can the news, even when it’s violent, be reported in a less inflammatory way? Can we, as journalists, frame our stories in a manner that presents peace as a possible (and even desirable) outcome?

If American journalists had embraced the concepts of peace journalism, perhaps the last decade would have been a less violent one.

Steven Youngblood, Associate Professor of Communications at Park University in Parkville, Missouri, is a two-time J. William Fulbright Scholar. He is the director of the State Department’s 2010-2011 Peace Journalism Project in Uganda. Youngblood is putting the finishing touches on his first book, “Professor Komagum: Finding peace and losing my sanity in Uganda”. Connect with me on Twitter @PeaceJourn

Friday, September 2, 2011

What I get for whining

After my last blog (below) whining about the dehumanizing process of finding a literary agent for my book, lo and behold I got a serious nibble this week from an interested agent. Not only does she want to read the entire manuscript for Professor Komagum: Finding peace and losing my sanity in Uganda, she wants an exclusive submission. This means that she doesn't want me to send the manuscript to any other agents while she examines it. It's not a done deal, but it is very promising. I'll keep you updated.

Has 9-11 taught media the value of Peace Journalism?

Part I (Part II will appear next weekend)

As we look back at the first 10 years after 9/11, one can’t help but wonder if the media has learned any lessons. Would we respond to another terrorist attack with the same facile, xenophobic coverage, or would we offer our viewers and readers a more nuanced view, one that, in the words of the old hippie anthem, gives peace a chance?

While the immediate coverage of 9/11 was almost universally praised, many agree that the media in the weeks and months after the attacks was characterized by reflexive vitriol. These statements made in and by the media, compiled by Accuracy in Media in 2001, appear shocking in retrospect:

"There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them even if they are not immediately directly involved in this thing."
--Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (CNN, 9/11/01)
"The response to this unimaginable 21st-century Pearl Harbor should be as simple as it is swift -- kill the bastards. A gunshot between the eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to. As for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts."
--Steve Dunleavy (New York Post, 9/12/01)
"America roused to a righteous anger has always been a force for good. States that have been supporting if not Osama bin Laden, people like him need to feel pain. If we flatten part of Damascus or Tehran or whatever it takes, that is part of the solution."
--Rich Lowry, National Review editor, to Howard Kurtz (Washington Post, 9/13/01)
"Time to take names and nuke Afghanistan.”
--Caption to cartoon by Gary Brookins (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/13/01)
"At a bare minimum, tactical nuclear capabilites should be used against the bin Laden camps in the desert of Afghanistan. To do less would be rightly seen by the poisoned minds that orchestrated these attacks as cowardice on the part of the United States and the current administration."
--Former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Thomas Woodrow, "Time to Use the Nuclear Option" (Washington Times, 9/14/01)
"This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack.... We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."
--Syndicated columnist Ann Coulter (National Review Online, 9/13/01)

These are just a few of hundreds of such hateful, irresponsible statements trumpeted by the media post-9/11. Before airing such statements, the media would have done well to take a deep breath and consider peace journalism. One of the tenents of peace journalism is to avoid airing inflammatory statements, and if they must be aired, to analyze them critically. Not only were these statements disseminated, they were met by nothing but nodding agreement by the public and media.

Aside from being inflammatory, the coverage was often superficial, painting terrorists as one dimensional, cartoonish bad guys. The important question is this: Did this inflammatory reporting feed a cycle of violent retribution, and indeed contribute to a societal culture that demanded war? We will examine those questions next week in Part II of our look at 9-11 and peace journalism.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thinking about 9/11 and media

As the 10-year 9/11 anniversary approaches, I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of the media post 9/11 in encouraging what I believe was a rush to retribution. The stampede to embrace war rather than even considering peaceful alternatives was fueled by the media, I believe.

I am working on a column next week on this subject, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check out this fascinating piece about media complicity in terrorism.

Literary Agent Blues, or, Rejecting Rejection

From the Parkville Luminary

I can’t string together three words without some fatal syntax error. I write like a glue-sniffing seventh grader. I never saw a cliché I didn’t like.

OK, the feedback I’ve been getting from literary agents hasn’t been that bad. It just seems that way.

For the past month or so, I’ve been shopping around my book, Professor Komagum: Finding peace and losing my sanity in Uganda, to literary agents in hopes of getting them to represent me. It’s possible to get a book published without an agent, but very, very difficult, perhaps akin to selling one’s house without a realtor.

This agent acquisition process is more painful than a root canal, more tedious than a city planning and zoning commission meeting, and more degrading than fraternity initiation rites.

The process begins with a query letter wherein you grovel (without outwardly begging) for representation. In one page, you’re supposed to catch the agent’s attention, summarize the book, and provide a brief bio of yourself. This is the first part of my query:

“During the 10 months I lived in Uganda, I was almost flattened by a startled two-ton rhino and menaced by swooping bats in a tree house in the middle of the jungle. I also taught hundreds of Ugandan journalists how they could lay a foundation for peace by utilizing the techniques of peace journalism. In addition, I met, befriended, and became surrogate father to a half-dozen orphans. Oh, and I also ate some dried ants. (The wings were removed, since these are apt to get stuck between your teeth).”

My letter’s opening is probably too cute by 50%, but it does get their attention, at least I thought so. However, I have no idea if my query is any good from an agent’s standpoint because agents pretty much refuse to communicate with prospective clients.
I’ve sent out 30 queries. I have received three actual responses—one from an agent who said she’d like me to send the rest of my book (woo-hoo), one from an agent who wanted me to clarify if my book is a travel memoir (yes, it is), and a third from an agent who gently rejected me. This kind agent wrote, “Thanks for letting me take a look. I'm afraid this doesn't seem like the right project for me, but I'm sure other agents will feel differently. Best of luck placing your work.” Kudos to you, Liza Dawson, for taking two minutes to send me a nice note that lifted my spirits and renewed my hope for my literary career and mankind in general.

Unfortunately, Liza Dawson seems to be the exception in the literary agent world, where they’ve discovered that it’s easier to email a form rejection letter than to actually engage in messy human contact. You know it’s an auto-rejection when you see the words, “Dear Author”. This phrase is usually followed by a direct “no thanks” line. This is my least favorite let down, although it does offer some comic relief: “Alas, the query wan't (sic) quite intriguing enough to inspire me to offer representation or further consideration of your project.” Hey agent: at least have the decency to spell-check your snarky form rejection letter before you send it out! (WaSn’t)

The most irritating auto-rejection line is “please forgive the impersonal nature of this response.”

Dear Agent: I do NOT forgive the impersonal nature of the response. Take two minutes, write two or three sentences (like Liza), and tell me that my query is stupid, or my book is unmarketable, or that my writing is idiotic. If you don’t have time to respond to queries, then don’t accept them. But if I have taken the time to write to you, common courtesy dictates that you write me back.

Of course, I’ve received no response whatsoever from 23 out of 30 agents to whom I’ve sent queries. Suddenly, the robo-rejections don’t look so bad, at least the ones where everything’s spelled correctly.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Humanitarians bring hope to the hopeless

They dig ditches, help the elderly, empower the poor to create their own wealth, teach the underprivileged, and show the world the true American spirit of friendship and camaraderie.

They are America’s 8,655 Peace Corps volunteers spreading goodwill in 139 countries. They deserve our support, our thanks, and our congratulations on World Humanitarian Day (Aug 19).

Over 200,000 Americans have served their country in the Peace Corps since its inception in 1961. While most are young people, 7% of the volunteers are over 50. My wife and I, in fact, are future PC volunteers. According to Peace Corps data, 37% of the goodwill ambassadors volunteer in the field of education, with 22% working on health/HIV/AIDS initiatives, 14% on business development, and 13% on environmental projects. I have witnessed their efforts firsthand (including organizing a youth baseball league in rural Moldova and teaching in isolated Uganda), and have been amazed by their enthusiasm and by the impact they have on the world.

These Peace Corps volunteers, of course, represent only a small percentage of the angels who are engaged in humanitarian efforts worldwide. As we commemorate World Humanitarian Day, spend a moment to reflect on how they make the world a better place. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it best when he wrote:

“On World Humanitarian Day, we honour these aid workers and thank them for their dedication. And we pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice – in Afghanistan, Haiti and beyond. Too many have died, or suffered their own loss, in the course of duty. We pledge to do all we can to ensure the world’s humanitarians are kept safe to do their essential work.

This is also a day to examine our own lives and consider what more we can do to help -- to reach out to people enduring conflict, disaster and hardship. Let those we honour today inspire us to start our own journey to make the world a better place and bring our human family more closely together.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Classes to begin; Students brace for dull lectures

Classes begin Aug. 15 at Park University. I'm really looking forward to seeing my students and getting back into the classroom. I hope they'll interested in hearing about my Uganda peace journalism project. If not, it couled be a long semester.

Political homophobia thrives in U.S.A.

From the Parkville Luminary

Despite society’s belated recognition of homosexual marriage rights, political homophobia is still alive and well in America.

Exhibit A is a press release that found its way into my email in-box, leaving a slimy trail in its wake. This release is from Larry Klayman, founder of Freedom Watch and Judicial Watch. Freedom Watch’s website is equally fascinating and alarming. In one spot on the site, visitors can view a documentary that “exposes the ‘new world order’ that is being pushed on to humanity, a world order that will destroy national sovereignty in favor of a one-world government.”

When Klayman’s not pushing paranoid conspiracy theories, he’s spouting anti-gay hatred. His press release, titled “Political Hererophobia and its Consequences”, is classic political propaganda. Certainly, the last thing we need is more inflammatory language fueling the raging flames of what used to be known in polite circles as political discourse. It’s vital that we expose the haters on both the right and on the left for what they are—demagogues who at minimum seek to divide and frighten us to advance their political agenda. Toward this end, let’s take look at Klayman’s email (my comments are in parenthesis):

The press release begins, “In an effort of destroy the presidential campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann, the only true Christian conservative (who defines true Christianity or conservatism?) in the Republican primary race, the activist ultra left gay and lesbian "community" (they’re not a community?) has sharpened its vicious (demonizing language) talons. Garnering the complicity and support of the leftist mainstream media (at least he didn’t say “lamestream”), they have been foaming at the mouth (dehumanizing language) about her candidacy, which they see as a threat to their agenda - which in large part is to indoctrinate (brainwash) our children into the normalcy and thus "advantages" of a homosexual lifestyle. (Do people choose homosexuality, or are homosexuals born that way? Do you, Mr. Klayman, get to decide what is normal?)

Before I go further, let me make one thing clear. I am not a homophobe. (Nixon: I am not a crook; Clinton: I did not have sex with that woman). I know and work with gays who are nice, decent, intelligent, hardworking. productive and respectful people. (And some of my best friends are black). While I do not endorse or condone their lifestyle (joining a garden club is a lifestyle choice; sexual orientation is not), my gay friends (I’d love to speak to one of them) do not try to push their unfortunate situation - which is obviously both difficult and painful for them and their families - on others. (Difficult primarily because of discrimination and derision from right-wing society)… God intended sex to be between a man and a woman. (Did He tell you this?) Otherwise, He would have equipped us differently…When man has strayed from this anatomical fact of life, bad things health-wise have happened; AIDs is just one example. (This is a Golden Oldie—a vengeful God striking down sodomites. Question: does your God also hate those who contracted HIV through transfusions, or babies born with the virus?)

Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, have for years tried to help homosexuals find their way to the Lord (Rep. Bachmann: Do you subscribe to the views in this press release?)…If truth be told most gays and lesbians, if their communities allowed them to speak out, would probably praise the Bachmann' s efforts...” (Absurd)

A few paragraphs later, Klayman writes, “It is because we have been in an intense culture war in this country; the left - now led ironically by its pro-Muslim (implied-Muslim=evil) president, Barack Hussein (this middle name must mean that he’s a bad person) Obama, wants to squeeze the teachings of the likes of Jesus and Moses from our public schools (where they obviously belong) and our society in general. By pushing government as our God (down on your knees before the altar of Obamacare), and having the government condone and endorse the homosexual lifestyle through such institutions as "gay marriage," they want to…hand over our mores and values to the devil. (who is gay and Muslim and wants to raise taxes).”

In 20 years, society will look back on Klayman and his allies with the same disdain with which we now judge civil rights opponents from the 1960’s—as foolish, narrow minded bigots.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Please forgive the impersonal nature of this response

Ending week 3 in my search for a literary agent for my new book, Professor Komagum—Finding peace and losing my sanity in Uganda. A couple of nibbles (“this is interesting, send me a couple of chapters”), a couple of automated rejection letters (“please forgive the impersonal nature of this response”), but mostly silence thus far. For an impatient person, this is indescribable torture.

Update from Ugandan correspondent

Just received an interesting letter from our intrepid Ugandan correspondent Tabu, who is one of the smartest, most well informed people I know, despite the fact that he continues to stubbornly support Uganda’s corrupt president Yoweri Museveni.
Some highlights of Tabu’s dispatch:

Weather and witchcraft: Worse of all the rains were accompanied with thunder and lightening/ Schools were much affected. One school 5 kids were struck dead at ago-at another 6 and teacher struck dead. Most of the schools were affected and in Gulu. 30 kids were struck dead recently- terrible- terrible. But right now it is back to very hot sunshine. Grass trees, withering. Some people here who still believe in witchcraft were interpreting the lightening deaths as spells inflicted and induced by evil spirits. Some of us still live in/with Stone Age ideas.

Peace journalism: (In reference to post below from July 18) It is surprising Steve despite his efforts there are still those in the U.S.A who don’t see how their reporting can be detrimental and talking about mob- justice, you have seen nothing about it (compared to Uganda). Nancy Grace has only to visit Uganda and watch one of our local TV’s, she will revise her reporting almost instantly. (Regarding mob justice), on T.V we see no less than five people being torched to death (by a vigilante mob) using blazing tires. This is on only suspicion. The police have tried to sensitize the public on not talking justice in their own hands to no avail...

Thanks, Tabu. Stay safe and well.

Bloggers put themselves at-risk during Arab Spring

Also getting my attention this week was a survey commissioned by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.. The key findings from the survey, conducted in May, were:

1. The survey respondents, primarily bloggers residing in the Middle East and North Africa, experienced a remarkably high incidence of security incidents related to their online activity over the past year, including cyber attacks, personal threats, arrest, and detention.
2. Survey respondents reported a wide range of methods employed to mitigate the risks of online activity, including self-censorship, obscuring their identities, and writing in ambiguous language.
3. Design and ease of use, rather than security-related features, are reported to be the most important considerations in choosing online platforms.
4. Even within this set of at-risk bloggers, only a small number reported that they understand or implement best practices related to online security.

The survey clearly demonstrates the need to integrate security issues and best safety practices into trainings for online journalists. I know in my seminars, I have begun to broaden my discussion of journalists’ safety.

For a complete look at the IWPR survey, click here.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Of Miscellany and Men

Hooked up—I just ran my Facebook account through a website run by Western Union that calculates how connected you are. I found out that I have 52 international Facebook friends in 26 countries, and that if you map the connections between my friends and I, it would cover 553,000 km. On something called the world index, I am the 1,352nd most networked person. Of course, that probably means that 1,400 users have gone on this site to analyze their connectedness.

The coolest thing is that I actually have met and know each of these international FB users. My goal is to eventually have 100 international Facebook friends.

A Ugandan tragedy—The maternal mortality rate in Uganda is shameful. While I was over there, I talked to many women about this, and they relayed to me the very understandable fears that women have about not making it out of childbirth. The New York Times, in an excellent piece published today, examines this tragedy.

Peace Portal—I have entered a contest on a Dutch website called the Peace Portal wherein the winners have their articles published as part of a book on peace and peacemakers. The piece I wrote is below. You can go to the Peace Portal website to vote on your favorite article.

Project brings Peace Journalism to Uganda
By Steven Youngblood

This is great, but it’s not enough.

As I taught Peace Journalism in Uganda for five weeks in 2009, I kept hearing this mantra repeated. The journalists in my seminars said they liked and needed what I was teaching. However, the reporters emphasized that Uganda needed many more peace journalism lessons as the 2011 elections approached.

At the urging of the journalists, we put together a proposal for a comprehensive Peace, Development, and Electoral Journalism project for 2010-2011 in Uganda.

If approved, the project would require that I teach radio journalists to understand and practice Peace Journalism, a term coined by journalists Annabeth McGoldrick and Jake Lynch. I define Peace Journalism as when editors and reporters make choices that improve the prospects for peace. These choices promote the positive development of societies recovering from conflict while they create an atmosphere supportive of peace initiatives and peacemakers and conducive to reconciliation. For the radio journalists, PJ means among other things avoiding the use of inflammatory, inciting language.

Our project, consisting of three major parts, was pitched to the U.S. Embassy-Kampala and USAID, and approved shortly thereafter. The $270,000 effort consisted of holding 30 seminars across Uganda for radio journalists and managers, launching a Public Service Announcement campaign with a “no election violence” message, and organizing Peace Clubs, groups of Ugandans working with media to ensure a violence-free election.

The principal goal of the Peace, Development, and Electoral Journalism project was to prevent media induced or exacerbated violence during the 2011 election cycle.

The project was needed because of a legacy of violent elections (Kenya, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe) and of hate radio in sub-Saharan Africa. Hate radio, the use of the airwaves to encourage sectarianism and/or violence, was used as a destructive tool during the Rwandan genocide (1994), during post-election unrest in Kenya (2008), and even during riots in Kampala (2009). Many believed this volatile mix of campaign/electoral turmoil and hate radio, combined with the fact that Uganda is still recovering from a 20-year civil war, made the 2011 election a potentially dangerous one. It was against this backdrop that the PJ project began.

The project, which ran from February 2010 to April 2011, was highlighted by 30 seminars, 25 for journalists and the remainder for radio station managers. At the journalist seminars, we discussed the basics of peace journalism (frame stories to discourage violence, give peacemakers and everyday people a voice, avoid inflammatory language). The radio reporters also produced peace-themed radio reports and PSA’s which aired on their local stations. The seminars were held throughout Uganda, as evidenced by the 9,222 miles that Project Assistant Gloria Laker and I traveled during the project.

Our sore backs and chronic fatigue did not go unrewarded.

By any measure, the project was successful. Ugandans in 14 towns formed Peace Clubs. These clubs joined forces at a summit in Kampala in March, and formed a national organization to promote peace. The Public Service Announcement project also succeeded in getting peaceful messages broadcast on dozens of Ugandan radio stations.

Most telling, there were no incidents of media induced or exacerbated election violence in 2010-2011. The strongest evidence of a dearth of media induced or exacerbated violence can be seen in results from a survey we conducted of 40 radio journalists/presenters and 20 radio managers during the first two weeks of March. Among other things, those surveyed were asked if anything (news, talk program, panelists, telephone callers) broadcast by their radio station encouraged or incited violence. All 60 responded no.

Can our peace journalism project take credit for this lack of media induced violence? The journalists who attended our post-election follow up meetings weren’t hesitant about crediting our project with preventing violence. The journalists said the workshops lead to more responsible and balanced reporting that carefully avoided inflammatory language or irresponsible, sensationalistic stories.

The survey results confirmed what the journalists told us. Respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of the peace/electoral journalism trainings for radio journalists, announcers, and managers (on a 1-5 scale) in preventing broadcasts that might encourage or incite violence. Five is very effective, and one not at all effective. The average for this question was 4.38, somewhere between effective and very effective. Those surveyed were also asked to rate the effectiveness of the peace/electoral journalism trainings in improving the professionalism of election coverage. The average was 4.33.

The project succeeded because of the dedication of Project Assistant Gloria Laker and the Ugandan journalists who committed themselves to improving their professionalism and making their communities a better place.

It’s our hope that this peace and electoral journalism model can replicated elsewhere, since it proved to be such a powerful tool for peace and reconciliation in Uganda.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Peace Journalism to be put to the test in Norway

It’s easy to say that you’re all for peace journalism—not inflaming or exacerbating conflicts while nurturing an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation—when all is well. The challenge is to practice these principles in times of violence and crisis.

Such is the case now in Norway, which is recovering from a series of deadly attacks. I have a Norwegian friend who I just heard from via Facebook. She wrote, “Thank you all so much for your kind thoughts. As of now I don't know anyone who has been hurt but the situation is quite chaotic and they are still locating people. My hope now is that Norway will continue to be the country it was before the attacks and not restrict its people's rights permanently.” She’s right--the bombers and shooters "win" if Norwegians lose their rights. (

Yet, the loss of basic rights becomes almost inevitable if the media whips the public into an anti-terror frenzy in which citizens demand action—any action—to make them feel safer. The USA’s post-9/11 Patriot Act comes to mind.

Fortunately, at least so far, several Norwegian media outlets seem to be getting the message. "As we rebuild the government quarters and [Labor Party youth wing] AUF builds up its organization, we will also restore a Norway based on openness and trust," said a day-after editorial in the daily newspaper Dagbladet. The editorial went on to say, “"We shall not have a Norway with new restrictions of freedom of movement, more uniforms, and thus also more interventions in the lives of all those of us who don't want to understand the language of terror." An editorial in the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv commented, “We need to prove that terrorists are wrong and that we are right. We can only do so by preserving our open and democratic society." (

These comments are hopeful signs indeed. The hardest part will come, I suspect, in the coming weeks and months, as recriminations begin and pressure mounts to do something. It is then that the need will be greatest to practice responsible peace journalism. This means not rushing to judgment. (There were already erroneous reports about the perpetrators in the first hours after the incident). It also means not demonizing the murderers and those with whom they associate. Reports say the youth camp shooter was a conservative Christian. The media must be careful not to paint all conservative Norwegian Christians as fanatics.

Peace journalists should thoughtfully analyze the violent incidents, carefully taking into consideration the consequences of their reporting on society. Should media give voice to those seeking retribution? If they must, at least balance the coverage with moderate voices, like those of my friend, who can see the long term negative consequences from reflexively enacting rules and laws in an atmosphere tainted with anger, revenge, and fear.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Media frenzy encourages mob justice

Would anyone be surprised if some crazy gun-toting vigilante killed the most hated woman in America?

I am not predicting this, nor am I advocating it. In fact, I sincerely, fervently hope it doesn’t happen.

However, if mob justice does prevail, a good portion of the blame should rightfully fall upon the media, and especially the inflammatory rhetoric that has aired, and is still airing, on HLN. Especially noteworthy for its wallow in the gutter is the nightly program hosted by Nancy Grace. During the most hated woman’s (MHW) trial, HLN, and especially Grace’s program, devoted increasing time and energy to the proceedings, resulting in the 29-year-old network’s best ratings months ever in June. (Reuters, July 6, 2011)

Grace’s shrill, biased coverage of the trial and verdict have created an atmosphere conducive to vigilantism. For example, after hearing the verdict, the HLN evening host said, "somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight." Later, lightening struck a tree near the area where the MHW’s daughter’s body was found. Grace wondered aloud on her show if the lightening bolt was a message from an angry God.

Al Tompkins, a senior instructor at the Poynter Institute, a training center for journalists, said of Grace’s show, "It's just unforgivable the amount of vitriol that has come from her show that has now permeated the entire channel. There was no room for them for anything other than a guilty verdict…I'm not sure whether she considers herself to be a journalist," Tomkins added. "What she's practicing is not journalism. It has a lot to do with advocacy and maybe even a vendetta." (Reuters, July 6, 2011)

MHW’s release from prison and every move she’s made have been scrutinized, analyzed, and publicized by HLN and almost every other media outlet. This unending scrutiny, no doubt fed by the desire to maintain pumped-up ratings, has created a kind of manic atmosphere where anything, including vigilantism, is possible. For example, in mid-July, some Internet sites reported that a MHW look-alike was attached in Oklahoma. However, those erroneous reports were later debunked by KTUL-TV among others. It was just a false alarm—this time.

I haven’t seen a survey yet, but I wonder if most Americans would be happy if mob justice did prevail in this case. I hope I’m wrong. I hope we are better than that.

What the coverage of MHW’s case has made clear is the need to spread the word about peace and conflict sensitive journalism here in America.

As a peace journalism professor and trainer, one of the principles I teach journalists is that they need to always consider the consequences of their reporting. In a wartime or post-conflict setting, this means that reporters should understand that their words could inflame violence or impede reconciliation. In this situation, those in the media must consider the possibility that their reporting could lead to mob justice. I’m not suggesting that the trial and verdict shouldn’t have been reported, but I am saying that no thought has been given to the inflammatory nature of how the story was reported.

If the media had been practicing peace and conflict sensitive journalism, it would have balanced the coverage by not being so blatantly anti-defendant. and eschewed the kind of inflammatory, shill language that became the norm on Grace’s show and on many online sites.

It’s not too late to repair some of the damage. HLN and others should air voices that speak out strongly against vigilantism and emphatically in favor of respect for the rule of law.

Freedom of the press doesn’t mean freedom of responsibility from one’s actions as a member of the media.