Thursday, December 20, 2012

Email from Gaza renews my hope

Today, I received an email from a professor at the University of Gaza. I thought his words were beautiful. He wrote:

"I am pleased to introduce to you, and initiate any type of cooperation that may contribute to build the bridge of understating among nations on the pathway of achieving peace in the world, especially in this bleeding region which I believe deserve peace, justice, welfare, and equity among all nations and religions of it as the cradle of civilizations.

Happy Christmas, and nice holiday, for you and all of the American people and the Christian world."

Thank you, professor. After the events of last Friday, I needed a dose of hope.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Post shooting, journalists must empower voiceless; set agenda

Journalism has a long, proud tradition of giving voice to the voiceless. In fact, this notion is spelled out in the Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: “Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.”

Since Friday’s mass shooting, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the voiceless.

As I’ve taught peace journalism abroad, the voiceless have usually been the extremely poor, the displaced, and victims of war or famine. I’ve preached that by telling their stories, we are empowering them while simultaneously nudging officials to take action to improve the lot of the underserved. The Connecticut shooting reminded me that empowering the voiceless doesn’t only apply in chaotic developing countries.

I’m not alone in thinking about the victims, and journalism’s responsibility to them. On yesterday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN, George Washington University Professor and former CNN correspondent Frank Sesno echoed my thoughts, asking rhetorically that if six or seven year old shooting victims aren’t voiceless, who is?

There is seemingly little dispute that we as journalists have an ethical duty to speak for those who can no longer speak, or who, though the fog of grief, have been unable to speak. I’ve been heartened by Anderson Cooper’s effort to inform us about the lives of each of the victims, for example. What is more contentious, however, is media’s role in shaping public policy after the initial shock has worn off.

Given the righteous anger that’s bubbled up since the shooting, some might call for open advocacy by journalists for gun control and perhaps improved care for the mentally ill. Despite the temptation, this would cross the line, abandoning objectivity and inserting journalists into a story that they’re trying to cover. The last thing journalists need to do, in my view, is add to the already deafening noise created by the pundits.

Instead, I believe that we as journalists, and particularly as peace journalists, have an ethical responsibility to use our agenda-setting influence to put issues like gun control and care for the mentally ill on American society’s front burner. This is not to suggest advocacy for (or against) gun control or enhanced mental health care. Rather, it means simply that we are journalists should exercise our agenda setting prerogative as we have done on other issues.

Agenda setting by the media is not a new concept. My local newspaper, The Kansas City Star, is agenda setting in an ongoing series about hunger among youth, while CNN has led discussions about bullying and human trafficking. These media outlets are not openly advocating specific solutions, but instead are using their influence to advance meaningful dialogues about matters of public importance.

After the shooting, the media-led discussions about gun control and mental health care are already underway. A Lexis-Nexis search shows 610 news stories about gun control published today (12/17), compared to just 64 stories one week ago, and 25 stories on the same day a year ago. A second search under mental health care shows 27 stories today, compared with 10 a week ago and just 9 a year ago. The real question is, will this discussion continue next week? Next month? I for one will be monitoring media one or two months from now to see if the media keep these issues on the front pages and at the forefront of the public agenda.

One of yesterday’s “Reliable Sources” panelists, media expert Lauren Ashburn, was skeptical that journalists could stay focused on these issues. She predicted that the media would turn away from gun control and mental health issues once the next crisis occurs. For the sake of the victims, the truly voiceless, I fervently hope her prediction is wrong.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn. To order my book about my time teaching peace journalism in Uganda, Professor Komagum, click here. --

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reasonably coherent on NPR; Acidic comments accuse, confuse

I appeared a few days ago on KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR affiliate. The program, Central Standard, was excellent, and my host, Jabulani Leffall, was thoughtful and well prepared. (Click here to listen to archivedcopy of the program in which I discuss peace journalism and my new book Professor Komagum).

After the program, I came across some angry, ugly comments on the Central Standard web page. Those comments about my appearance, followed by my responses, are below.

Comment 1: Remember the story about Mortenson and his "charity' works in Afghanistan on 60 Minutes show? How do you tell us that "War-torn' when there is no war going on Uganda? There used to be a rebel group ion northern Uganda, which was vanquished three years ago and Joseph Kony is no long anywhere near Uganda. An easy way of milking cahs (sic) from the State Department? Curious! isn't it (sic) ?

Response 1: By war torn, I mean war-impacted, which all of Uganda (especially Northern Uganda) was and is. Of course I know that Kony left Uganda in 2007. As for your other comments, comparing my work to Mortenson, they are shameful. You have no idea as to my honesty and motivations. You have no right to question my good intentions.

Comment 2: Well, now you've gone to (sic) far ! Your story has disintegrated into telling tall tales about nearly being crushed by a rhinoceros and how Ugandans practice witchcraft. Come on sir, this is an old story about an ego-driven Western educated "superior" white man who treks to the wilds of Africa to bring knowledge to the wild tribes. This narcissistic message has been told for the last 200 years.

Response 2: 1. These are not tall tales. These things happened; many Ugandans do believe in witchcraft, whether you believe this or not. I suggest you read V.S. Naipaul's The Masque of Africa.
2. Ego and narcissism? Why the anger? Simply put, I had some good ideas that I wanted to share with some friends and colleagues in Uganda. Are these ideas invalid because I am a white Westerner? Does this make me a neo-colonialist? I have hundreds of Ugandan friends and colleagues who would strongly disagree with your stilted assessment.

Perhaps I’m more naïve than I thought, but I was really surprised by the vitriol of these comments. I suppose derision is to be expected when one is in the public eye, but I was still shocked that people who have never met me would so ignorantly and brazenly question my integrity and honesty. In addition, to suggest that I have financially profited from my peace journalism work is truly laughable, as my wife or any number of creditors could attest.

As for being a “superior” Westerner, my colleagues in Uganda, Kenya and elsewhere have moved beyond commentator #2’s post-colonial finger pointing, and have instead chosen to embrace good ideas like peace journalism even if they do come from a white Westerner. If only we could all be so wise.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Peace Journalism research highlights conference

At the International Peace Research Association conference in Tsu, Japan, presenters discussed many aspects of peace journalism. See previous post for details from the first few days of the conference. Here are some presentation highlights from the last part of the get-together:

Media coverage of UN peacekeeping in DRC: In a presentation titled “Bad news with little context”, Virgil Hawkins analyzed NY Times coverage of peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His first finding was that there was little coverage—only 43,000 words over a three year period. By comparison, 49,000 words worth of coverage were printed during one week of the recent Gaza conflict. Second, Hawkins found that 23,000 of the 43,000 word total of DRC peacekeeping coverage was negative, focusing on failures, attacks on peacekeepers, etc. As his title implies, the Times coverage was context free, again focusing predominantly on specific incidents.

Human wrongs journalism: Ibrahim Shaw examined U.S., British, and French newspaper coverage of the NATO intervention in Iraq. His thesis was that converging media and political/corporate interests have led to a war journalism framing. Interestingly, he told the gathering that the struggle for oil skewed coverage in favor of NATO intervention, and that media all too often simply accept what they are told by authorities. Shaw also discussed how NATO’s intervention was a failure in humanitarian terms, but that this aspect of the intervention was ignored or glossed over by the media.

Reporting on the legal aspects of the use of drones: Researcher Rune Ottosen looked at whether two newspapers, The New York Times and a Norwegian newspaper called Aftenposten, address the legal issues raised by America’s drone wars. His analysis concluded that the legal issues were largely ignored in news coverage over a six month period, and that editorial consideration of the topic wasn’t much better, with only one column in each newspaper examinining this vital issue.

Media as Bridge Builders: In this session, Matthias Mogekwu talked about moving beyond content analysis and considering other models of examining media. He suggested looking at conflicts using an interpersonal communications approach—that is, applying interpersonal communication elements like listening and perspective to larger national and international contexts and conflicts.

Making sense of the crisis in the 2011 horn of Africa: Julia Hoffmann, in this presentation, discussed her study of U.S., African, and online media coverage of the crisis. She began by presenting criticisms of humanitarian crisis reporting, including negativity, emphasis only on acute phases, tribalizing, ethnocentrism, and passive victimization. Hoffmann’s research indicated, among other things, a heavy reliance on non-African sources by reporters, the invisibility of non-elite sources, and a tendency by U.S. media to suddenly lose interest in the story.

At the media and peace plenary, there were three participants. In the first, Ibrahim Shaw discussed how media framed the Arab Spring. He said the coverage clung to an event orientation, providing reporting without context in part to feed the 24 hour news cycle. Shaw showed several British TV reports from the Libyan revolution, and took them to task for failing to reveal that the events covered therein were actually managed media events.

In the second plenary, Julia Hoffmann spoke about the consequences of the prevailing war journalism, including compassion fatigue, societal inertia, the vulnerability of journalists to manipulation and propaganda, and the pre-emption of non-violent responses to conflict. She also presented a communication for peace model that showed peace journalism’s relationship to other elements such as media law, journalism education, public information, and new media.

The final plenary speaker was Jake Lynch, who presented his research, “A Global Standard for Reporting Conflict”. One strategic objective of his research, he said, is to supply evidence to donors that the peace journalism approach does indeed deliver results. Lynch continued his presentation in the peace journalism commission session by noting that his trans-national research does indeed demonstrate that peace journalism has a measurable impact on TV news audiences. For example, in South Africa, research subjects were divided into two groups. One group was shown a story with a peace journalism frame, while the other saw a report with a more traditional war framing. Both stories were about the same topic, a tragic series of rapes in South Africa. Viewers of the war story tended to blame individuals for the crime and to favor punitive solutions. Viewers of the peace-framed TV story were more likely to blame the rapes on systematic causes, and tended to favor cooperative solutions to the problem. In short, Lynch’s research demonstrates the peace journalism approach meaningfully impacts audiences.

Professor Komagum ebook and print book now available

Professor Komagum, my book about teaching peace journalism in Uganda, is now available in print, in full ebook, and in an ebook preview (the first 100 pages for only 99 cents). Click here to get yours today.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Intl Peace Research Assn wraps up conference in Japan 
These photos were taken at the just concluded International Peace Research Association conference in Tsu, Japan. All are of participants in seminars/plenaries about peace journalism. See previous post for details on some of the PJ presentations. Info about other PJ seminars will be posted here next week.

Monday, November 26, 2012

IPRA conference highlights peace journalism

It’s been an outstanding two days at the International Peace Research Association conference in Tsu, Japan. This is the first opportunity I’ve had at any conference to talk shop with researchers in and practitioners of peace journalism. Some presentation highlights:

Kony 2012: This presentation dissected and analyzed the viral video about Joseph Kony, who terrorized Uganda for about 20 years. Among the criticisms: Kony’s child victims were not (were never) invisible; Ugandan authorities are let off the hook for atrocities that they committed; and the film gave the mistaken impression Kony was still menacing Uganda and that he still leads an enormous army (he doesn’t). Presenter Swee Hin Toh noted that the film wasn’t peace journalism because it offered up only military/violent options to deal with Kony. Finally, the question was asked, would the arrest of Kony solve the LRA problem in Uganda? Would it stop the suffering, or lead to more suffering?

Radio for Peace: Maria Elena Lopez Vinader discussed a peace radio program she produces in Argentina. Her program includes presentations on and by peacemakers, as well as specially selected peace music. She said her show seeks to empower common people, raise ecological consciousness, and build tolerance of the disabled, among other things.

Peace Politics in Cyprus: This study analyzed Turkish newspaper columnists and how they write about the ongoing Greek-Turkish conflict in Cyprus. The conclusions reached by researcher Mertin Ersoy: Turkish-language columnists use official Turkish government sources, but don’t use sources from Greek officials. In general, the Turkish columnists frame issues in a conflict/war orientation (win-lose, unbalanced, antipathy for opponents, nationalism) rather than a peace journalism orientation (empathy, win-win, balance, solution orientation, etc.) Peace journalism, Ersoy noted, is sorely needed in Cyprus.

I also made presentations yesterday and today on our Peace and Electoral Journalism project (2010-11) and Peace Media and Counterterrorism project (2011-13) in Uganda. Click here for more details.

I’m looking forward to learning more in the coming days, and to initiating some longer term projects and collaborations with my newly discovered peace journalism brethren.

My hotel's upload speeds are glacial. Thus, I will post pictures later in the week.
Professor Komagum is for sale as an e-book.
Click here to order.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Professor Komagum ebook available, Peace in Japan

The e-book version of Professor Komagum, my new book about my year spent teaching peace journalism in Uganda, is now available. Just click here for easy ordering. Autographed copies may also be obtained by clicking here.

Headed for Japan Friday. I'm speaking about peace journalism in Uganda and Kenya at the International Peace Research Association. Stay tuned for updates.

Interesting take on Gaza coverage

I have received lots of valuable feedback about my previous post (see below) wherein I blame Palestinian and Israeli media for helping to fuel the current conflict. Perhaps the most interesting correspondence was my back and forth with a reader below:

Q--Dear Steven, I hope I can express myself clearly and we can open a dialogue about the important issues you raise. At the core of your argument, you say: "Citizens in both lands deserve a sober, objective, balanced analysis of the conflict. Citizens need to know about the suffering and wrong-doing on all sides." To many who don't have the facts, your position will sound reasonable, but to me it uses bits of reason mixed in with serious distortion, and therefore leads you astray. At the core of my argument is Bishop Tutu's quote: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

So, Israel has one of the best equipped and trained military corps in the world and the Palestinians are stateless, occupied and disperse. There is nothing "balanced" about the situation, and the reporting should not be balanced either. The two "sides" are those who are pro-peace and justice for all and those who aren't. Why should "good" reporting mean that both sides get equal time?

Question for you: Would you give the slave and the master equal, "balanced" coverage in an article about slavery? I know that Palestinians aren't slaves, but the relationship of structural inequality is the same.

I look forward to your views.

A--Dear Reader, your comments are very thought provoking, and I agree with Bishop Tutu's famous quote.

I am not suggesting that there is a moral equivalency between two sides in any conflict. What I would say is that, as journalists, I believe it's our job to let our readers/viewers know that there is another side, another viewpoint. This is not meant to aggrandize or validate this viewpoint, only to recognize its existence, and in so doing, offer up an explanation (but not an excuse) for actions from the other side. To ignore the "other side" is to deny reality.

Thanks again.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Israeli and Palestinian media inflame Gaza conflict

Israeli and Palestinian media are practicing irresponsible journalism that is inflaming passions and exacerbating the current Gaza conflict.

An examination of about a dozen Israeli and Palestinian sources on 15 November reveals a shared tendency of media in the region to practice traditional inflammatory war journalism and to “rally around the flag” during this conflict.

What this admittedly cursory examination does not include, notably, is an examination of journalism produced in Hebrew and Arabic during the current crisis. If the stories produced in English, and thus meant for international dissemination, are inflammatory, biased, and provocative, one can logically speculate that the journalism produced in the local languages is even worse.

Several examples below demonstrate clearly that much of the media in the region are again eschewing objectivity. Instead, they seem committed to little more than spreading government propaganda that supports and justifies the conflict. Notice the language that’s used, the jingoistic tone, and the blatant glorifying of violence in these snippets copied without changes from online sources.

Palestinian/Arab media (Palestine Telegraph, Palestine Times, The Jordan Times, The Daily Star-Lebanon):

--Israel’s shameful bombing yesterday, which killed 15, mainly civilians, including 3 children, is the continuation of ongoing violence against the Palestinians in Gaza.

--The Israeli occupying forces…

--The Israeli military has even imposed a policy to keep Palestinians in Gaza just above the threshold off mass starvation by counting their calories.

--The Israeli military has even imposed a policy to keep Palestinians in Gaza just above the threshold off mass starvation by counting their calories.

– An Israeli full-scale war was launched yesterday against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The war was announced by Israel to be as a military operation that took a biblical name “Pillar of the Clouds”. So far, 15 Palestinians killed whom of which 8 civilians including 5 children, three women and an old man.

--Immediate calls for revenge were broadcast over Hamas radio.

--The assassination of Al-Jabari and eleven other Palestinian civilians since yesterday afternoon has raised a state of anger amongst the Palestinian people …

Mourners in Gaza--From Daily Star (Lebanon)
--Medical sources told the PIC reporter that 15 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli raids since Wednesday including chief commander of the Hamas’s armed wing the Qassam Brigades, Ahmed Al-Ja’bari, an 11-month-old infant, a three-year-old baby girl, a young woman, and a 65-year-old man.

--The operation prompted widespread condemnation, with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi recalling Cairo’s envoy to Israel and summoning the Israeli ambassador for consultations, his spokesperson said

--Instead, the only crowds are those gathered in mosques mourning the dead, or queuing outside bakeries to stock up on bread. "I circled around for two hours, looking for a place with the shortest line," said Momen Ahmed, 24, standing outside the Abu Dayya bakery with his friends. First is a man in a blue tracksuit, lying crumpled and barefoot on a stretcher as he screams and weeps.

Israeli Media-(Hareetz, Arutz Sheva, Debka, Jerusalem Post):

-- Sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and residents were told to head for shelter Thursday evening. An explosion was reportedly heard. Magen David Adom said that there were no casualties.

 -- At about 13:00 around 30 to 40 Arab students assembled on one of the lawns of the University of Haifa and stood for a moment of silence in memory of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari, who was assassinated yesterday by an Israeli air strike. As the Arabs stood silent some Jewish students, who were obviously offended by the assembly, began singing "Hatikva," the Israeli national anthem. Some university staff members then arrived to calm the situation, but the Arabs dispersed quickly, shouting, "He's dead, he's dead."

--As the rockets kept coming through Wednesday night – and the first three fatalities Thursday morning, Nov. 15 - the cautious lift in Israeli spirits generated by the death of Ahmed Jabari, who fashioned Hamas into a paramilitary machine of terror.

-- But Operation Pillar of Cloud’s first part showed a favorable balance: Palestinian missile fire was as erratic as ever, although intense; Iron Dome filtered out the rockets aimed at Israel’s major towns; Israeli casualties were relatively low though painful; and the enemy in Gaza was decapitated – for now.

-- The Palestinians and their allies in Tehran and Hizballah suddenly discovered that the old IDF had come roaring back.

-- The tough part of the Israeli operation to eliminate the terrorist war peril hovering over southern Israel from the Gaza Strip is still to come. For now, Hamas is at a loss for a strategic answer to the IDF offensive.

 -- Seemingly addressing an international audience, the prime minister said "there is no moral symmetry equivalent between Israel and Hamas and the terrorist groups in Gaza." President Shimon Peres on Thursday also expressed support for the ongoing military operation in Gaza, saying "it was the right thing to do and it is being done correctly," Israel Radio reported.

-- Mofaz said that Israel must pursue terrorists in Gaza in order to make them feel persecuted, according to Israel Radio.

-- National Union MK Aryeh Eldad also weighed in, calling on the government to cut off its supply of electricity and water to Gaza, saying that "until Israel goes into Gaza and cuts off its supply lines, Israelis will continue to suffer."

-- MDA paramedics treated five wounded people at the site of the Kiryat Malachi attack, in which a rocket hit a four-story building. Three people were pronounced dead on the scene and two others were suffering moderate injuries, including a baby.

-- The IDF "believes the rocket fire will intensify." Tank fire also was directed at terror targets, he said.

--… The spokesman concluded by describing the Hamas-ruled Strip as "a forward Iranian base," and urged the populace to remain steadfast, as "home front resilience is vital for the continuing operation."

It’s clear from the published articles, as well as photojournalism from the conflict, that the media outlets seem either ignorant about or disinterested in practicing peace journalism. These articles violate the important principle peace journalism that reporters should avoid using inflammatory language. Examples from these articles include terms like terror and terrorism, suffering, decapitated, assassination, revenge, and mass starvation. As peace journalism teaches, such language adds nothing to the reader’s understanding of the story, but instead brings only emotion to the story, thus entrenching and enhancing acrimony and making peaceful soultions even less likely.

These Israeli and Palestinian articles violate other PJ principles as well, including sensationalizing casualties (particularly of women and children), concentrating on suffering only on “their” side, completely ignoring peacemakers and any solutions other than violent or military ones, blaming the “other side” for starting the conflict, and demonizing the “enemy”.

This is a familiar pattern for Middle Eastern journalists. The same irresponsible pro-government reporting also occurred in 2009, during the last Israeli-Gaza conflict. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (Jan. 21, 2009), ‘Both Israeli and Arab media rallied around the flag during the Gaza operation, panelists told the audience during an Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) event on Wednesday. Keshev Executive Director Yizhar Be'er presented an analysis of the Israeli press over the three-week conflict. Keshev and its Palestinian partner analyze the Israeli and Palestinian media. ‘In times of crisis or war, the immediate reflex of the Israeli media is to rally around the flag. They provided full justification for the military operation and full support for decision-makers,’ Be'er said.“

Both the Palestinian and Israeli people are ill-served by their flag-waving media. Citizens in both lands deserve a sober, objective, balanced analysis of the conflict. Citizens need to know about the suffering and wrong-doing on all sides. Most of all, they need to at least hear a discussion about peaceful alternatives and non-violent (or less violent) solutions to the conflict.

For a terrific view of propaganda about the Gaza conflict, see:
Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn .
Order your copy of Professor Komagum, Steven Youngblood's new book about living and teaching in Uganda, at .

Thursday, November 1, 2012

False tweets provide lessons for peace journalists

I've been thinking a lot about the rumours/falsehoods spread by Twitter during Sandy. Two great pieces caught my eye:


This resonates, or should resonate, with peace journalists since one of our most important functions is to debunk rumors. These Twitter rumors during Sandy were irritating, yes, but this time weren't a matter of life or death. But what if Twitter-published lies somehow caused first responders to waste their time responding to a non-existent crisis?

In countries where ethnic and religious differences often flare into violence, Twitter's potential for mischief rises exponentially. It's not a stretch to imagine a false tweet igniting inter-ethnic violence in many parts of the world.

Given Twitter's potential destructive power, the question arises about if government officials in the U.S. and elsewhere would ever be justified in either censoring tweets or punishing lying tweeters. This is a question my students and I have been chewing on much of the week.

Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn and order my book about my adventures teaching peace journalism in Uganda at .

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reflections on world citizenship

I had the distinct honor of being recognized last night as the World Citizen of the Year by the United Nations Association of Greater Kansas City. This was my acceptance speech:

Mayor James, distinguished guests:

Ever since I received word that I had won this most prestigious honor, I’ve been busy trying to figure out exactly what a world citizen IS… I googled “define world citizen” and got 3.7 million hits! Many of the definitions were really bad….like the one that was 139 words long that started with…”The term 'world citizen' can be better understood with a negative definition than with a positive one…” Gobbledygook… I did find one that I like, from Farleigh Dickinson university president Michael Adams. He said, “A world citizen is someone who appreciates the interconnected nature of our planet. A world citizen is committed to acting on behalf of humanity everywhere.”

If that’s true, that a world citizen works on behalf of humanity, then I’m most honored to wear the label world citizen.

Now that we have a working definition of world citizenship, perhaps a better way to bring this concept into focus is to spend a moment examining some inspirational folks who exemplify the principle of acting on behalf of humanity. Some of these world citizens you already know—celebrities like Bono and Sting and Angelina Jolie, and philanthropic rock stars like Bill and Melinda Gates or the Hall Family. Most world citizens, however, are just like you and me…people doing what they can to make a difference. Many, like Clara Sinclair, gladly toil in anonymity. I’ll tell you more about Mrs. Sinclair in a moment. Others, like me, have been fortunate enough to be honored for their global citizenship.

One such world citizen honoree is a nurse--Lisa Fernandez , whose world citizenship is reflected in Nicaragua.

Lisa made her first trip to Nicaragua in 1999 when she delivered 52 wheelchairs to children in areas devastated by Hurricane Mitch. When she returned to her home in Wisconsin, she founded The Wisconsin/Nicaragua Wheelchair Project. Her wheelchair project partners with Familias Especiales - an NGO in Nicaragua that serves handicapped children and their families. Familias Especiales provides a full service shop where wheelchairs and other mobility devices are repaired, fitted, and distributed free to needy Nicaraguans. Since its founding, Fernandez and her partners have distributed over 11-hundred wheelchairs. Lisa Fernandez is a true world citizen.

One more world citizen honoree is Dr. Denis Mukengere, who is the founder of Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As child, Denis accompanied his father, a Pentecostal pastor, while visiting sick members of the community. This inspired Denis to become a doctor. He decided to specialize in gynecology and obstetrics , since the need for good OB-GYN’s is especially acute in the Congo. In 1998, in the middle of a civil war, he began the construction of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, which has become known worldwide for the treatment of survivors of sexual violence and women with severe gynecological problems. Dr. Denis Mukengere is also a true world citizen.

My contributions as a world citizen are certainly modest in comparison to these heroes. I’ve taught abroad in about a dozen countries, and the focus of my work in the last 6 years or so has been peace journalism. Peace journalism is the idea that journalists can make choices that improve the prospects for peace….These choices include what journalists report, how they frame their stories, and the words they use…The idea is that journalists can either inflame conflict and violence or create an atmosphere more conducive to peace.

My peace journalism work started in 2007 with seminars in Azerbaijan and the Republic of Georgia…I’ve been lucky enough to teach peace journalism to young people through People to People International in Jordan and Turkey. My biggest project—10 months long—sent me to Uganda, where we taught over 30 seminars and traveled 14-hundred kilometers. Our message—that journalists must not fuel sectarian fires…that instead, they must use their influence to help Ugandans improve their communities. We succeeded in meeting our principle goal—to prevent media induced or exacerbated violence around the time of the Ugandan presidential election in 2011.

I have written about my Ugandan mis-adventures in my new book, Professor Komagum… Komagum, by the way, is an Acholi name given to me to some journalists in Gulu, Uganda who attended my seminars. Komagum, I was told, means lucky. I do indeed feel lucky to have these opportunities to exercise my world citizenship, and lucky to have had outstanding personal support from family…and tremendous professional support from Park University, whose delegation is led tonight by our president Dr. Michael Droge. All this support has made all of my peace journalism work a reality.

Of all my supporters, however, one definitely stands out…Mrs. Clara Sinclair, who I mentioned earlier. I got a nice letter from Mrs. Sinclair a few months ago praising Park University for establishing a Center for Global Peace Journalism, which I direct. Mrs. Sinclair went on to say that she is a proud Park graduate, class of….1942. She writes, “I was deeply concerned about the coming war. I had come to the realization, as a child of a Scottish Presbyterian Minister, that killing was wrong…Our college president, Dr. L. Young, shared out concerns. Several speakers on non-violence and pacifism spoke to the student body….Much of the inspiration of my life came during my days at Park. I am glad to know that such an effort toward world peace still continues at Park.”

Here’s the kicker…what makes 92-year old Clara Sinclair a true world citizen in my eyes. Mrs. Sinclair writes, “My concern for peace continues. Each Saturday morning, I stand on the corner of a busy intersection near my hone and hold a sign that says, “War is not the answer.”

Thank you, Clara Sinclair, Lisa Fernandez, and Dr. Dennis Mukengere, for showing me what it truly means to be a world citizen. I will do my best to liveup to your high standards. Thank you.

Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn and order my book about my adventures teaching peace journalism in Uganda at .

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wrapping up peace journalism seminars at BronxNet

We finshed the second of two great peace journalism seminars at BronxNet yesterday. The participants--university students and BronxNet TV interns--were terrific, and did an especially great job collecting peace journalism-themed soundbites. (See previous post for soundbites about forgiving Osama Bin Laden. See post below for soundbites about how negative media coverage is impacting the electorate in the Bronx). It's been a great experience, and we're already making plans for my return.

P.S. You can still reserve an autographed copy of "Professor Komagum", about my (mis)adventures teaching peace journalism in Uganda, by clicking here. Hurry--autographed copies won't last long.

Public access TV producers shatter stereotypes

Quick—when you think of public access TV, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind? If you’re like me, it’s silly Wayne’s World-esque teen garbage, or perhaps ranting lunatics, maybe neo-Nazis. Here at BronxNet, however, this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.

Although there are music and sports programs, many of the programs provide valuable information to and an outlet for underserved communities. BronxNet public access TV programs include African Union, Sights of Brazil, El Show de Olga Rosa, Honduras NY, Albanian Culture in the Bronx, Young Thinkers, and Face to Face Africa. These shows, which are also archived and streamed live online, often focus on giving those in the community a voice, and reflect, in a positive way, the grievances and accomplishments of their constituents.

This kind of public service television finds in peace journalism a natural partner. Peace journalism, like BronxNet access, seeks to open dialogues, especially about issues like peace and cross-cultural understanding. Both peace journalism and BronxNet access aim to give a voice to the voiceless in disadvantaged communities, and both strive to develop communities by identifying vital issues and bringing to bear media resources to build coalitions to tackle problems that plague communities.

Twice this week, on Wednesday and Friday evenings, meetings were held at BronxNet to introduce public access TV program producers to the concepts of peace and development journalism. Given the natural partnership between the two, it’s no surprise that the peace journalism presentation was very well received. These meetings included brainstorming sessions about how to best increase peace and reconciliation content in existing access programs as well as discussions about possibly creating new peace-themed programs. One idea, for example, would create a show that would bring together the Latino and African-American communities in the Bronx to help these communities find common ground.

Meeting participants also discussed community development organizations that they might partner with to deliver positive, important, and peaceful messages that would help develop the Bronx community. The producers gave one example—a soup kitchen near Yankee Stadium—as a potential partner. Public access TV producers here in the Bronx, and media savvy peace and development minded activists anywhere, can embrace the principles of peace journalism as a way to more effectively deliver their messages of non-violence and reconciliation.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bronx students initiate important peace discussions

My students today are asking New Yorkers if they can forgive Osama Bin Laden.

Editing peace soundbites at BronxNet
This seemingly bizarre, and possibly dangerous, assignment is part of a peace journalism seminar I’m leading in the Bronx. The seminar, offered by the Center for Global Peace Journalism in conjunction with Lehman College and BronxNet, is teaching students about peace journalism, and the notion that media should always consider the consequences of what they report and how they report it.
Toward that end, we discussed today a peace journalist’s responsibility to both give peacemakers a voice and to lead community conversations about peace, development, and reconciliation. Reconciliation, for purpose of my presentation today, was broken down into concepts like vengeance, justice, truth, and forgiveness. At the end of a brief lecture this morning, I sent students out in the field to record soundbite montages on peace issues. One group chose to ask the question, “Do you forgive Osama Bin Laden?” While the soundbite montage is half yes and half no, the students reported that the vast majority, off camera, said that they could absolutely not forgive him. (See video embedded below).
Getting ready to shoot soundbites

I never suggested that Bin Laden should be forgiven, but only that a media-generated dialogue about this matter would be a healthy thing.

Two other groups of students asked passers-by about the impact of sensational crime coverage and the role of media in promoting peace. (To see that video, click here).

The point of the soundbite exercise was to get the students/BronxNet interns to understand the importance of initiating discussions about peace and reconciliation issues, even if those discussions are uncomfortable.

This exercise was the capstone project in our two-day peace journalism seminar, which was co-sponsored by BronxNet and Lehman College. I feel good about what we accomplished in such a short time, and was gratified by the post-seminar thanks doled out by the grateful students.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Inquisitive Bronx students ponder Peace Journalism principles

Just finished day one of a two-day workshop held by the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in conjunction with Lehman College and BronxNet. The mix of university students and BronxNet TV interns was engaged and inquisitive. We discussed how PJ connects to both electoral journalism and crime coverage. Next up for this group--a sound bite montage reflecting some of the principles of peace journalism that we discussed today.

Later this week, we'll hold a second two day workshop for students and interns, and also two shorter seminars for BronxNet program producers. Details will be forthcoming.
Top: BronxNet Director Michael Max Knobbe welcomes students to the workshop. Bottom: Students hard at work deciding whether a published story is representative of peace journalism.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Headed to the Bronx, but not for baseball
I'm on my way to the Bronx, NY this weekend to teach Peace Journalism seminars next week. The seminars will be held in conjunction with Lehman Community College and BronxNet, a local cable TV company. As with my other workshops, they will feature both theory and practice. Stay tuned to this site for more about this project, including stories, photos, and videos.

Get your sneak preview of Professor Komagum
For a limited time, you can buy an e-book sneak preview (the 1st 100 pages) of Professor Komagum: Teaching peace journalism and battling insanity in Uganda. Click here to buy your sneak preview e-book. If you prefer to reserve an old fashioned printed copy, or if you'd like more details about the book, click here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The October Peace Journalist magazine is now available

The latest edition of the Peace Journalist magazine (Oct 2012)  is now available. Click here for free download. This edition features articles by world-reknown journalist/educators Jake Lynch and Al Tompkins. Enjoy!

Connecting peace, electoral journalism

The following is a piece I wrote for the October Peace Journalist magazine.--SY

Elections are inherently divisive, controversial, and provocative. In much of the world, violence during and after elections is almost expected. For example, post-election violence has recently scarred Nigeria, the Philippines, Kenya, Myanmar, and the Ivory Coast, among other places.

Even in places like Western Europe and the United States where violence may not be tied to elections, one could suspect that increasingly bitter and shrill campaigns and elections polarize societies politically, squeezing politicians into increasingly tight corners on the far left and far right, thus making these countries more difficult to govern.

As peace journalists, we should be analyzing our role in covering these elections, and asking ourselves if the language we use and the way we frame our stories is contributing to, or instead, mitigating, the bitterness and divisiveness.

The connection between inflammatory media and post-election violence has been established in numerous places around the world. One notable example is Kenya after the 2007 elections when violence took 800-1300 lives and displaced 200,000-600,000 people. (Numbers vary, depending on the source). This violence was partially media-fueled. Indeed, one journalist/manager from a Western Kenyan radio station is on trial at the Hague for allegedly inflaming the deadly violence.

The link between media and politically polarized Western governments is discussed in a study published last month by Washington State University in the U.S. In the study (4 September, 2012), researcher Douglas Hindman “suggests intense media coverage of highly polarized and contentious political issues tends to reinforce partisan views, creating ‘belief gaps’ between Democrats and Republicans, which grow increasingly pronounced over time.” Admittedly, the researcher in this instance is focusing on the intensity (volume) of coverage, and not specific characteristics of how partisan issues are framed. Nonetheless, it’s not an enormous leap to theorize that the tone of the coverage, and not just the intensity, also reinforces partisan, compromise-resistant views.

Given this, is the negative tone of the coverage of the U.S. presidential election contributing to increased political rigidity? A Pew Center study (23 August 2012) finds that “72% of this coverage has been negative for Barack Obama and 71% has been negative for Mitt Romney.”

It seems intuitive that this incessant negativity would have a polarizing effect. However, a colleague of mine correctly points out that it’s quite a distance between cause and effect here. Does negative, narrow coverage cause political polarization, and cause electoral losers to not accept the outcome of elections? That’s yet to be proven.

Still, a demonstrated link between irresponsible media and electoral violence combined with this suspected link between media and political polarization certainly provide reason enough for peace journalists to report prudently around election time. Keeping in mind media’s power to inflame passions and potentially to exacerbate political divisions, we have devised a list of electoral journalism do’s and don’ts for peace journalists.


What a peace journalist would try to do in an electoral situation, using the 17 PJ tips (McGoldrick-Lynch) as a foundation.

1. AVOID portraying races as only between two candidates with two ideologies. INSTEAD, give voices to multiple candidates (when those candidates are viable), to multiple ideologies (not just the extremes), and to multiple players involved in the process, especially the public.

2. AVOID treating the election like a horse race. Polls and surveys are fine, but they are only a part of the story. INSTEAD, concentrate on issues of importance as identified by the public and articulated by candidates and parties, including platforms/manifestos.

3. AVOID letting the candidates define themselves through what they say. INSTEAD, seek expert analysis of the candidate’s background as well as the veracity and logic of the candidates’ comments.

4. AVOID airing inflammatory, divisive, or violent statements by candidates. INSTEAD, there are two options: A. Edit these comments to eliminate these inflammatory statements; B. Publish or broadcast these comments, and then offer pointed analysis and criticism of what is being said.

5. AVOID airing comments and reports that encourage sectarianism and divisions within society—race-baiting, for example. If these comments must be aired, then follow up with commentary pointing out the candidate’s attempt to divide and distract voters. INSTEAD, insist on the candidates addressing issues that highlight common values and bring communities together.

6. AVOID letting candidates “get away” with using imprecise, emotive language. This includes name calling. INSTEAD, hold candidates accountable for what they say, and use precise language as you discuss issues.

7. AVOID framing the election as a personality conflict between candidates. INSTEAD, focus on the candidates’ positions on issues of importance—schools, health care, roads.

8. AVOID unbalanced stories. INSTEAD, seek to balance each story with comments from the major parties or their supporters. Balance includes getting input from informed citizens.

9. AVOID letting candidates use you to spread their propaganda. Identify and expose talking points. INSTEAD, as you broadcast their statements, include a critical analysis of what is being said.

10. AVOID reporting that gives opinions/sound bites only from political leaders and/or pundits. INSTEAD, center stories around everyday people, their concerns and perceptions about the candidates and process.

Whenever I have presented this list at peace journalism seminars, the participants have been receptive to the idea that they have a larger responsibility to their societies. This responsibility includes both helping to inform citizens so that they may intelligently fulfill their electoral duties and framing stories so as to short-circuit violence and not exacerbate political polarization.

Journalists understand that implementing these ideas in our highly competitive media environment, one that values tension, conflict, and sensationalism, will be at best very difficult. Despite this, the journalists I’ve worked with all believe that practicing responsible electoral journalism is worth the effort.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reserve your copy of Professor Komagum

My new book, "Professor Komagum: Teaching peace journalism and battling insanity in Uganda" is arriving soon. For a limited time only, you may reserve autographed copies for $16.99. These reserved, autographed copies will ship after the official release date later 2012. Click here to reserve your copy.
For more details about the book, see below.

A good portion of the book is adapted from columns published over the last several years on this blog. So, if you like what you've read here, then you should really enjoy "Professor Komagum". Even if you haven't liked what you've read here, you should still buy the book to enjoy the pictures and the professional fonts and typography.

About the book: Travel to Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, with journalist/educator Steven Youngblood, whose incredible 11 month odyssey will leave you laughing and misty-eyed. In his new book Professor Komagum, you’ll learn about peace journalism, and the role of media in preventing conflicts. You’ll also read about some of Youngblood’s colorful misadventures in Uganda eating insects, ducking swooping bats, and dodging testy rhinos. Professor Komagum also tells two poignant stories--one of six Ugandan orphans abandoned in a rural purgatory; the other of a terrifying terrorist bombing. Professor Komagum is a fascinating, hilarious, touching, and thought-provoking journey through East Africa and into the human spirit. Reserve yours now for only $16.99!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy International Peace Day!

To celebrate international peace day, I offer a re-post of my December Park University commencement address. The speech, titled "Inciting Peace", is, I think, especially relevant today.

Commencement Speech—“Inciting Peace”

Park University, Dec. 10, 2011, Independence, MO
By Steven Youngblood

Dr. Droge, administrators, board of trustees members, honored guests, faculty colleagues, and graduates….

I’m really impatient. You know that annoying guy behind you at the grocery store making sigh-ing noises as you count out pennies? That’s me. Or the jerk leaning on his horn at the ATM drive through while you spend five minutes organizing your money in your wallet? Again, yours truly…

So, true to form, I thought the best way to begin today’s festivities would be to give in to my impatience, and get on with it already. In the spirit of quickly dispensing with the dull, obligatory commencement speech fluff, then, I offer you the shortest, and perhaps worst, commencement speech in history. For fun, see if you can count the clichés--
----Class of 2011, my hope for you is that you spread your wings and follow your passions. Indeed, since the world is your oyster, go forth and trust your instinct as you make the world a better place. You are the future, and today is the first day of the rest of your life, so follow your dreams. Remember that commencement means beginning, so ne door is closing and another opening. Education is a journey, not a destination. So, go forth, climb up on the shoulders of others …and seize the day as you look back on your college experience as best the of your life. -----

I counted 17 cliches.

Now, like all clichés, there’s some wisdom in those tired old statements. I particularly like the one about making the world a better place myself. But what these clichés leave out is any consideration at all of what you’re thinking right now:

OK, you might be thinking about the after graduation party… But what you’ve really been thinking about, I suspect, is --what now?

I don’t just mean what job you will do. What I mean is more than that… not just finding a career, but discovering how you can be a difference-maker. For me, and for many others, the difference we make can be summed up on one word—peace. Promoting peace in our communities… and in our world is not only a calling I recommend, it is, in my experience, the path to a kind of fulfillment that I struggle putting words to.

Class of 2011, where will you find peace, and how will you incite peace?

I can almost hear you grumbling…yeah, yeah, peace is okay, but I’m all about making money. Accumulating wealth is fine, of course, especially when you make generous donations to your alma mater. What I hope my colleagues and I have accomplished as professors, other than delivering course contents and outcomes, is to give you the desire and the tools to incite peace.

Inciting peace is a process. Some, like my Ugandan friend Betty, figured out how to do this at a young age. I’ll tell you more about Betty in a minute. For others, like me, it took much longer.

I’ve always known I wanted to report, and write. During the 20 plus years after I sat in the audience at my commencement, I practiced my craft, and did a little teaching as well. But I was rudderless…like a movie with a bunch of scattered scenes but no real plot. I was looking for something to make it all meaningful, to tie it all together.

I found that meaning, and my desire to incite peace, in an unlikely place—the small eastern European country of Georgia. I was teaching on a Fulbright Scholarship in neighboring Azerbaijan in 2007 when the US Embassy contacted me and asked if I knew anything about peace journalism… and if I would be interested in teaching a peace journalism seminar in Georgia. Of course,..I said, I am practically an expert on peace journalism. When I got off the phone with the embassy, I googled peace journalism and discovered it is when reporters and editors make choices that make peace possible. This means not using inflammatory language, giving peacemakers a voice, and showing citizens that there are always viable non-violent alternative responses during a conflict. I liked the sound of this.

Before I knew it, I found myself in remote far-western Georgia teaching peace journalism. Half of my students were from Georgia, and the other half from a break-away republic called Abkhazia, which claims independence from Georgia. It was like being in a room with the hatfields and mccoys, with Israelis and palensinians, or with tea partiers and environmental activists. I thought they would kill each other, and then possibly kill me. This would have definitely put a damper on the seminar.

Instead, these wonderful Georgian and Abkhazian journalists showed me how to incite peace. At the end of the seminar, the journalists—through no prodding by me—decided to come together to form a press club that they called the bridge…the bridge’s goal was to encourage peace in both communities through responsible reporting.

In just one week in isolated western Georgia, I had found my calling—encouraging others to make their communities—their world--a more peaceful place.

In the years since 2007, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to combine my vocation—communications professor—with my need to help others see the value—the logic—of peace.

The good news for you, class of 2011, is that you don’t have to wait—like me-- until you’ve got one foot into geezer-hood to discover the benefits of inciting peace. For example, take my friend Betty Mujungu, who I mentioned a little earlier. 25 year old Betty is a reporter at a small radio station in fort Portal, Uganda, where I spent the previous academic year teaching peace journalism on a state department grant. Betty attended one of my 30 peace journalism seminars…At this seminar, we talked about giving a voice to the voiceless in our communities, and empowering citizens to seek development and peace instead of violence and conflict. I had no idea how thoroughly Betty would take my advice.

Betty’s story—about how one person can make a positive difference…pardon the cliché…is testimony to the power of peace journalism…

After I learned what Betty had done as a journalist and as an inciter of peace, I went to fort portal to report this amazing tale. Here is that story.

(Audio clip played. The story is about how a radio reporter, Betty, did a story about six orphans, and eventually came to adopt the kids. The story is a testament to the power of peace journalism and of one committed individual to make a positive difference.)

The epilogue is mostly good news—the kids are all fine, still living with Betty and Edith. Money is a constant worry. Betty struggles to put food on the table, and to deal with occasional medical bills. All six kids go to school…and they’re all doing well. Annet is still determined to be a doctor.

As I’ve talked to Betty over the last few months, I notice a young woman who has completely changed…This is because, I think, she has discovered how she can incite peace by helping those who can’t help themselves. Like me, she’s lucky enough to have a vocation—radio reporter—than can help her fulfill her peaceful mission ..

I’ve told Betty that she’s my hero, and I mean that sincerely.

So, let me get to the point…I’m here today to tell you that you are Betty Mujungu…or maybe that you can channel your inner Betty…and find a purpose in life—peace-- that both embraces and transcends your chosen career.

I know what you’re thinking…well, I’m an English major…or an accounting major…or an ecomonics, political science, or Biology major…what can I do? What does peace have to do with my field?

The answer isn’t as elusive as you think. Regardless of your discipline, each of you can utilize the wonderful liberal arts education that you take away from Park University to help promote societal development and foster cooperation and reconciliation.

You an accounting major? You can be a peace accountant…. Public relations major? Peace public relations. For example, I have a former student, Laura, who is using her PR know-how to launch a newsletter for Kansas City’s homeless community. Why couldn’t you be a peace economist, or a peace political scientist ..heaven knows society needs as many advocates as we can get who are promoting civil, productive political discourse….

My esteemed colleague, criminal justice professor emeritus Dr Carol Getty, often talks of peace criminal justice…of rethinking the ineffective war on drugs, for example…or ending racial disparities in sentencing. Dr. Getty may even write a book about this. Nursing major? The opportunities as a peace nurse to help broken communities heal are nearly limitless. In fact, I’ve seen Park’s peace nurses in action in a poverty-stricken area of Brazil. Pre law major? I know a Park grad in law school who is using his legal expertise to help veterans find peace once they’re out of the service. Javier…that’s his name…is another one of my heroes.

What about peace business? I say, why not? Bill Gates is staggeringly wealthy. But I don’t think it’s his money that makes him the world’s richest man. Bill Gates is the world’s richest man because of the opportunity he has to improve the world around him. Since 1994, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has spent over 25 billion dollars, mostly on global development and health. Bill Gates is another one of my heroes, but not because of his money.

Are you, or will you be, enlisted in the military? The notion of a peace soldier isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. I have an Israeli friend, a young man who I'll call David, who will soon be drafted into the Israeli defense forces. In fact, he just received his draft notice in October. Having discovered peace, he is determined to become a peace soldier. David said he will make it a point to be kind and even helpful to Palestinians when he’s manning checkpoints…or doing searches or pat downs. He said he will be the first to call-out colleagues who treat anyone disrespectfully or step over the line of ethical behavior. David is also my hero.

While we’re talking about peace soldiers…One of the world’s top peacemaking organizations—people to people international—was actually founded by the 20th century’s most celebrated military man. People to people, based in Kansas city, has a motto—peace through understanding. I’ve volunteered for people to people, and have been amazed at their ability to bring people together regardless of their nationality, race, religion, or ethnicity. In 1956, General Dwight David Eisenhower launched people to people international.
So, whether you’re a soldier, educator, or journalist, making a commitment to peace can make all the difference in the world, and make all the difference for the world as well…

If all this seems daunting to you, I urge you to remember Betty Mujungu…Where would those six orphans be had she not made a commitment to inciting peace?

Class of 2011, with your education, and your commitment, you can be the  next Betty Mujungu.

Thank you.

Speaker Bio:

Steven Youngblood is a two-time J. William Fulbright Scholar — going to Moldova in 2001 and Azerbaijan in 2007. He has taught in 12 countries for the U.S. State Department, the United Nations Children's Fund and People to People International. He has taught peace journalism in the Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Turkey and Uganda. Youngblood directed and taught a comprehensive peace journalism project (with $270,000 in grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department) in Uganda from July 2010 to May 2011. He will direct and teach a peace media and counterterrorism project (with a $150,000 State Department grant) in Uganda from December 2011 to September 2012. Email him at:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Sept. 12, remember sacrifices made by America's diplomats

They serve their country while selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way.

No, they’re not first responders or military personnel, they’re America’s foreign service officers (FSO’s), who serve our country in places ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Sadly, we are reminded of their willingness to sacrifice by the recent deaths of four FSO’s, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Benghazi, Libya. It is especially poignant that their deaths occurred on September 11th.

As a multiple State Department grantee, I have had the honor and privilege of working with dozens of FSO’s in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Kenya, and Uganda. One would be hard pressed to find a group more uniformly bright, motivated, and energetic. Their jobs may appear glamorous to some, but a closer look reveals the kinds of sacrifices for which others might receive medals. These sacrifices include routine 10-12 hour days; months and years spent away from loved ones; inserting children into challenging environments; worries about safety and security; and living in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. I’ll never forget one report I read about embassy personnel in one dangerous country having to make their monthly journey to the beach in a heavily fortified caravan protected by Marines.

The only explanation for these kinds of sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice made by the FSO’s in Libya, is that these individuals feel a strong desire to serve their country, and indeed to serve humanity.

As we mourn the State Department personnel who were doing our country’s diplomatic heavy lifting, let us never forget the invaluable service that all FSO’s perform for America and the world.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Are NY Times images legitimate news or needlessly sensational?

Editors face tough choices every day. Today, in New York City, those choices were doubly difficult.

At the New York Times, I’m guessing that there was a heated discussion about which pictures to use in its online edition and in tomorrow’s printed edition. Two of the pictures of the Empire State Building shooting they used on their website are posted here. The use of such images brings about dozens of ethical, moral, and professional questions.
As peace journalists, we’re most interested in exploring whether photos like these inflame passions, and make a bad situation worse. Among the questions peace journalists might ask in situations like this are:

1. Are these images sensational, or are they necessary for a complete understanding of the story?

2. Will these images needlessly inflame passions against the suspect, scuttling his right to a fair trial? (The suspect was killed in today’s incident, but the question is still an important one).

3. What about the families of the victims? Should we consider their feelings before we publish?

4. Do the pictures in any way glorify the crime, making it (in a sick way) attractive to copycats?

My take: I would have never published these two images, based on the criteria above.

Another note from today’s shooting…CNN’s Ali Velshi taught us a lesson about instant news today when he tweeted that “there appears to be a terrorism connection” to the shooting. After a brief but intense firestorm, he retweeted that he left out the word NO in the original tweet. Oops indeed. Lesson to peace journalists: imagine the power of Twitter to virally spread rumor and innuendo. These are the kind of falsehoods that could and have led to violence when disseminated over traditional media like radio.

Twitter can be a dangerous weapon indeed.

--Follow what I hope are my responsible tweets @PeaceJourn

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Headlines, sloppy editing fuel sensationalism

From the editor: The thoughtful comments below are from my Park University colleague Gary Bachman, and refer to my previous post (see below). He certainly has a valid point. Aggregators that scan headlines and pick out keywords (without context) are certainly a problem as well. --SY

As I see it, a significant part of the problem is not the content of journalitic work but the marketing / headlines attributed to such work. The reality is that many more people quickly read headlines, drawing their own conclusions without actually reading the article. E-Journalism has ( I presume) only magnified this effect. My ISP Homepage chronicles "World News," National News," Kansas News," and Missouri News." Click on the headline and you are taken to to that article in some other venue. I will admit that I have often ben drawn to particular "headlines" only to discover significantly different content, political commentary posted as news, or poorly researched content from remote sources.

The soldier in the Temple shooting had been less than honorably discharged from the army 13 year earlier. But that "label" has some draw ( and thus generates "traffic." It also suggests a potential link and compels us to paint pictures with our minds. But he could easily have been labled as "high school graduate," "musician," "jilted lover," or "Chick-Fil-a Customer." (sorry, couldn't resist) But "soldier" easily paints a picture that draws us in like the trailer for the new Stalone & Swartzenager action movie. (In fairness it seems that "soldiers" today are increasingly being marketed as our otherwise generic, sympathetic, deserving, and psychiatrically vulnerable neighbor or relation.

Headlines generate images designed to capture our attention. This process of editing is sometimes sloppy, sometimes reckless and sometimes quite intentional.

On Monday I recieved two e-mail alerts from academic web sites that I frequent, about a shooting at Texas A&M. The headline was also prominent on my ISP home page. But after clicking on all three links I found a different story. I posted the following content back to all three sources.

"A word of caution about "headlines." Legislators in a number of states are pushing to restructure "concealed carry" (firearms) laws to allow students and faculty to carry concealed firearms into their classrooms for self-defense. Given the willingness today for folks to embrace any rumor (or otherwise verifiable lie) that supports their cause, it is incumbent upon us as educators to be clear about FACTS. A simple review of the few known facts about this incident (available already at the time of the original post here) reveals that this did not happen on the campus of Texas A& M, and thus far (an additional 2 hours later) there is no hint that the gunman or those shot had anything more than a coincidental relationship with the university. Indeed, and I suspect at least partially in response to our litigious society, the university exercised abundant caution in sending out a broadcast text warning to its students: but again this did not happen on campus.

--Gary Bachman

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sikh shootings reflect societal racism, not military culture

From the editor: Below is a FB post from a former student/friend/veteran/law school student named Javier Centonzio about the Sikh shootings.

A crazed idiot shoots up a Sikh temple and the media focuses on his military service over 10 years ago. This tragedy has nothing to do with his military service. This had everything to do with his racist views.

There are racists in the military, because the military accepts people from all segments of society. However, I know of more racist people who I attended law school with, than those who I served with. Hate and intolerance that is hidden is just as dangerous and destructive as a gunman shooting innocent people. In the military, incidents of racism are dealt with swiftly and punished severely. It isn't perfect, but it is much better than what happens in the civilian sector.

In the civilian realm, racists have nationally syndicated radio shows, television shows, and run for/are elected to public office. Someone has to stand up for the military, because all the media shows is our shortcomings and failures. Perhaps people should start looking inside their own homes before they go condemning and criticizing others. Racism is learned, not a trait one is born with.

More from the editor: Javier's comment about racism in the military rings true to me, as does his observation that racists in the civilian world get talk shows.

However, I'm not sure that I agree with Javier's comment that "all the media shows is (the military's) shortcomings and failures." I believe that coverage of individual soldiers, and even of individual units, is overwhelmingly positive, particularly coverage from embedded reporters. I also believe the press does a pretty good job of going to bat for vets in need. CNN has spent the better part of two weeks blasting a charity for not delivering promised aid to veterans, for example. I Googled "needy vets", and many of the 3.6 million hits were media outlets soliciting sympathy (or funds) for vets. Yes, the media could do even more to help vets (by spotlighting issues like homelessness and the high suicide rate, for example), but I wouldn't say that they are doing a poor job of this now.

However, it's hard to be definitive about any of this without some hard data. I would like to see some statistics about the amount of positive vs. negative coverage of the U.S. military in the media.

Thanks, Javier, for your comments and your service.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Professor Komagum book to be published by end of 2012

I recently received some outstanding news. My book about my (mis)adventures in Uganda will be published by the end of the year. Professor Komagum: Teaching peace journalism and battling insanity in Uganda, tells the story of my 10-month odyssey in East Africa in 2010 and 2011.

Komagum, BTW, means lucky in the Acholi language. It was a name given to me by journalist colleagues in Gulu in Northern Uganda.

I produced the following promotional blurb about the book: "In Professor Komagum, you’ll learn about peace journalism, and the role of media in preventing conflicts. You’ll also read about some of Youngblood’s colorful misadventures in Uganda eating insects, ducking swooping bats, and dodging testy rhinos. Professor Komagum also tells two poignant stories--one of six Ugandan orphans abandoned in a rural purgatory; the other of a terrifying terrorist bombing. Professor Komagum is a fascinating, hilarious, touching, and thought-provoking journey through East Africa and into the human spirit."

For more, including lots of photos, click here to see the book's website. Details about how to buy the book will, of course, be posted here as they become available.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Colorado shootings: Media already pouring gasoline on the fire

Peace journalism doesn’t just address issues of peace and war. Instead, PJ should be used as a way to evaluate and moderate our coverage of any conflict or violent incident, such as the shootings early this morning in Colorado. As media coverage of this event unfolds, as advocates of peace journalism, let us scrutinize the coverage for:

1. Sensational images: Unedited footage? Needlessly bloody scenes? Images taken out of context?

2. Sensational reporting: Inflammatory language (massacre, slaughter, blood bath) used? Victimizing language (defenseless, pathetic, helpless) used?

3. Summary judgment: Is the arrested suspect tried, convicted, and executed by the press?

4. Political grandstanding: Do media allow politicians to use their media platforms to score political points using this incident?

5. Historical hysteria: Do media dredge up past incidents (particularly Columbine, since it was also in Colorado) to dramatize and sensationalize their coverage of the theater shooting?

Sadly, media reports about the shooting this morning illustrate that the advice I'm giving above amounts to not much more than wishful thinking. This is a Tweet I just saw from CBS news. @CBSNews Colorado #TheaterShooting eyewitness: "I see people walking out with blood on them" WATCH: http://cbsn/.... No apparent shyness about highlighting the blood from CBS. A second Tweet from NBC is no better. NBC News @NBCNews VIDEO: Alleged Colorado #theatershooting suspect's mom: "You have the right person". No need for a trial--he's already been convicted by the media.

Finally, a report by ABC news this morning wastes no time cheapening this tragedy by moving it into the political arena. (See ).

The point is this: We as media must cover this shooting. The question is, how? Do we cover it in such a way that our reports make a bad situation even worse? Does our coverage rub salt in the wounds of already grieving families and communities? I believe that media, while telling the story, must consider the consequences of its reporting, and strive to not exacerbate this truly tragic situation.