PJ ethics take center stage at Cal State-San Marcos
If peace journalism means not inflaming passions, then why do peace journalists tell emotional stories? Aren't peace journalists biased?
These tough questions were posed by attendees at my keynote address last night at California State University-San Marcos. It was gratifying to see about 130 people in the audience for my presentation, "The Ethics of Peace Journalism: Serving a Higher Calling."
I answered the questions about emotional reporting by drawing a diagram on the board. I wrote the word ‘EMOTIONS’, and drew two lines coming off of the word. One line led to ‘CONSTRUCTIVE’ and the other to ‘DESTRUCTIVE’. Underneath the chart, I wrote, ‘BIAS?’. My explanation was that traditional journalists who sensationalize stories use emotions to anger, inflame passions, divide people, and sometimes, to mislead. They’re more interested in selling a story than in the consequences of reporting in a needlessly emotional way. This is destructive. Peace journalists also use emotions as they tell stories, but these emotions are used in a constructive way. I played two radio stories that I produced. These reports use emotional hooks to shine the spotlight of publicity on problems like displaced persons and forgotten orphans. These stories were crafted with the consequences of this reporting squarely in sight. Those consequences, I hoped, included getting help for those profiled in each story.
Some of the attendees commented that the sort of constructive reporting that I did reflects a bias. Perhaps it does. I responded by talking about objectivity, and the fact that journalists’ biases are reflected in the hundreds of decisions they make every day—what to report, which words to use, where to place stories, which quotes to use, etc. These are the criteria that journalists use to judge newsworthiness. Jake Lynch calls them filters. I suggested to the audience that journalists should add one more criteria (filter) as they make editorial decisons: what are the consequences of my reporting? Is it constructive or destructive?
For about a half dozen students in the crowd, this answer was not satisfying. These students left believing that peace journalism is just as biased and manipulative as traditional journalism. We ran out of time before I could elaborate on my response.