Saturday, May 24, 2014

Peace Journalism offers vital tools to peacemakers

The key to success in peacebuilding, as it is in many endeavors, is communication. During the last three days, it was fascinating to learn about the peacebuilding field's communication triumphs and challenges during the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) annual conference in Washington, D.C.

AfP conference attendees all had some connection to peacebuilding, yet were diverse in their missions. Attendees included Search for Common Ground, IREX, Seeds of Peace, Friends Committee, State Department, Safer World, the UN, Peace is Loud, and the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, which I direct. Participants came from the U.S., Ireland, Somalia, China, Jordan, Canada, UK, among others.

At AfP conference, Washington, D.C
One session, titled Telling the Stories of Peacebuilding, was especially interesting. Panelist Jamil Simon of Spectrum Media presented about Spectrum’s public media campaigns in developing countries. He showed a slide about an anti-cholera media campaign in Haiti that saved an estimated 32,000 lives. Michael Shipler from Search for Common Ground-Asia discussed common communications problems in the peacebuilding field. These include not properly targeting audiences and struggling to articulate the positive changes created by peacebuilding efforts. Kiran Sirah of the International Storytelling Center urged the audience to tell stories that matter—tales of anti-discrimination, stories that give a voice to the voiceless, and reports about small acts that create change or that engender cross-cultural connections.

Over and over at the AfP conference, participants talked about the need for improved, clearer branding for peacebuilding efforts—the kind of branding and self-promotion that, ironically, has been elevated to an art by the war industry. To demonstrate this, we saw a slick, effective promotional video produced by defense contractor Northrup Grumman.

The need for more effective engagement of media was also repeatedly articulated. This is difficult, panelists said, because of the very nature of peacebuilding—it’s slow, under the radar, and hard to quantify. One panelist astutely pointed out that there’s no drama in what doesn’t happen, thus making peacebuilding a hard sell to the media.

However, Spectrum Media, the International Storytelling Center, and others like the Center for Global Peace Journalism demonstrate that there are compelling peacebuilding stories to be told, like an excellent video we saw (“Naija Girls”) about Christian-Muslim cooperation in Nigeria. The key for peacebuilders and NGO’s in general is to tell their own stories in a targeted, strategic way, but also to engage local media where they work in a way that encourages journalists to help them tell their stories and, in the process, to help create an atmosphere that is more conducive to peace. This kind  of reporting is fundamentally peace journalism, which gives a proportionate voice to peacemakers and to the voiceless. 

As we sat in the AfP sessions and chatted over coffee, it became apparent that peace journalism offers many tools to peacebuilders seeking to enhance how they communicate with their publics. The Center for Global Peace Journalism looks forward to collaborating with peacebuilding organizations as they work to improve their branding, storytelling, and media relations.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Media and positive change; Alliance for Peacebuilding

I just ran across an excellent slideshow about how media can affect positive change. I really like the concept of "restorative narratives." I wasn't familiar with this term, but will begin using it.

I head to Washington, DC this week to participate in the Alliance for Peacebuilding's annual conference. I'm looking forward to what should be an outstanding opportunity to learn and to network. The conference agenda is linked here. Stay tuned for updates from Washington.

Monday, May 12, 2014

#Bring BackOurGirls fills void left by sluggish press

International celebrities like Malala joined the Twitter campaign.
On April 15, the press dutifully reported what they saw as  just another ho-hum horror story out of Africa—this time a kidnapping in Nigeria. This story wasn’t ignored, but it was presented as one more chapter in the same African narrative—a one-dimensional tale told ad naseum about African poverty and disease and violence.

This time, however, there was an outcry against media indifference on this story. Through several online outlets, the international community sent the media an unequivocal message. That message—that the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls must be publicized to pressure officials into acting to free the girls.

It all started with a Twitter hashtag campaign aimed at shining the spotlight on the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls. The hashtag “Bring Back Our Girls” has been retweeted almost two million times, according to the Wall St. Journal online, which notes that Twitter users like the Vatican, Michelle Obama, and celebrities like Mary J. Blige and Chris Brown have joined the campaign. The BBC reports the hashtag started after an April 23 event where Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, the Vice President of the World Bank for Africa, addressed the crowd, demanding the release of the girls and saying, “Bring back the girls!” Later, Amnesty International created a Tumblr page for #BringBackOurGirls to raise awareness. There is also a petition, and in Nigeria and cities across the world there have been rallies demanding action. (

Conservative columnist George Will, among others, sneered at the hashtag campaign. On Fox News Sunday, he said, “I do not know how adults stand there, facing a camera and say, ‘Bring back our girls,’” Will continued. “Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Oh, Michelle Obama’s very cross with us, we better change our behavior?’” He continued, “Power is the ability to achieve intended effects…This is not intended to have any effect on the real world.”

No one is na├»ve enough to believe that the Boko Haram kidnappers will see a few online pleas and have a change of heart about releasing the girls. But what the hashtag campaign has done is to place a spotlight squarely on the kidnapping. #BringBackOurGirls been an important component in increasing the pressure to do something to free the girls.  Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan pledged recently to do “everything possible” to find the girls and has asked for international assistance. Both the US and UK are offering assistance in the case. (

Would offers of assistance from the US and UK have occurred without the glare of “do something” publicity? Would the Nigerian government be operating with such dispatch if their every action weren’t under such intense international scrutiny? It’s impossible to say with precision, but equally impossible to imagine that becoming an international cause celebre won’t increase the girls’ chances for rescue.

It’s also important to note that the hashtag campaign wouldn’t have been needed if the international media hadn’t initially responded to the kidnapping with sluggish indifference. In the two weeks after the kidnapping on April 15 (April 15-29), a Google News search of “Nigeria kidnapping” found 841 articles on the incident. The hashtag campaign began April 22, and, according to Twitter statistics, really began to pick up steam around the first of May. A second Google News search for May 1 to May 8 revealed 10,037 articles on the kidnapping. While we can’t definitively link the Twitter campaign to the exponential increase in press coverage, it’s eminently logical to conclude that the press picked up on the public’s growing interest in the story, and responded with more comprehensive coverage.

Journalists, and especially peace journalists, have a responsibility to give a voice to the voiceless, to shine the spotlight of publicity on individuals and causes that may otherwise remain silent. Since the international journalism community gave the story only cursory coverage in the first weeks after the kidnapping, the international online community stepped in, shaming media into finally giving proportionate coverage to what should have been the lead story worldwide since April 15.

The next time something like this happens in a place like Nigeria, wouldn’t it be nice to see media leading the way instead of following?

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Linking to Afghanistan, Nigeria, Uganda

A collection of miscellaneous stuff I'm reading and thinking about....
1.The first link is to an excellent, thought provoking piece about the Afghani elections, and whether journalists should report Taliban attacks during the election cycle. (If they do, are they helping the terrorists compromise the elections?) 
2. The second link is to a Time magazine piece that shows what we knew all along--that studying and working abroad makes you smarter because, among other things, it makes you look at the world from multiple perspectives.
3. The third link is to a story about a peace journalism course jointly taught by a Nigerian university and a college here in the U.S. This is a great idea.
4. The last link is pure fluff, but it's fun. This video shows clearly why I miss almost everything about Uganda, where I taught for about year. (What don't I miss? Boda-bodas, annoying motorbikes that zip in and out of traffic like mosquitos buzzing around picknickers).

--Follow me on Twitter to get these and other up-to-the minute links: @PeaceJourn