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.

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