Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Covering Civic Unrest: A Peace Journalism Perspective

The unrest across the state in Ferguson, Missouri has fueled a number of questions about how reporters should cover the violence there. Indeed, how to report about Ferguson (and future Fergusons) will be at the top of the agenda when I meet with reporters at The Kansas City Star newspaper on Friday. As I prepare for Friday's discussion, I have come up with a tip sheet for covering civic unrest. Of course, any suggestions or input you might have would be most welcome.

Peace Journalism and Covering Civic Unrest
Be proactive before violent unrest occurs—engender dialogues, offer a platform to the marginalized, and contextualize reporting about contentious incidents between officials and citizens.

Reporting in general:
A.      Provide analysis and context, not just play-by-play;
B.      Give voice to the voiceless;
C.      Avoid official propaganda, or at least offer critical analysis of this propaganda;
D.     Avoid us-vs-them characterizations (Black vs. White, Christian vs. Muslim, etc.);
E.      Report about the invisible effects of violence;
F.       Use non inflammatory, non-sensational language;
G.     Report counter-narratives that offer non-traditional perspectives on all the players involved;
H.     Give peacemakers a voice; report about sustainable solutions (not just cease-fires)

Visual reporting—questions to consider:
A.      Are these images sensational? Bloody? Offensive to some, or most?
B.      Are the images necessary for a complete understanding of the story? 
C.      Are the images prejudicial in a way that does not reflect the reality of the situation? 
D.     What about the families of those involved—police or protesters beaten, bloody, or otherwise injured? Do we take into consideration the reaction of affected families?
E.      Do the pictures in any way glorify the violence, making it seem attractive? Is our coverage offering 15 minutes of fame to attention-seekers? (Particularly, live TV coverage)

Steven Youngblood
Director, Center for Global Peace Journalism
August, 2014

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