Monday, June 4, 2018

Peace journalism principles more important than label

(WASHINGTON, DC)-Journalists can be peacebuilders at the same time they “serve up” the news.

It was exhilarating to hear these words yesterday not from a peace journalism teacher or student, but rather from a front line, high profile journalist, Jina Moore, East Africa Bureau Chief for the New York Times.
Jina Moore (right) and Cassandra Vinograd at "Beyond War."

Moore spoke as part of a conflict and peace journalism panel at a two-day conference at the National Press Club titled, “Beyond War: Causes of Conflict, Prospects for Peace.” The conference was sponsored  by the Pulitzer Center and the Stanley Foundation.

Moore, based in Nairobi, Kenya, challenged the journalists gathered to “sneak” content into their reporting that piques readers’ “moral imaginations.” She explained this using J.P. Lederach’s four disciplines of peacebuilding, and discussed how journalists might address these concepts. These four disciplines are:

1. Relationships—This means helping readers to imagine themselves in relationships even with enemies, Moore said. I believe this is an important peace journalism tenet—to reach across boundaries and build bridges.

2. Paradoxical curiosity—Moore said this involves leading societal conversations about how to rise above cycles of violence and dualistic polarities (good vs. evil, Muslim vs. Christian, etc.) She said this includes “rising above accepted meanings.” Again, I believe this is the essence of peace journalism, which suggests abandoning “us vs. them” narratives and offering counternarratives that debunk media created or reinforced misperceptions.

3. Creativity—Moore explained how journalists should “give birth to the unexpected.” I agree that this is the essence of good journalism, as well as peace journalism, which gives news consumers an unexpected dosage of voices from everyday people as well as discussions about solutions.

4. Willingness to risk—Violence is known, while peace is a mystery, she observed. So, how can journalists lead discussions that demystify peace? Peace journalism, I believe, promotes giving peacebuilders a voice and provides platforms that can help facilitate reconciliation.

Interestingly, the term “peace journalism” was never uttered by Moore or her two co-panelists, Tom Lansner and Cassandra Vinograd. I can’t say whether this was deliberate or accidental, though this is immaterial, since the omission of “peace journalism” didn’t concern me in the least.

Based on discussions with attendees at “Beyond Peace”, and with journalists around the world, it’s clear that attaching the word “peace” to the word “journalist” is off-putting for some who mistakenly (in my view) perceive peace journalists as advocating for peace, rather than reporting about it. What is most important to me, my take-away, is that top-shelf professionals like Moore embrace and implement many of peace journalism’s core principles. This is encouraging, regardless of whether these principles are labeled peace journalism or not.

(For a good summary of Lederach’s "The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace," see: )

At "Beyond War," brainstorming about reporting conflict in the Central African Republic.


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