Monday, May 2, 2022

Marking 25 fascinating years at Park University
When you’re young, a year seems like an eternity. And 25 years? As a kid, in my insufficiently developed brain, a quarter century was the same as a millennium.

Even though my brain is still insufficiently developed, I have come to realize that 25 years, while not an eternity, is an impressive interval because it represents a big chunk of our life span, and an even longer percentage of our working lives.

It is thus with a bit of awe and a dash of disbelief that I commemorate the end of my 25th year at Park University.

Want ad, KC Star, 1997
My Park odyssey began with answering a job advertisement in the Kansas City Star in 1997 (See picture. Yes, I realize how saving this for 25 years might make me look neurotic.). I thought I was a long shot for the position, but applied anyway. I was shocked and delighted to be hired. Snagging the job at Park College (it became Park University in 2000) was made possible in part through a mistake. My chief competitor for the post flew into KC for the job interview, but someone at Park  forgot to pick him up at the airport. He fumed at KCI for a few hours then turned around and went home.

I gleefully accepted the job, since it was a big step up from teaching high school. I had no idea what I was getting into. My tenure at Park has been challenging, occasionally infuriating, edifying, fascinating, and, on the whole, professionally satisfying in 100 ways that are hard to articulate.

The most positive element during my tenure here has been my colleagues, 97% of whom have made my Park experience terrific. Early on, they nurtured and sometimes even coddled me as I learned how a university faculty member should function. Later, they trusted me with the keys, electing me to leadership positions in the union and faculty senate. Always, my faculty colleagues helped me become a better teacher and a better person.

I’ve also loved the vast majority of my students, who have kept me engaged, energized, and young (or at least, more youthful. The “young” train left the station years ago!) Their curiosity continues to be infectious, and has pushed me to continuously strive to broaden and deepen my own knowledge while improving my teaching.

Another positive element about my time at Park—the thing I always tell younger faculty members—is that the university will give you the space to find your professional love. For me, this was, first, international education, and later, allowing me to launch a Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park. In both cases, I had the right administrators and colleagues at the right time—those that saw the value in these endeavors for both the institution and our students. Allowing me to launch this center, and run it as I see fit, was and is the ultimate vote of confidence. I believe I have justified Park’s trust in me as I have provided, in business terms, a very sound return on the modest resources expended on me and my center.

I am not burned out yet, a fact I attribute to being almost constantly on the move. I have had three semester-long teaching stints (two Fulbrights and one State Dept. Senior Subject Specialist), a one year long USAID project in Uganda, and trips to 27 countries to teach peace journalism. Park deserves a great deal of credit for giving me the flexibility to explore my passions and feed my curiosity.

My Center for Global Peace Journalism has caught fire (figuratively) during its 10 year life span, and is keeping me increasingly busy lecturing and training around the world. I have gone from soliciting peace journalism projects to fielding unsolicited offers to conduct trainings and workshops and give lectures.

Moving forward, I hope to continue my teaching and work at the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University. I won’t make it 50 years at Park, since 25 years from now I’ll be 86. (At 86, my only wishes will be to remain vertical and to possess some marginally functional organs). However long Park will indulge me, I have no doubt that the years ahead will be as engaging and fascinating as the first quarter century.


Thursday, April 14, 2022

How you can help Ukraine--and build lasting peace
From the Kansas City Star, Apr. 10, 2022

By Steven Youngblood

Kansas Citians, like many Americans, have united to show their support for Ukraine symbolically (Ukrainian flags, Park University’s iconic Mackay Hall lit up in Ukrainian blue and yellow) and financially.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated to assist Ukrainians. The global philanthropy magazine Alliance reports that $397 million was donated in just the first two weeks after the invasion. 

Kansas Citians are providing financial assistance through local organizations like the Ukrainian Club and Heart to Heart International. (KCUR). Also, the Parkville and Chisinau, Moldova Rotary Clubs have joined forces on a fundraiser to purchase necessities (hygiene products, food staples) for Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. (You can give at this link.)

As admirable as these financial efforts are, they are just stopgap measures designed to address the current crisis. What can we as Kansas Citians, 5,428 miles from Kiev, do to plant the seeds of a sustainable peace for Eastern Europe, and here at home?

It is a common, incorrect assumption that only politicians hold the keys to peace. The evidence proves otherwise. In a recent study, Peace Insight evaluated 70 local, citizen-led peacebuilding initiatives, and found that “they make a significant and essential impact on peace…” 

We as citizens do have the power to build peace--if we choose to exercise it.

Rallies for peace have often pressured warring parties (for example, Liberia in 2003) to sue for peace. Here at home, we can, and have, come together for peace. In K.C., 300 gathered in Mill Creek Park in February to show solidarity with Ukrainians (https://www.kcur.org/news/2022-02-26/hundreds-gather-in-kansas-city-to-protest-russian-invasion-of-ukraine ). But one small rally isn’t enough. Imagine the impact of a peace rally at Union Station the size of the Chiefs’ victory celebration?

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to also engage politically. Peacebuilders must demand that our leaders eschew demagoguery, and instead provide leadership that acknowledges the need to address the broader context of peace, the causes of violent conflict, reconciliation, and inevitably, co-existence.

You can also join a K.C. peacebuilding organization dedicated to building goodwill, understanding, and world peace. For example, become a member of the International Relations Council, which brings fascinating, informative programming about world events and global issues to Kansas City Join the United Nations Association of Greater Kansas City, which supports UN peacebuilding and other peace-sustaining initiatives. Engage with Global Ties KC, which has facilitated citizen diplomacy by hosting international visitors for the last 65 years.

Next, peacebuilders can reach out to their Russian-American friends and neighbors. According to Zipatlas.com, there are 2,110 Russians living in Kansas City, MO and another 311 in Overland Park and Leawood, KS. If we believe in peacebuilding, we can’t lump Russian-Americans into one warmongering monolith. Many Russian-Americans loathe the war, yet have still been blamed for it. We even need to dialogue with those Russian-Americans and others who support the Ukraine war.

Finally, there are “tasks for everyone” in establishing a culture of peace, according to the father of modern peace studies, Dr. Johan Galtung. The first task is “fostering a culture of peace through education.” As parents, why not insist on peace education? Other peace tasks include promoting equality for women and advancing understanding and tolerance (InternationalStudies Review) No, peace education and promoting equality and tolerance won’t help Ukrainians right now, but if applied universally over a number of years, they might help prevent the next war.

While the financial efforts to assist Ukrainians are laudable, we need to remember that we all have a larger responsibility in the service of peace. We have the power to act not only to assist Ukraine, but to help ensure that sustainable peace becomes the norm in our societies and our world.

Steven Youngblood, a 2020-21 Luxembourg Peace Prize laureate, is the director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, MO, where he is a communications and peace studies professor


Friday, April 1, 2022

The Peace Journalist Magazine has arrived!
The April 2022 edition features stories from Turkey, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, and a study on photojournalism of the Ukraine war.

There are two ways to view the magazine--

PDF- https://tinyurl.com/2hwtkzup 

Issuu- https://tinyurl.com/yc69yj78

PJ Symposium Recording
Also, in case you missed it, the Center for Global Peace Journalism recently held a 10th Anniversary Symposium on Zoom featuring voices from five continents discussing the present and future of peace journalism. The event was recorded and is available at https://tinyurl.com/2d3myucj . Enjoy!





Monday, March 21, 2022

Photos both convey and hide truth of Ukraine war
During the first month of the war in Ukraine, much was written about the words being used to describe the war, or the euphemisms employed by the Russians to sanitize it (“Special Operation”). However , from a peace journalism perspective, an examination of the war’s images is just as crucial, perhaps more so. As Saumava Mitra writes in The Peace Journalist, “Peace journalism asks for the ‘true face’ of war to be exposed. Arguably there is no better way of showing the true cost of war and violence than through photographs because of the universal emotional appeal of visuals. Photographs, as such, are unmatched as messages of hope, empathy and peace.” (Oct. 2016, p. 6)

While images can be messages of peace, it is also unfortunately true that they can convey powerful manipulative messages. To analyze this, a new study looked at Ukraine war images in Russian media, and compared them to images in Western media.

Study
The study examined three Russian media outlets (Russia Today, Tass, and Pravda) and three Western media outlets (Reuters, AP, and Le Monde). On March 16 and March 18, the first 10 photos encountered on their websites were categorized. Most were on home/landing pages, others were found on “Live Update” pages or the first Ukraine story encountered. A total of 20 photos from each outlet (10 on March 16, 10 on March 18) were categorized. This means 120 photos total were analyzed—60 from Russian media; 60 from Western media. Some were double listed if they were “hits” in more than one category (“Suffering” and “Bloody,” for example)

Findings
In Russian media, the most common category of photos included those of officials/diplomats/generals, with 27 categorized. 19 photos were general in nature (troops not in combat, Kremlin, meeting room, airplane, UN, dam, portraits of deceased soldiers, etc.)

Of the 60 photos from Tass, Russia Today, and Pravda, none showed any Ukrainian victims. Only one showed destruction in Ukraine, though this was blamed on Ukrainian soldiers. Only one alluded to refugees, but the allusion was to Russian refugees from the Donbas region. Even then, no photo was shown of the refugees themselves, only a volunteer sorting boxes of clothes the article claimed were for Donbas refugees.

There were no “action” photos of the war, not surprisingly.

A visual scanning of these websites would make one think that the war was limited in scope, which makes sense since Russian media are using the sanitized euphemism “Special Operation” (or sometimes just “Operation Z”) instead of calling it "war."

In Western media, of the 60 photos, 29 showed destruction, and 19 had a theme of suffering (6 bloody). The suffering photos included 5 of children, 3 of families, and 10 of others—adults, or victims who couldn’t be clearly seen. One was of pets in a shelter.

Only 3 photos were of refugees. Some photos (people sheltered, for example) may have been of internally displaced persons (IDP’s), those this information was not available from the captions.

Analysis/Peace Photojournalism
The contrast between Russian and Western media is stark. The Western media coverage certainly reflects more of the reality of the war, while the Russian photojournalism virtually ignores the war itself—few images were even taken in Ukraine. No Ukrainian victims were shown. Combine the lack of empathy-producing images and the “de-Nazification” propaganda spewed by Putin, it’s no wonder that 58% of Russians support the invasion of Ukraine, while on 25% oppose it. (Washington Post, March 8)

Regarding photojournalism from the Ukraine war, peace journalism would ask the following questions:

1. Are the images needlessly sensational/bloody? 
2. Do they accurately reflect the events? (Are the images presented in context?) 
3. Do the images demonize “them,” and deepen “us vs. them” narratives?
4. Do they portray survivors only as victims, only as helpless?
5. Taken as a whole, are an outlet’s photos disproportionately concentrated on leaders/officials? Are citizen/survivors ignored or marginalized?

For Russian media, the images are noteworthy for what they omit—victims, destruction, and brutality.

From Pravda
As for demonizing the West, there is one scary image from Pravda (right) that shows a women silhouetted against a mushroom cloud with a headline asking if NATO is planning for a nuclear war. Pictures like this and photos of stern, lecturing Russian officials (half of all Russian photos in the survey) combined with propaganda positioning Russia as a victim has worked, since 60% of Russians blame the U.S. for the war. (New Yorker, March 14)

Western media could sometimes do a better job providing context. We see a destroyed apartment building, but is this the exception, or are all the surrounding blocks destroyed as well? Also, many victims are shown, but only three were distinctly labeled as IDP’s or refugees. Are the rest of the survivors huddled in shelters refugees, IDP's, or locals? This context matters.

Despite these minor blemishes, Western photojournalism of the war has been exemplary, putting a human face on the suffering inflicted by the Russians, while in the process compiling photographic evidence of Russian war crimes. The most brilliant example of this is a photo spread by the AP titled, “Why, Why, Why? Ukraine’s Mariupol descends into despair.”

It’s vital for peace photojournalists to continue working to show us rays of humanity and hope through the dark clouds of this terrible conflict. If enough rays of light and truth can shine through to the Russian people, perhaps this awful war can be over sooner than we think possible.



Monday, February 28, 2022

Sahel journalists inspire. Also, more pain au chocolat, please
I’ve never felt as good about an event as I do today in the afterglow of a stimulating workshop last week for 21 journalists from the Sahel region of Africa. We gathered in Abidjan, Ivory Coast for a week long workshop to discuss “Strengthening the Role of Media in Countering Violent Extremism.”

My positivity can be described in three words—fraternit√© (to borrow a term from my French colleagues), determination, and relief.

Fraternit√©: In the last two years, I’ve given dozens of online workshops and lectures, and they have been uniformly adequate. We all did the best we could with the online format. However, this in-person workshop was a stark reminder that face-to-face interaction can’t be duplicated on Zoom. The participants, from Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Ivory Coast (Cote D’Ivoire in French), Morocco, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Algeria, and Niger, immediately and strongly bonded. There were some serious discussions, of course, but many of their interactions featured laughter. At the end of the workshop, one participant told the group that “we have created our own family.” Indeed, many of their end-of-workshop comments featured the word family—a development that would've been impossible if we had only met online.

Determination: I leave the workshop truly inspired by the grit, courage, and determination of the participants. I’ve lectured in many troubled places like Kashmir and South Sudan, but nowhere I’ve been are journalists faced with such daunting challenges. Journalists in the Sahel have to stare down Al Qaida or Boko Haram; repressive government officials; and menacing police and army representatives. Add to this suffocating poverty and Covid-19, and finish it off with climate change manifested in the shrinking of Lake Chad, which has always been the source for water, irrigation, and food for millions in the region. The lake has shrunk by 90% since the 1960’s, according to the UN, creating unimaginable misery.

One can’t help but be encouraged and energized by the journalists' stubborn insistence on making their countries and regions a better place, despite the hurdles.

Relief—It is an indescribable relief to finally get back out there in the field teaching peace journalism. It was exhilarating being there in person. I loved chatting with the Sahel journalists. We held many memorable visits over breakfast, lunch, or tea about their countries and our collective hopes and dreams. I saw delightful pictures of their kids.

Oh, and the food in Ivory Coast was spectacular, especially the seafood and pastries. I could eat a pain au chocolat (a croissant-like pastry stuffed with chocolate) every day for the rest of my life.

I still feel relief being back on the road there even though Covid-era travel has become nightmarish, with Q-Tips up my nose (WAY UP), countless forms to fill out, and lengthy question and answer sessions at airline ticket counters, soul-crushing places where time actually moves backwards. My trip home was 29 hours door to door. Still, I can’t wait to do this all over again soon, perhaps in Nigeria and/or Pakistan this year.

See you out there. For my visit, please stock up on the pain au chocolat.