Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Center for Global Peace Journalism takes baby steps

Park University’s newest innovation is just 10 days old, but already standing in the crib and clanking a metal cup along the bars.

First, a beta website has been posted. On it, you can find some basic info about the center and its activities. Be forewarned: the emphasis here is solely on the content, thus, you will notice that the design is somewhat lacking. Soon, this will be converted by a real designer into a presentable website. For the time being, your comments about the content would be most welcome.

Second, the center has made tentative steps in identifying and contacting potential partner organizations and individuals. I’ve already received encouraging responses from Uganda, Somalia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. I’ll be contacting soon potential partners in Romania and Moldova. One potential partner, the Stanford University Peace Innovation Center, has contacted me, and would like to discuss how a Peace Journalism Challenge they’re sponsoring might fit into the work done by our center. More on this soon.

Debating Peace Journalism

Yesterday in my PJ class, students debated the pros and cons of peace journalism. Their debate was centered around the academic arguments framed in a chapter from my book titled, “Peace Journalism—The Academic Debate”. Among the points of contention: Is PJ objective? Ethical? Is PJ “good” or “proper” journalism? Should journalists be patriotic? Don’t media have to be sensational to attract an audience? Are peace journalists biased, and does it matter if they are?

The debate was won by the pro-PJ faction. They will be feasting on free donuts during the next class courtesy of anti-PJ debaters.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn --

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Peace Journalism Center to be launched at Park University

On Friday, Jan. 20, the Park University board of trustees approved the establishment of a Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University. The mission of the center will be to "promote the concepts of peace and peace journalism, including advocating non-violent conflict resolution, through seminars and courses both in the U.S. and abroad, through its website and magazine, and through partnerships with like-minded organizations and individuals."

Of course, there are a million details to be ironed out, including those concerning the official launch date, launch event/speaker(s), CGPJ magazine, partner institutions, fundraising, programming, etc.

Of the congratulatory messages I received, the most eloquent was from my colleague and friend Prof. John Lofflin, who wrote that the center will help define our role as educators. He said part of this role includes being in the "Peace Business".

To illustrate, Lofflin wrote, "Something happens every year in my feature writing class. The first time it happened, maybe 15 years ago, it took me by surprise, and I was really embarrassed. Now, I kind of expect it. I've had to learn not to be embarrassed by it. We usually read sections from "Blue Highways" in that class. At the close, Least Heat Moon writes something like this. "In a season on the blue roads, what had I accomplished? I hadn't sailed the Atlantic in a washtub, or crossed the Gobi by goat car, or bicycled to Cape Horn. In my own country, I had gone out, had met, had shared. I had stood at witness."

When I read that I tear up. Every time.

Emphasis on the word witness... not in the Baptist sense of witnessing but in the sense of seeing, being there, experiencing. And what did Least Heat Moon experience? The people. And what did he do with what he witnessed? He wrote about it... about them. He brought their stories to everyone else. True stories. Authentic stories. Not stories about the rich and famous. Stories about the people you would walk past on the sidewalk and never notice. And, I suggest to the students, what does that do? If you know them, if you "experience" them, it is harder to hate them and even harder to kill them. It is an act of peace-making.

So, a career like mine writing about people, thousands of people, telling their stories, is an act of peace making. It's a career choice I highly recommend to people who are not too jaded to actually believe we can make peace, some form of it, some bit of it, in our own world."

Once the Center for Global Peace Journalism opens up, I may engrave Professor Lofflin's wisdom on a plaque and put in on the door.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pacifist Journalism--Propaganda by any other name?

Like any good discussion, the one launched as a result of last week’s column (see below, “Peace or Pacifist journalism?”) has left me with more questions than answers.

Of course, I had plenty of questions to begin with. Most fundamentally, these deal with the logical extension of peace journalism to what my colleague Professor John Lofflin calls pacifist journalism—-journalists as open, unabashed, biased peace advocates.

Two comments about my column (posted on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network) were especially well stated. Thomas Saraiva Selistre wrote, “For me, pacifist journalism, the propaganda, according to you text, would polarize even more the society instead of creating an understanding among people. Am I right?”

I responded, “Thomas--A very insightful comment. Yes, those who may practice pacifist journalism would certainly run that risk. Thus, the question would be: is this a risk worth taking? As my column indicates, I'm not sure myself.”

Onnik Krikorian wrote that he agreed with Thomas’ assessment. He said, “Polarizing positions could actually lead to more conflict and make one or more sides more extreme. Moreover, I also tend to think that journalism in general should anyway be as objective and impartial as possible. In that context I consider 'peace journalism,' although I personally prefer the term 'conflict-sensitive reporting,' to be what journalism should be in the first place. That is, it should "avoid using inflammatory, demonizing, victimizing language so as to not further inflame or provoke those who might promote or engage in violence.

In fact, in the region where I'm based -- the Caucasus -- this is the main problem. The media has become a combatant and militaristic, xenophobic and often downright racist propaganda/misinformation machine in three frozen conflicts in the region, and rarely if ever are peacemakers or alternative voices quoted or given exposure, and if or when they are, they are usually demonized and labeled as 'traitors.'
No journalist should anyway resort to such reporting, but the counter approach in the definition of pacifist journalism you give isn't the answer and just a symptom of the same problem.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in Onnik’s comments. Pro-peace propaganda is still propaganda, even if it is created with a principled objective. Pacifist journalism, in essence, represents the old “ends justify the means” argument. I am still left pondering the fundamental question I offered at the end of my original column: Is extremism in the defense of peace no vice?

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--

Friday, January 6, 2012

Peace Journalism or Pacifist Journalism?

Peace Journalism is only a half-measure—a pragmatic compromise that tip-toes around the moral imperatives of non-violence and pacifism.

I hadn’t given this much thought until my Park University colleague Professor John Lofflin broached the subject recently during a discussion and later on his insightful blog.

Lofflin argues that perhaps peace journalism advocates should consider taking peace journalism to its “logical conclusion”, something he calls pacifist journalism. Lofflin writes, “Would that simply mean condemning all violence, from capital punishment to war and everything -- terrorism and guerrilla fighting -- in between? A tougher pill to swallow, eh? Martin Luther King, Jr. vs. Malcolm X., Gandhi vs. Che. “

Like a discussion with any good teacher, a conversation with Lofflin always leaves me with more questions than answers. For starters, what does this say about the ethics of peace journalism? As peacemakers, are we shirking our ethical responsibility by not doing everything in our power to prevent violence, even if this means discarding the rules of ethical journalism?

As we consider what pacifist journalism might look like, perhaps we should examine how pacifist journalism might differ from peace journalism. Here are some ideas:

A. Peace journalism gives peacemakers a voice alongside those who advocate violence. Pacifist journalism would silence warmongers and openly promote only peacemakers.
B. Peace journalists avoid using inflammatory, demonizing, victimizing language so as to not further inflame or provoke those who might promote or engage in violence. Pacifist journalism would embrace negative language and use it to demonize those who advocate violent conflict. Pacifist journalists would use sensational language and images as propaganda to negatively portray wars and warmongers.
C. Peace journalists seek to maintain their objectivity and to balance their stories. Yes, they are framing their stories differently, with an understanding that what they write and how they write it could trigger violence. A pacifist journalist, one supposes, would openly reject the notion of objectivity in favor of spinning information to promote an anti-war, anti-violence agenda.

If the idea of pacifist journalism makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Journalism ceases to be journalism when it takes such an extreme, one sided position. (What this says about Fox News, MSNBC, etc. is a question for another time). Of course, this begs the question, so what if pacifist journalism isn’t actually journalism? Thanks to technology, the lines between journalists and citizen communicators have been blurred or erased anyway. Does it even matter any more if you consider yourself a journalist? I would say yes, because true journalists still operate under a professional and ethical code that is sorely needed in this day and age of disinformation overload.

The journalist in me wants to reflexively reject the extremism of pacifist journalism, since it is not our role to advocate or propagandize. The peace activist in me wants to embrace the notion of pacifist journalism wholeheartedly, since I do truly believe that peace is the ultimate good.

Thus I am left with one vital question. With apologies to Barry Goldwater, is extremism in the defense of peace no vice?

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--