How journalism can 'create an atmosphere that is conducive to peace'
Steven Youngblood has spent years teaching and writing about how journalism can create peace, understanding and dialogue — particularly in conflict-torn areas.
Youngblood’s work as director of Park University’s Global Center for Peace Journalism in Missouri has taken him around the world to countries such as Uganda, Lebanon and the Republic of Georgia. In March, he’ll be heading to Cyprus to conduct peace journalism trainings. He’s written a book about peace journalism in Uganda and maintains a related blog about how this type of storytelling is playing out in the U.S. and abroad.
I caught up with Youngblood via email to hear more about peace journalism and the impact it’s had. Our edited Q&A is below.
For those who aren’t familiar with peace journalism, give us some background on what it is and how it came about.
It’s a term coined by Dr. Johan Galtung, professor and director of Transcend Media Services. The concept was fully developed by former BBC newsman and now Australian academic Dr. Jake Lynch and his partner, Annabel McGoldrick in their book “Peace Journalism.”
There are several definitions, but the one I use is this: Peace journalism is where journalists help to create an atmosphere that is conducive to peace. This means being aware of the consequences of our reporting, the words that we use, how we frame our stories, whether we give voice only to officials and official propaganda, etc. Peace journalism does not openly advocate for peace. Instead, it gives peacemakers a voice while seeking to not exacerbate already volatile situations.
How did you first get interested in/involved with peace journalism?
My first peace journalism seminar was in 2007. I taught a peace journalism seminar for Abkhazian and Georgian journalists in Zugdidi, Georgia. I’ve been hooked ever since.
You mentioned in one of your notes that your peace journalism class at Park University is typically full every semester — suggesting there’s an interest in this type of storytelling. Tell us more about Park’s Center for Global Peace Journalism. What kind of work are you and your students doing there?
As our website explains, “The Center for Global Peace Journalism is a resource for Park University students (courses, seminars, service and service learning opportunities, research, study abroad, opportunities for publication of articles), Park faculty (publication opportunities, research, travel, international collaboration), high school journalists (seminars, contests), professional journalists worldwide (seminars, resource materials, website, collaboration), and like-minded organizations (collaborative projects/initiatives, research).
The Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University promotes 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 likeminded organizations and individuals.”
(Here’s additional information about some of the Center’s projects.)
What do you think is the biggest misconception about peace journalism?
That it abandons objectivity and openly advocates for peace. It does not. All it does is level the playing field, giving voice to the voiceless and to those who advocate non-violent solutions. It’s our job as good journalists to balance our usual stories (often laden with government propaganda) with dissenting voices.
Which reporters or news outlets are doing a good job embracing peace journalism? And what can other journalists who are interested in it learn from their work?
There are several reporters and outlets that are doing good work. I admire Nicholas Kristof, and much of the work at The New York Times. The BBC has flashes of brilliance. I like the columns by Leonard Pitts. I have a love/hate relationship with Anderson Cooper, who has done some outstanding international reporting, but follows that up with the sort of salacious “news” one sees on HLN. Unfortunately, these considerate voices are drowned out by the din of popular, sensational, celebrity-addled media.
I write a lot on my blog about how peace journalism principles apply to events beyond mere war/peace.
Where are some of the most robust peace journalism efforts? What kind of impact have these efforts had?
There have been excellent peace journalism programs in the Philippines, for example. Lots of examples of peace journalism projects populate every issue of The Peace Journalist magazine. Here are some back issues.
There have also been two major peace journalism projects in Uganda that I’ve directed. The biggest was 2010-2011. For a report on the outcome of this, click here.
It seems like there are a lot of international peace-journalism efforts. Are there similar efforts here in the U.S.?
I think peace journalism is just getting started in the U.S. We are spreading the word here at Park University, and through the center’s activities in, for example, the Bronx and California. A few universities teach peace journalism. I’m not sure exactly how many, but there are three or four of which I’m aware, including Pacific Lutheran University, Earlham College and Swarthmore College. This is all a start, but obviously, there’s much to be done here.