How Can Peace Journalism Grow?


Peace News - TRANSCEND Media Service

19 Mar 2024 – Peace journalism aims to provide news from conflict zones focused on peacebuilding and the work of peacebuilders. This is in stark contrast to mainstream news coverage that focuses on violence, the voice of elites, propaganda and victory framing. However, research shows that this type of coverage exacerbates tensions and damages peace processes, even though it dominates conflict news versus peace journalism. So this raises the question – how can peace journalism grow?

To this end, the Media and Peacebuilding Project (MPP) at the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, along with partners the Center for Global Peace Journalism and War Stories, Peace Stories  recently launched a six-part webinar series titled: “How to Grow Peace Journalism”, with experts on peace journalism and related fields from around the world. As one of the few publications focused exclusively on peace journalism, we thought it was important to highlight these events.

Speakers and attendees included prominent voices from the field, many of whom have contributed to stories by Peace News.

The first webinar focused on research into peace journalism, beginning with Professor Jake Lynch of the University of Sydney. He spoke about a paradox: peace journalism is motivated “largely by attempts to mobilize and liberate journalistic agency” on an individual level. This fails to address the systemic factors that drive the need for peace journalism in the first place.

Lynch discussed a study where respondents around the world were shown news about conflict in a television format in both a “war journalism” and “peace journalism” context, which found that the version focused more on peace had positive impacts, including increasing feelings of hope. Lynch discussed the need to ensure that the benefits of peace journalism training last well beyond the trainings themselves.A study of articles in this publication found that stories focused on people, and those in local outlets, were more positively received by audiences.

Meagan Doll, a research fellow at the Center for Journalism, Media and Democracy at the University of Washington, spoke next. A former journalist, the bulk of her work deals with perceptions of news, conflict reporting, and media trust. Doll focused on audience perceptions of peace journalism, how it shapes journalistic practices, and what interdisciplinary success looks like. She found that peace journalism is viewed as more balanced and credible, can shape how conflict is seen, and its consumers tend to be more “hopeful and empathetic”.

Doll discussed how journalists may have different perceptions of peace journalism depending on their own professional context. The profession would benefit from more case studies of successful practices, and many journalists generally tend to be open to peace journalism. Finally, she discussed the benefits that could result if peace journalism principles were applied systematically across a number of disciplines and industries.

The final speaker was Ayesha Jehangir, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Media Transition. She spoke about blind spots in peace journalism, beginning with a discussion on peace journalism as a deliberative practice. She spoke about how peace journalism reflects an open, democratic, deliberative process that can challenge “hegemonic” media practices. She then moved to speaking about the blind spots present in peace journalism, where there is often a focus on “rescuing” victims and an immediate solution, and not on the behavior of the interests driving the conflict.

Jehangir spoke about  “victim-centric” and “perpetrator-centric” cosmopolitanism in peace journalism. The first focuses on finding an immediate solution to suffering, including military intervention or removal from the “place of suffering”. Perpetrator-centric cosmopolitanism reclaims “victimhood” and juxtaposes victims with the perpetrators of violence, with a focus on accountability and changing the behaviors that caused suffering in the first place, and aims to create a reflective and deliberative environment.

The second webinar featured practitioners in the field of peace journalism. The first speaker, Vanessa Bassil, founded the Media Association for Peace, the first NGO to focus on peace journalism in Lebanon and the wider Middle East. As part of the first generation in Lebanon since the end of the civil war, she believes the media can play a role in sustaining peace in the country. She has led multiple workshops, trainings, and conferences through MAP, along with programs specifically designed to engage youth. Bassil spoke about the challenges and opportunities brought on by institutionalizing peace journalism. Legal status has raised the profile of MAP and peace journalism in Lebanon, provided structure, and opened the door to grants and international donors. MAP now offers internship and volunteer programs, which engage Lebanese youth and promote peace journalism. There are challenges, but Bassil believes these are far outweighed by the positive impacts of the work.

The funding and attention MAP has received, and the way they have been able to convey this into effective work on the ground, demonstrates the growth potential of peace journalism. MAP has helped to train a new generation of peace journalists, and not just in Lebanon – Bassil mentioned a training for Yemeni journalists undertaken in partnership with UNESCO. As MAP demonstrates, the absence of peace journalism does not mean that there is no audience. One of the keys to growing peace journalism worldwide is the diversity of organizations engaging in the practice, and MAP serves as a prominent example of how new groups can quickly grow and begin doing meaningful work.

Up next was a duo from War Stories Peace Stories, a peace journalism NGO based in the US. Jamil Simon, the group’s founder, spoke about how he believes that peacebuilding and the media are currently stuck in a negative cycle. The lack of reporting on peacebuilding efforts leads to a lack of awareness, impacting the resources and support given to peacebuilding initiatives, continuing the cycle. Simon wants the media to focus on peacebuilding, giving it visibility as a solution to conflicts. This would bring more support and resources, allowing for more support for peacebuilding.

Simon discussed the upcoming Making Peace Visible International Symposium in 2025, in Washington, D.C., which will include a story competition in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center and awards for stories raising the visibility of peace. He laid out three main goals for the organization: to engage editors and journalists who cover peacebuilding, sponsor projects telling stories about peacebuilding, and sponsor the journalists working on those projects.

Andrea Muraskin then spoke about the strategies WSPS uses to grow the audience of their podcast, Making Peace Visible, is focused broadly on how the media covers peace and conflict, and is hosted by Simon. The general format includes interviews with journalists, peacebuilders, and researchers in related fields. She discussed a number of different tactics used to grow their audience, along with some specific projects, including one focused on Colombia after the landmark peace deal with the FARC. One common theme was the effectiveness of partnering with other organizations – a tactic that has been successful for Peace News as well. The peacebuilding community is large but the connections between groups are often under-utilized, partnerships have the potential to combine audiences and raise the profile of both organizations. From our own experience, partnerships directly drive engagement, whether as simple as reposting a link to a story or as involved as our ongoing project with the Alliance for Middle East Peace.

The final speaker was Professor Steven Youngblood, moderator of the first webinar, founding director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, and currently a Fulbright Scholar in Moldova. Youngblood spoke about the importance of bridge-building reporting. He spoke about a project in Turkey where young storytellers, Syrian refugees and Turks, created boundary crossing video projects examining  refugee issues from different perspectives. Younblood also discussed another bridge building project run with the East West Center in Honolulu. It brought together journalists from India and Pakistan. Journalists were paired up in bi-national teams to jointly produce stories offering a unique perspective.

In a video, some of the participants in this project spoke about its value and the progress they believed it had brought. Youngblood mentioned similar projects in Uganda and Moldova, working across the “border” with Transnistria. In his closing remarks, he offered his own theory on how to grow peace journalism: through compelling, impactful, and thoughtful journalism.  The webinar series will continue each Wednesday until April 3, 2024, with upcoming webinars featured here and recordings of the past sessions can be found here.

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