Fingers poised on the computer keys—the Google cursor blinking, blinking; echoes of writing mentors streaming in an endless loop through my mind, “Write the story you want to read.”
Well, all right then. I type in Syrian peace builders. And then the miracle happens; the impossible is made possible in under half a second. There, at the top of the Google search screen: syrianyouthforpeace.org
The storyteller in me wants to know who are these people? And why aren’t they making headlines? Where are all the journalists who are digging into the who-what-when-where-why of this beacon of hope holding out a different vision for a region of the world ripped raw by civil war and acts of unspeakable violence?
The hunger to know more about the peacemakers and problem-solvers across every continent is the very essence of the fledgling field of Peace Journalsim. In the words of Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick, two of the earliest leaders in this growing movement of media industry professionals, peace journalism is defined as, “when editors and reporters make choices - of what to report, and how to report it - that create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict” (2005). These decisions hold the potential to use the power of the pen (and the camera) to answer some fundamental questions about the role of the news media. Can the news media contribute to a more harmonious world, more frequent conflict resolutions and the general wellbeing of the planet?
Robert Koehler, a thirty-year veteran journalist and writer of a nationally syndicated column on politics and current events for Tribune Media Services, today proudly refers to himself as a peace journalist. For those starting out as cub reporters at local affiliates, you might think, “Well he can call himself Batman with a resume like his.“ But the designation matters. Koehler, Lynch and others are forging a path for others to follow.
Here are several of the defining distinctions that set peace correspondents apart from their better-known cousins, war correspondents.
Peace journalists seek out multiple parties in any given conflict and make a practice of humanizing and giving voice to all sides. They seek out perspectives of common people (not just elites) who are rarely highlighted in stories but who are too frequently victimized by violent conflict, like women, children and the aged. The peace journalist proactively pursues solutions and the people who craft them and writes and produces stories to amplify their voices above the background noise of sensational violence. And perhaps most difficult, the peace journalist attempts to serve the interest of humanity’s “better angels,” those who elevate the cause of building peace above the cause of triumph for one heroic group over a demonic enemy.
Commenting on Obama’s September 10 address to the nation in a Huffington Post Politics blog dated September 12, Koehler writes, “The ever-fresh PR stratagem of war is to cherry-pick an example of evil behavior on the part of the designated enemy and rally the outrage against it, never, never looking inward at one's own behavior, and in our ignorance bonding as a clan or a nation or whatever in our determination to destroy the perpetrator of said evil.”
I am inclined to believe that the courageous young men and women who put up the Syrian Youth For Peace website would agree with Mr. Koehler. I have a hunch they were watching with rapt attention to the President’s address, wondering if or when the so-called targeted bombs would begin to fall on their homeland, thinking all the while that there has to be a better way. In fact, I think I’ll post to their website and ask them, perhaps even write the story that I, for one, want to read.
Robert Koehler, Jake Lynch and author Richard J. Schneider will be making appearances via Skype in Fort Collins to talk about Peace Journalism as part of a Colorado State University class on the topic. These sessions are open at no charge to members and friends of Northern Colorado Writers, the United Nations Association and others. This is an opportunity to learn more about how the stories we most want to hear might manifest in today’s media.
In the Trenches: Conversations with Working Peace Journalists
CSU Clark Building, Room C-238A
Monday, September 23, 4:00 pm
Richard Schneider, former reporter for UPI and Rocky Mountain news, award- winning scriptwriter and producer for Source Media Arts; recent author of the Vic Bengston mysteries, featuring news journalist returning to a beat after long hiatus.
Monday, October 28, 4:00 pm
Robert Koehler, legacy journalist for 30 years; author of nationally syndicated column by Tribune Media Services, part of the Chicago Tribune, and nationally recognized journalist, fiction writer and poet. Originator of website, Common Wonders, Co-creating Cultures of Peace.
Monday, November 18, from London via Skype, time TBD
Jake Lynch, international reporter and on-air news anchor for BBC World TV prior to his appointment, director of Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) at University of Sydney. Leads the way in conceptual development of Peace Journalism with legendary Peace Researcher Johan Galtung and collaborator Anabel McGoldrick