United States Embassy in Abuja and the American University of Nigeria, AUN, has trained 56 Nigerian journalists on Peace Journalism as an alternative to conventional news reportage.
The two-day training workshop, which held between Tuesday, May 31 and Wednesday, June 1 at the AUN’s Robert A. Pastor and E-Learning Center, saw the journalists undergo series of practical training sessions on Principles and Practice of Peace Journalism, Ethics and Coverage of Violence, Sensitive Interview Techniques, Transmedia Storytelling, Coping Mechanisms for Emotional Distress, and Risk Assessment and Situational Awareness.
Declaring the workshop open, AUN President, Dr. Margee Ensign, and US Embassy Public Affairs Officer, Mr. Larry Socha, charged participants to use their stories as building blocks for peace.
Dr. Ensign emphasized that as Africa’s development university, AUN is fully committed to working with journalists and international partners to tell stories of peace and reconciliation.
In his remarks, Mr Socha noted that technology has remarkably changed journalism. While technology has various desirable purposes, he said, they could also speedily multiply the distribution of false information and cause chaos.
“Your role is more important now than ever. It is your unique role as journalists, then to inform not inflame. There are millions of stories to be told. And my hope is that our work at this workshop can help us tell them better”, he charged.
Facilitators at the workshop were Professor Judith Matloff of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Ms. Rakiya Usman, a producer on the Girls Rising project, and Professor Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, AUN’s Interim Dean of the School of Arts and Science, SAS.
In the first session, themed “Principles of Peace Journalism”, Prof. Jacob took participants through a conceptual understanding of the basic theories of conflict transformation and emphasized the need for journalists to draw on the theories to add breadth and depth to their reportage. He used actual and reconstructed video reports of Boko Haram attacks to illustrate the distinctions between peace journalism and conventional journalism.
In the second session, which focused on “Ethics and Coverage of Violence” with emphasis on visual imagery, Prof. Matloff talked about the need to uphold ethical standards in covering violence, especially when using visual descriptions.
She advised participants to be creative in their image selections, rather than rely on all sorts of gory images in telling stories of violence.
There were two breakout sessions that focused on “Sensitive Interview Techniques” and “Transmedia Storytelling: A Case Study of ‘Girl Rising’” respectively, with participants switching sessions.
Speaking on sensitive interview techniques, Matloff emphasized the need for journalists to tell stories from victims’ own lenses and avoid being judgmental, leading, or aggressive. She used one video clip each from FOX News and CBS TV to illustrate the best approach to adopt when conducting sensitive interviews such as interactions with victims of violent extremism.
Jacob and Usman in the session on effective storytelling, showed how transmedia storytelling techniques can be used to tell stronger and more effective news stories.
“People can contest your facts; people can contest your data; people can contest your arguments, no matter how well laid they are, but the fact is that no one can argue with a true story” Jacob stressed.
Usman, who agreed that stories are everywhere, urged participants to tell stories with professionalism in order for the stories to be impactful.
“There are stories everywhere. But the way journalists tell stories as professionals is what makes the stories authentic, believable, and impactful.”
She drew on the ‘Girl Rising’ documentary videos to demonstrate effective storytelling with real-life videos of young girls who overcame their dire situations to achieve an education.
In the closing discussion, Provost of AUN, Prof. LeGene Quesenberry, thanked the facilitators, the US Embassy and participants, adding that AUN would help the participants in their peace journalism undertakings.
“Thank you all for being here. Give us your suggestions, and please come back again. Tell us what you need, and AUN will do what it can to support you.”
Participants were given certificates and encouraged to join the emerging Peace Journalists Network, a US Embassy-AUN initiative, which in addition to propagating Peace Journalism across the country, hopes to institute an annual award for The Peace Journalist of the Year.
One of the participants, Mr. Arukaino Umukoro, a senior correspondent in the Punch newspapers, who attended the workshop from Lagos, said that it was a revelation and a veritable platform to network with journalists who report conflicts.
“The US Embassy-AUN Workshop on Peace Journalism was a rewarding experience of learning a different field in journalism and news reporting.
“It, also, was a fantastic opportunity to network with other journalists covering conflict areas in the northeast of Nigeria,” Umukoro said.
Another participant, Ms Blessing Tunoh, the Borno State correspondent of Channels TV, said the workshop was particularly helpful to journalists who live in and cover the Boko Haram-ravaged northeast, and added that she now has a peace journalism mindset.
“The workshop was a good outing for journalists, especially those of us in the center of the northeast insurgency, who are ourselves victims of the war.
“My networking horizon has broadened and my thinking has been redirected towards peace-inclined and developmental reportage,”
To further expand the impact of the workshop, the US Embassy and AUN have collaboratively set up the Peace Journalists Network – a coalition of Peace Journalists in Nigeria. Launched at the US Embassy as part of activities to mark the 2016 World Press Freedom Day, the Network is a coalition of journalists committed to the tenets of Peace Journalism. It would be recalled that AUN, with support from the US Embassy, Abuja, held a similar workshop for 102 students from five tertiary institutions in Adamawa State on April 21.
By Ikechukwu W. Eke