Journalism Can Play a Role in Resolving Conflicts

Article excerpt

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Peter Laufer

The guard with the sweet name of Carmella locked the door behind me and about a dozen University of Oregon students. She marched us into the Oregon State Correctional Institution, where we took seats in what would seem like a classroom anywhere, were it not for the tiny window panes held in place with what looked like impenetrable steel.

We waited a few minutes until the other half of the class arrived, another dozen or so, these students all wearing prison blues stamped in large block letters with the word "inmate."

My colleague Steven Shankman invited me inside the walls to participate in his Inside- Outside class - a unique program that brings incarcerated and traditional students together to learn from him and each other.

Once a week, his Eugene students travel up Interstate 5, meet with their Salem- based classmates, and study literature and philosophy.

This term, the class is reading journalist Vasily Grossman's epic World War II novel "Life and Fate," and they're studying the work of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

Professor Shankman asked me to speak with the students about a class I'm teaching in conflict sensitive journalism.

I explained to his students the concepts behind conflict sensitive reporting: that news reporters may wish to assume obligations greater than just reporting basic facts.

If they consider what effect their reporting may have on a conflict, they may choose to dig deeper and wider into the issues that lead to breaking news stories. They may decide to frame their questions and reports with hopes of helping resolve conflict.

"We know some reporters who need to take your class!" interjected one of the Inside students, starting an animated discussion that criticized and analyzed the news media.

An Outside student suggested that "in a conflict there's not necessarily right or wrong."

"How many reporters go out on their stories with an agenda?" another Inside student asked. He posed it as a question, but he made it clear with his tone and body language that he believed journalists are biased.

The prison class was a prelude to this year's John L. Hulteng Conversations in Ethics, an all-day open-to-the- public conference I'm hosting with UO School of Journalism media ethics professor Tom Bivins. …