Tag Archives: journalism

Afghanistan meets Kentucky: WKU honors Lotfullah Najafizada of TOLONews

I lived in Kentucky for the first 22 years of my life, and I am a 1988 graduate of Western Kentucky University (WKU), with a BA in Journalism.

I worked in Afghanistan in 2007 for the United Nations Development Programme, seconded to a program at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development as a communications and reporting officer.

What a thrill it was to see my two worlds come together and as Lotfullah Najafizada from TOLONews in Afghanistan was honored with the second annual Fleischaker/Greene Award for Courageous International Reporting by WKU’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting. The award is given by WKU’s Fleischaker/Greene Fund for Excellence in First Amendment Issues.

Although I don’t know Mr. Najafizada personally, I am very familiar with TOLO, and enjoyed interacting with the channel’s staff in my time in Kabul 10 years ago. I still have many friends and associates in Afghanistan, and I’ve let them all know about this huge honor.

The spread of private media has been one of the few clear successes in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led international coalition invaded in 2001 and a myriad of development agencies and donors have worked to lift the country out of poverty and insecurity. Tolo, which airs a mix of news coverage and original entertainment, has dominated the market since its launch in 2003. TOLONews is Afghanistan’s first and largest 24/7 news and current events channel. The more than 100 media professionals that work for TOLONews, in Kabul and news bureaus throughout the country, regularly receive threats from the Taliban and other criminal and terrorist elements for their news coverage of what is happening in Afghanistan. A January 20, 2016 Taliban bombing killed seven Tolo employees.

Najafizada started out in journalism as a page designer at a local newspaper in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He later began writing and reporting, which led to a job in the online department at Kabul-based media group MOBY. When the idea came at MOBY to start a 24-hour news station, Najafizada was chosen to lead it. Among Najafizada’s many honors is being named a Press Freedom Hero by Reporters Without Borders for his fight for free press in Afghanistan.

You can follow Mr. Najafizada on Twitter: @LNajafizada

I hope he got to visit the Corvette Museum (& sink hole)… I wonder if there’s a photo of him with Big Red?

Here’s a photo after the presentation, from the WKU School of Journalism and Broadcasting Facebook page.

Here’s the official press release/announcement from WKU.

Here is coverage from the College Heights Herald, the university newspaper.

Here’s coverage by the Bowling Green newspaper of the event.

I will forever be grateful for finding the KFC in Kabul – um, I mean Kabul Fried Chicken. Okay, actually, it was Afghanistan Fried Chicken.

And, btw, Kentucky is nowhere near the size of Afghanistan. According to this web site, this is their size relation to each other:

 

Goodbye newspaper, goodbye community?

I don’t just come from a city in Kentucky; I come from a community. And I believe that one of the things that has made Henderson a community has been our local newspaper, The Gleaner.

I started reading The Gleaner as soon as I started to read. Everyone in my family read The Gleaner. Every neighbor read The Gleaner. Every adult I knew referenced the newspaper regularly. We all knew what city and county ordinances were up for debate, who had died, who was running for what office, what was happening in the state legislature, who was getting married, who had gotten divorced, local team sports scores, what Spring musical the high school was doing, and all the other things a community should know. The news from our paper crossed lines of culture, ethnicity, religion, political belief and neighborhood. The news was about us, for us. In so many ways, The Gleaner was the best representative of our community, as a whole.

I worked at The Gleaner when I was in high school. I worked there again as a summer intern in 1986. More than 25 years later, when I’m back in Henderson, people recall some of the stories I wrote, some I don’t remember myself. When I left Kentucky, my parents bought me a subscription to my hometown paper, and I would get the newspapers in bundles in the mail. I was long gone from Henderson, but I knew what was going on there. I used what I learned from my time working at this paper in my press relations career, which I chose over a journalism career. More than once, I had a reporter tell me, “I can so tell you worked at newspapers. You always have the info I need!”

In the 1990s, what I dreaded for so long happened: the local owner of The Gleaner sold the newspaper. It came under the management of a newspaper in another state. I got a taste of the identity and news Henderson was losing when I went to The Gleaner‘s web site but couldn’t access the front page story about the death of Dr. Donald Cantley, a beloved member of the Henderson community, a former president of the Kentucky Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics who devoted his life to improving the physical and mental health of children. He established seven school-based clinics to provide care for children with inadequate health coverage of other barriers to care, and was a pioneer in his approach to caring for children with behavioral disorders. It was huge news in Henderson when he died, but the web site had been revamped in such a way that anyone with a Mac OS just a year out of date couldn’t access it. Furious, I called The Gleaner, and a staff member and friend told me, sorry, but the web site is managed by the Evansville, Indiana Courier Press. So I called that other office, asked that the front-page story be emailed to me, told them why, and they sent me… the obituary from page 2. Because they didn’t know who Dr. Cantley was. They didn’t know he was on the front page of the newspaper in Henderson, Kentucky.

When I was last in Kentucky, I was stunned at the skimpiness of my hometown paper. The cuts in reporting staff have been devasting on local coverage. And the Internet has not replaced this information; I just tried to find some of the information I used to find in my hometown paper, by spending time on various organization’s social media and web sites – funeral home web sites, school social media accounts, government social media sites, etc. I think I know less than a quarter of what I would have known in the same amount of time with a version of the newspaper produced in the way it was in the 1980s.

I remember when I was studying for my journalism degree at Western Kentucky University. One of my professors said that, if you are ever out of story ideas in your local community, just look at the newspaper’s classified ads – there will be something there that will lead you to a story. Classified ads in newspapers now barely exist, replaced by Craigslist. Honestly, I feel like most Craigslist ads are either scams or from creepy people I really don’t ever want to meet face-to-face.

I long ago accepted that my hometown newspaper is going away, slowly but surely. I know this is happening all over the USA. 105 newspapers closed in 2009 alone. In 2007, there were 55,000 full-time journalists working at nearly 1,400 daily papers; in 2015, there were 32,900, according to a census by the American Society of News Editors and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University, and that number doesn’t include the big buyouts and layoffs last fall, like those at the Los Angeles TimesThe Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Daily News, among others, and weeklies and magazines like National Geographic.

But what is the cost of this loss? “You know who loves this new day of the lack of journalism? Politicians. Businessmen. Nobody’s watching them anymore,” said Russ Kendall, quoted in this blog on the Bill Moyers site. Kendall was a long-time photojournalist and editor who is now self-employed as a pizza maker. Indeed, I’ve wondered often if state legislatures have been so prolific in some of their legislation that rolls back civil rights legislation, women’s access to health care, environmental laws and more because they know they aren’t being scrutinized by the public the way they were 30 years ago, because of the demise of newspapers.

But the loss is also the loss of community. What city and county ordinances are up for debate? What is happening in the state legislature? What Spring musical is the high school doing? I ask – and people aren’t sure, they can’t remember… not in Henderson, not in the small town where I live now, in Oregon. Local information is slowly disappearing – along with local connections. And social media ain’t so social.

Words matter

Back in my university days, for my major in journalism, I had to take a class about ethics in journalism. And it changed my life. My “aha” moment was when the professor handed out two different news articles about the same event – a funeral. Both articles were factually accurate. In our class discussion, we noted that one story seemed rather cut-and-dry: the hearse was “gray”, the women “wore black” and they “cried openly”, etc. After reading the other article, the class said their impression was that the family of the deceased was very well off and very high class – the hearse was “silver”, the women wore “black haute couture” and they “wept”, etc. There were lots more examples we came up with that I cannot remember now, but I do remember that I started paying a lot more attention to words that were used in the media to describe events. And I still do.

I use the following as an example not to invite debate about the ethics of abortion or access to abortion, but, rather, for you to think about words, to think about those debates and the words different people use when talking about the same things. One side talks about reproductive health, personal choice, reproductive choice, health clinics, pregnancy termination, freedom from government interference and abortion access. The other side brands itself as pro-life and uses words like murder and killing and baby parts and abortion industry. You can know which side a politician is on based on which words that person uses. Both sides regularly petition the media to use particular phrasing when talking about any news related to abortion services.

Another example: following mass shootings and murders by different young white men at a Colorado movie theater in July 2012, a Connecticut elementary school in December 2012, a Charleston, South Carolina church in June 2015, and an Oregon community college in October 2015, among many others, the shooters were referred to by police and the media as loners and mentally-ill, their relationships with women were often mentioned, and the words terrorism or radicalized were rarely, or never, used by journalists or politicians in association with the events once the shooters were identified. By contrast, mental illness, relationships with women and similar references was rarely, if ever, discussed by those same people regarding mass shootings, murders and bombings in the USA by young Muslim men in Little Rock in 2009, in Boston in April 2013, in Garland, Texas in 2015, and in Chatanooga in July 2015, among many others (details are still emerging regarding the shooting in San Bernadino this week, so I’ll leave that off this list).

Another example: the estate tax versus the death tax. In the USA, when someone dies, the money and goods that they had that is passed along to heirs, usually children, is taxed by the federal government. When this tax is described as an estate tax, polls show that around 75% of voters supported it. But when the exact same proposed policy is described as a death tax, only around 15% of voters supported it.

Sometimes, our choice of words to describe something is unconscious, a matter of our education or background. Other times, the choices are quite deliberate and meant to add subtext to our message, to sway the reader or listener in a particular direction. As I said on Facebook in response to someone who implied she doesn’t think word choice matters when describing groups, people or events:

If there is anything I’ve learned in my almost 50 years – WORDS MATTER. The words we use influence, inspire, change minds, create understanding or misunderstanding, fuel flames or put them out. Using a double standard to talk about people that murder others brands one “just really sad”, and the other “terrorism.” It demonizes entire groups while letting off other groups that are the same. It’s hypocrisy.

Here is a wonderful web site from a student project at the University of Michigan on the power of word choice in news articles (it includes rather wonderful lesson plans you can use in your own trainings!). It hasn’t been updated in a long while, but the examples it uses – many from the second Iraqi war with the USA – are excellent for showing the power of word choices to influence opinion – and even create misunderstanding. Also see this lesson plan for students in grade 9 – 12 regarding word choice and bias from Media Smarts, “Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy,” for more examples of how word choices can influence our opinions.

Words matter. Choose carefully.

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