Narrating peace in the post-conflict: the journalists’ challenge

“Contributions of journalism for peacebuilding” was the central theme of the webinar How to communicate peace in the post-agreement, organized by the U. Manizales School of Communication and the Institute for International Communication, of St. John’s University. Listen here to an interview with the international speakers of this virtual space.

If you are interested in learning more about the contributions journalism can make to peacebuilding, find here the recording of the webinar held on November 6, 2020.

Global Panelists Emphasize Role of Civility in Political Communication

October 31, 2020 By: Nathalie Larin (Journalism Student)

NEW YORK – Five panelists from Europe and the United States discussed the increased polarization of political conversation, populism in the media, and journalists’ challenges in the current political and social climate during a virtual event on October 16, 2020. The global conference was co-hosted by St. John’s University’s Institute for International Communication (Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies) and the University of Vienna.

The speakers included Barbara Trionfi (Executive Director at International Press Institute, Vienna, Austria), Nana Walzer (Center for Applied Communication, Vienna, Austria), John M. Phelan (professor at Fordham University, NY), Kara S. Alaimo (professor at Hofstra University, NY), and Elisabeth Fondren (professor at St. John’s University, NY).

“This topic today could not be more timely,” said Interim CCPS Dean Glenn Gerstner in his opening remarks, referencing partisan print and broadcast campaigns and the pervasiveness of negative advertising across many media outlets.

“We live in an increasingly polarized world and political communication has become painfully coarse. With such a divided and polarized public, let’s try to unpack these issues,” said Basilio Monteiro, Chair, Division of Mass Communication and Director of the Institute for International Communication. The two-hour discussion was led by Minna Horowitz (Institute for International Communication) and Thomas Bauer (University of Vienna, Austria).

In their talks, panelists pointed out that social media and online filter bubbles have further polarized political opinions; that freedom of the press is under attack across the world including in democracies; that communicators, media educators, and individuals have an ethical and social responsibility to promote civility, and that propaganda continues to pose a threat to the truth content of information.

“Authenticity is key when it comes to credibility. It is the presentation of a message that convinces people,” Walzer explained in her typology of uncivilized behavior and dark or bright leadership styles. “People expect politicians to lie and at the same time they rely on their gut feeling as a source of trust.”

Panelists also suggested that the polarization of both content and form of political messages has created both national and international challenges for journalists.

“What we have seen through the COVID-19 crisis is a great weakening of press freedom around the world, from Europe to North America, Asia, and parts of Africa as well,” said Trionfi. “At the same time, we have seen a weakening of trust in the news media.” The ongoing global health pandemic, she stressed, has raised the stakes for journalists and the importance of accurate media coverage, since people’s lives depend on reliable and uncensored access to news.

Other speakers discussed the broader themes of civility and deception in public affairs, and the growing skepticism of official information, leaders or institutions on digital platforms. ”Expectation of behavior is what makes us behave and be civil,” said Phelan. He also cautioned that hate speech on social media should not go unchallenged by individual citizens, echoing Trifoni’s point about journalists exposing and fighting back against uncivil or undemocratic attacks against the press.

Media literacy and political education may be part of the solution, panelists agreed. “I think we have a responsibility to share knowledge about how citizens and the public can find a middle ground … this is why looking at different opinions, looking at international media, but keeping a clear focus on factual truths and facts is crucial,” Fondren said.

Scholar and journalist Alaimo spoke about political rhetoric, dogwhistling tactics and coded language that politicians use to discredit each other. In addition, she discussed that women – and in particular women of color – tend to be targeted by hate mail and online harassment on social media. “I am really worried that we can no longer have civil conversations,” she said.

More than 80 audience members from all over the world, including Vietnam, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Dubai, Jordan, the United States, U.K. and several other European countries participated in the event. Audience questions prompted a discussion about the opportunities and consequences of a global public sphere in light of increasing political polarization. In his closing remarks, Bauer proposed a ‘reason of responsibility’ that embraces humanist and social interpretations of communication rather than technological, economic, or profit-driven uses. “We have to widen the concept of political communication. It is a widespread sphere of everyday discourse related to topics, to themes, or to events of public or political interests,” he said.

Political communication, Bauer said, “is a source of sense and making sense.”

The Crisis in the Caucasus

By Aleksandr Gevorkian

NEW YORK, NY: On October 21, the Institute for International Communication in cooperation with The Center for Global Business Stewardship at St. John’s University hosted an academic-civic discussion roundtable entitled The Crisis in The Caucasus. The conversation specifically addressed the ongoing month-old war in the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) and the humanitarian crisis unravelling from those atrocities. Open to the public the virtual roundtable, moderated by Isabel Arustamyan (2nd year law student at St. John’s Law School), drew from the expertise of three invited panelists.

Dr. Artyom Tonoyan (Research Associate at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies) started the panel with providing a thorough historical overview of the current context and the plight of the Artsakh Armenians since the 1920s Soviet government’s decision to include the republic with its over 90% ethnic Armenian inhabitants as part of a newly formed republic of Azerbaijan. He emphasized that the details of that decision were still unclear to the historians, though speculations are abounding.

Answering a question on the religious component of the current war, the second panelist, Dr. Mark Movsesian (Frederick A. Whitney Professor & Co-Director, Center for Law & Religion, St. John’s Law School) stressed that while religion has played a role historically (Armenian church is one of the oldest in the world, adopting Christianity in 301AD several years before Rome’s conversion, while Azerbaijani are predominantly Muslim) and that there are attempts to present the current war from a religious perspective, there is much more at stake. Specifically, he emphasized the political element in the current war stemming from deep-rooted antagonisms, declining oil-based economy, and the threat of terrorist mercenaries employed by Azerbaijan as confirmed by the international media and the intelligence services of several governments (including France, Russia, and the U.S.).

Following up to the earlier points, Dr. Siobhan Nash-Marshall (Mary T. Clark Chair of Christian Philosophy, Manhattanville College) addressed the patterns of continuity from the Armenian Genocide of 1915 up to this war. As a philosopher and genocide scholar, Dr. Nash-Marshall emphasized the parallels between the present war and events of the early twentieth century in the same region. She touched on grand imperial designs of the last century that seem to be motivating the current attack on the Armenian population in Artsakh. She expressed hope that an average person learning about the tragedy in Armenia will be motivated to join the humanitarian call to end the atrocities and resolve matters peacefully.

The event drew strong participation from St. John’s community and general public and concluded with an engaging questions and answers session.

Alumna Credits St. John’s Education for Successful Public Service Career

Alexis Torres ’09CPS, ’11GCPS has many responsibilities as Chief of Staff at the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), a New York State public benefit corporation that maintains, programs, and manages 92 acres of land and 36 acres of pristine public parkland in downtown Manhattan—but she handles them with aplomb by never forgetting the lessons she learned while a student at St. John’s. 

“After more than a decade of work in state and local government, I am grateful to St. John’s for preparing me to take on the real world and dedicate my career to public service,” she said.

Ms. Torres earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations and a Master of Science degree in International Communication from the College of Professional Studies (now called The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies). She is thankful for the education she received from the professors in the Division of Mass Communication, including Basilio G. Monteiro, Ph.D., and John DiMarco, Jr., Ph.D. 

“Alexis stood out not only as a smart and hardworking student, but as a gracious person with a contagious smile,” said Dr. Monteiro. “She always cared for others; she was known among her classmates as someone they could always rely on for anything. She is a problem-solver without drawing attention to herself.”

During her college years, Ms. Torres also had the opportunity to apply the skills she learned in the classroom by interning at the Queens County District Attorney’s public information office, where she compiled press clippings for the late Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, and at Rubenstein Strategic Communications, where she helped organize media for the Tribeca Film Festival.

At St. John’s, Ms. Torres was a member of the Public Relations Club and a host of a show on WRED-TV, the campus television station. She also was a student worker for St. John’s Office of Conference Services and at the TV studio. 

“My first job was at St. John’s and I am forever grateful,” she said. “I attribute my work ethic and leadership skills to all of the mentors who guided me during my time there.”

As Chief of Staff at BPCA, Ms. Torres helps manage the day-to-day operations and oversees implementation of a variety of special projects and events. This includes the planning of public events for the authority’s annual Earth Day and Climate Week celebrations, which—given its role as an environmental sustainability leader—are important dates on the BPCA calendar. 

Most recently, she has been managing and coordinating, along with New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, the construction of new memorials to Mother Cabrini and to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Maria that devastated Dominica, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico in September of 2017. Both memorials will be located in Battery Park City.

Ms. Torres began her career at the City of New York’s Business Integrity Commission (BIC) during the administration of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. There she worked to help eliminate organized crime and other forms of corruption from the public wholesale markets, trade waste, and shipboard gambling industries. While at BIC, she received a mayoral award for excellence in customer service and became a certified Spanish translator and interpreter for the City of New York Language Access Plan.

Esperanza: A Story of Complicated Hope in Cuba

On December 17, after a half a century of strained relations, the United States and Cuba announced that the two will embark on a careful journey to normalization.

Just two months after this momentous announcement, five students from the Media and Public Diplomacy course of the International Communication Graduate program at St. John’s University and two professors got the rare opportunity to spend a week in La Habana through the People-to-People Educational ambassador program.

St. John’s Stoked Alumna’s Passion for Television

Liz Muentes ’09CPS, ’11GCPS is an Emmy Award-winning multimedia producer and journalist with more than 10 years of experience in the television industry.

“I am passionate about this medium and its power to broaden horizons and impact communities in positive ways,” she said. “I hope to give back by being a mentor and teach at St. John’s one day.”

A New York native, Ms. Muentes chose St. John’s due to its proximity to New York City. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations and a Master of Science degree in International Communication from the College of Professional Studies (now called The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies).

“St. John’s has played a big role in where I find myself in my career,” she explained. “It opened doors for me and allowed me to pinpoint my skillset.”

Today, Ms. Muentes is a Digital Reporter/Producer for News 12, covering music, arts, and restaurants in the tristate area. “I love storytelling and sharing stories with the public, showcasing stories that sometimes are overlooked,” she said. “I get to meet new people and learn about their craft.”

Ms. Muentes began her career at WNET, the nation’s largest PBS member station, where she produced and oversaw preproduction through postproduction development of various programs focusing on news and politics, business affairs, the arts, and science and technology.

In addition, she also worked on documentaries that explored the Latino community, the history of one of the nation’s greatest champions of theater and performing arts, fashion at Lincoln Center, the life of Reginald Lewis, and treasures of New York.

At St. John’s, Ms. Muentes was President of the Public Relations Club and was very active with WRED-TV, the campus television station, where she was a Production Secretary and host of the weekly newscast, Eye of the Storm. The television studio on the fourth floor of Marillac Hall became her second home, and it is where she shared her passion for television with like-minded people. At WRED-TV, she covered everything from news, sports, trends, and concerts, and learned the fundamental skills needed for creating a segment, using a camera, and editing a television show.

During her college years, Ms. Muentes interned at Nickelodeon and WNET. While completing her master’s degree, she had the opportunity to freelance at WNET on a documentary about Fashion Week at Lincoln Center. After graduation, she joined the WNET team full-time and worked there for the next eight years.

Ms. Muentes said she was lucky to have “amazing” professors in the Division of Mass Communication at St. John’s, including Basilio G. Monteiro, Ph.D.John DiMarco, Jr., Ph.D.Brenda M. Laux; and Alla Baeva, Ph.D. “I owe much of my success to my professors, who were always my mentors, who enlivened classroom lessons with real-world experiences, and who emphasized the importance of mass communication in society.”

Lo que el viento no se llevó

by Cristina Pérez-Cordón, Ph. D

De todos es conocida la frase “las palabras se las lleva el viento”, pero nada hay más lejos de la realidad. Hay frases que han cambiado el rumbo de la historia, como la célebre I have a dream (tengo un sueño), pronunciada por el activista Martin Luther King (1929-1968)  en agosto del 63 al terminar la manifestación de Washington por el trabajo y la libertad. Otras han sido el eje de una forma de vida, como la frase “sé el cambio que quieres ver en el mundo” del abogado, político y pensador indio Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). Algunas son una poderosa forma de motivación, como el famoso No pain no gain (sin esfuerzo no hay resultados) que acuñó Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) y popularizó Jane Fonda (1937-) en sus ejercicios aeróbicos en los 80, aunque en realidad el concepto aparece expresado con otras palabras ya en textos de la antigüedad. Parece claro, pues, que las palabras permanecen con todo su peso, e impregnan el ambiente, causando un efecto de mayor o menor dimensión en aquellos que las reciben.

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Grazie Mille, Dean Passerini …

The Institute for International Communication owe its existence to Dean Katia Passerini, who gave an enthusiastic support to this idea, which was languishing for about 5 years prior to her arrival at St. John’s University. Dean Passerini saw the value in the Institute that would promote interdisciplinary dialogue through intellectual work beyond the curriculum and by international exchange of ideas through academic activities, and engaging scholars and industry practitioners.

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Diálogo de una lingüista y una pandemia

By  Cristina Perez Cordon

Seguro que en las últimas semanas has visto imágenes similares a estas circulando por las redes sociales. Son ilustraciones de personal sanitario que muestra su lado más valiente en la lucha contra la COVID-19 y su lado más humano para paliar la angustia de aquellos que la sufren. ¿Sabías que hay una explicación a las mismas en una obra del siglo IV antes de Cristo? Si como yo, tienes curiosidad por saber cuál es, te invito a que sigas leyendo.

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“Hiroshima Sparrow” by Harumi Yamamoto

A Guidepost for the Future: Japanese Artist Stuns with Musical Message 

NEW YORK — “Study, learn, and try to become more invested in these issues,” said artist Harumi Yamamoto. “Remember that nuclear issues affect each and every one of us.”

This was the message Yamamoto gave students who attended her musical presentation about the horrors of nuclear power, on September 30 at St. John’s University’s Queens Campus. About 70 students, faculty and guests crowded an upstairs room in the D’Angelo Center.

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Por qué sí eres inteligente

by Cristina Pérez-Cordón, Ph. D

Albert Einstein no comenzó a hablar hasta cumplidos los cuatro años de edad y fue incapaz de comenzar a leer hasta los siete. Era tan mal estudiante que estuvo a punto de dejar la escuela y dedicarse a la venta de seguros. Sus profesores lo definían como un muchacho “mentalmente lento” y su padre siempre lo consideró un auténtico fracaso. Esto último le rompió el corazón. Hoy día se le considera un genio y uno de los pilares de la física moderna. Además de su inteligencia matemática, fue su paciencia, su perseverancia y su voluntad de hierro los elementos que lograron cambiar la injusta etiqueta que de niño le habían colocado. Continue reading “Por qué sí eres inteligente”

Nuestro cerebro ya no es lo que era, (des)afortunadamente

by Cristina Pérez-Cordón, Ph. D

Soy un desastre para recordar los cumpleaños. Mis amigos lo saben y no me lo tienen en cuenta. Hasta hace poco vivía con cierto cargo de conciencia por olvidar año tras año los cumpleaños de personas que me importan y a las que quiero, hasta que un amigo me dijo que en realidad era Facebook quien le avisaba, “como a casi todos”, añadió. No sé si me sentí aliviada o triste por este cambio de roles en el funcionamiento de nuestra memoria y en las relaciones sociales.

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Prosumidor responsable vs. Pinocho digital

by Cristina Pérez-Cordón, Ph. D 

Hace algunos años compré por internet una máquina de ruido blanco para poder dormir mejor por las noches. El aparato llegó estropeado, así que escribí una valoración negativa en internet. Al día siguiente, recibí un correo electrónico de la empresa que fabrica las máquinas para disculparse y para ofrecerme una nueva sin coste adicional a cambio de que editara mi valoración explicando la reacción positiva de la empresa ante el problema. Ambos cumplimos nuestro acuerdo, ellos no vieron sus ventas perjudicadas y yo duermo mejor por las noches. Dos semanas más tarde, una empresa de vitaminas contactó conmigo ofreciéndome un buen lote de melatonina totalmente gratis (una hormona reguladora del sueño) a cambio de que escribiese una valoración positiva en internet. Tras vivir mi momento Snap “I’ve got the power”, les dije que no.

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