Michael Gleich

INTRODUCTION

Michael Gleich is changing the practice of journalism by introducing new models of researching and reporting into mainstream media. Working with journalists, journalism schools, and media decision makers in Germany and abroad, Michael is changing the common perception that negative news and violence “sells,” proving that journalism can be a positive force for social change.

  • Journalism can be a positive force of social change

  • Journalists build their own networks

  • Research is time consuming and expensive for a media outlet

  • Journalists learn to successfully cover peace and reconciliation processes in their surroundings—making these stories tangible, interesting, and empowering for readers.

THE NEW IDEA

Michael shows journalists and the world, that peace, social change, and diversity represent good news fit to print. He does not believe in the paradigm that only catastrophes, death, and war stories attract readers, but rather encourages media to run stories about solutions, and trains journalists in conflict areas in the developing world, like Sri Lanka or Colombia, but also in Germany, to shift from sensationalist to what he calls “constructive” journalism with a focus on solutions.

By building networks between journalists, universities, and local organizations, Michael collects stories about social transformation and overcoming “otherness” from around the globe, especially from war-torn regions, that illustrate how individuals and citizen organizations (COs) initiate change. Skillfully incentivizing radio, TV stations, and newspapers, he distributes this news through mainstream media outlets, both in Germany and areas of conflict in the developing world, allowing editors to learn from experience that positive, solution oriented news attracts an audience.

Building the only international media project for peace journalism, he works with a network of partners to train journalists in conflict areas with investigative research skills and the know-how to locate and understand positive social change. Journalists build their own networks and learn to successfully cover peace and reconciliation processes in their surroundings—making these stories tangible, interesting, and empowering for readers.

To increase leverage, Michael works on several levels: He is expanding his organization, Peace Counts, to shape and change curricula in journalism schools, both abroad and in Germany. He also organizes exhibitions, round tables, and seminars with opinion makers to make his stories palpable. Finally, he “feeds” his materials and teaching modules into national schools, presents young people with positive role models, showcases the power of citizens as social change agents, and trains them to scrutinize the media.

Michael ultimately changes how media works by making journalists understand their own power as agents of change, and also influences societal opinion by featuring positive news. He has another project, Culture Counts, in Germany, that is similar to Peace Counts but the focus is closer to home—reporting on successful solutions to race, class, and gender conflicts.

THE PROBLEM

From personal experience, Michael understood that journalists perceive themselves less and less as a democratic force in society, and more as part of an industry that produces sensational stories. An overwhelming amount of mainstream news coverage focuses on social problems, especially crime and war, natural disasters, ethnic conflict, and environmental destruction. This is what journalism students learn and what editors demand. Reporting is primarily event and problem focused instead of process and solution oriented. Peacemaking and social change are not often researched and written about because of the widespread belief that only disasters and catastrophes attract readers, and because research is time consuming and expensive for a media outlet.

„In journalism school, they learn that sensational news matters most, and are taught to have journalistic objectivity, which leads them to become observers—not initiators.“

Journalists are often unaware of their role and of the consequences of their work. In journalism school, they learn that sensational news matters most, and are taught to have journalistic objectivity, which leads them to become observers—not initiators. The impact of this style of reporting on public opinion is important, especially in conflict areas where democracy and the citizen sector are weak, but also in Germany, where readers have been convinced that negative stories are what matter.

Social change phenomena are addressed by academics, but their writing is scientific, and language and content are targeted at a small academic audiences and not the public. When mainstream media does feature positive examples of social change, the stories are typically drawn from the past and focus on internationally known heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. This removes the reader from the realm of the ordinary.

THE PERSON

Michael’s youth was characterized by poverty and brutality, though he came to realize that life was beautiful because he got support from teachers. Together with his biology teacher and classmates, he was active in the environmental movement, and managed to prevent a highway from being built through a natural park. He says this that is when he realized—at the age of sixteen—that a human being can make a difference. He wanted to join the Army, but changed his mind when he realized he would have been perpetuating his history of violence. He became a conscientious objector, (military service is obligatory in Germany), opting for civil service with a German environmental group.

Source: http://germany.ashoka.org/fellow/michael-gleich

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