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Challenging Extremism: An Interview with UTK lecturer Melanie Fazier

Class

Melanie Fazier is a lecturer in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media. She created a course that teaches students about entrepreneurial journalism and the future of media. During the fall semester of 2016, her class had the opportunity to work directly with the U.S. Department of State and Facebook as part of an international competition called Challenging Extremism. With a budget of $2,000, students were tasked with creating a social media strategy that informed journalists how to intelligently report on instances of extremism. The competition awarded the top six winning teams with cash prizes.  

Ms. Fazier's class created Report Responsibly, which includes a websiteTwitter profile, and Facebook page presenting media guidelines and solutions for approaching the reporting of extremism in a measured and fair way. The students' project did not ultimately win the competition, but the class was given a unique experience that very few can say they've had. 

We spoke to Ms. Fazier about the project...

How did you get involved with this competition? 

The State Department is funding a lot of stuff right now on extremism and how to challenge it and how to reach populations that might be vulnerable to radicalization. We have a real problem with not being able to find those people until it's too late very often. So, they have taken this to universities now by way of grants. There were over 100 schools enrolled in the competition internationally. 

Melanie Fazier is a lecturer in Tennessee's School of Journalism and Electronic Media. She created a course that teaches students about entrepreneurial journalism and the future of media. During the fall semester of 2016, her class had the opportunity to work directly with the U.S. Department of State and Facebook on an international competition called Challenging Extremism. With a budget of $2,000, students were tasked with creating a social media strategy that informed journalists how to intelligently report on instances of extremism with the top six teams winning cash prizes. 

Mrs. Fazier's class created Report Responsibly, which includes a website, Twitter profile, and Facebook page presenting media guidelines and solutions for approaching the reporting of extremism in a measured and fair way. We spoke to Mrs. Fazier about the project...

How did you get involved with this competition? 

The State Department is funding a lot of stuff right now on extremism and how to challenge it and how to reach populations that might be vulnerable to radicalization. We have a real problem with not being able to find those people until it's too late very often. So, they have taken this to universities now by way of grants. There were over 100 schools enrolled in the competition internationally.

What was the thinking behind the design of the competition? 

The big thing was that it had to be a social media campaign because that's the tool that terrorist organizations are using to try and recruit. Because it's the Wild West, it's not really that controlled, as hard as Facebook and Twitter are trying.

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How did you come up with the class's submission, Report Responsibly? 

(The class) was all one team. And they came up with a project that was actually media related. The core product that they created was a set of guidelines on how to report on extremist acts, so violent extremism, without sensationalizing. So, looking at things like how language and rhetoric are used by mainstream media. Basically, they learned about the idea that terrorists and media have a symbiotic relationship, right? They rely on each other. It's a great story always to report on (terrorism) but the people who carry out terrorism or violent acts are counting on that publicity. So, how do you report on it without feeding the agenda? 

Now that you've completed this project, what do you see for the future of your entrepreneurial journalism class? 

For this course, I would like it to have longevity and to do that we can't exist in a bubble within the school of journalism and electronic media, so I think building community ties is a going to be important.  So, we have more guest speakers in this course than I normally would, probably as many as five, to bring in people from the community. For example, entrepreneurs, some media related but some not, just to talk about the actual experience and the grit that it takes to get a business off the ground. Also, somebody who does venture capital, somebody who actually hears the pitches of businesses. And being a part of the entrepreneurship minor in the Haslam College of Business. This course will be included, I think, in that course listing so I'm hoping we'll have some students from other departments also which will help bring some interdisciplinarity to the course.