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Challenging Extremism: An Interview with UTK lecturer Melanie Faizier


Melanie Faizer 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. The competition tasked selected participants to come up with innovative ways to challenge extremism. 

Ms. Faizer and her students decided to approach this task by embarking on a project they called Report Responsibly. Its goal – to create a social media strategy that informed journalists how to intelligently report on instances of extremism. The strategy they devised included the creation of 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. Faizer about the project...

How did you get involved with this competition? 

The State Department is funding many initiatives now on how to challenge extremism and how to reach populations that might be vulnerable to radicalization. As part of their efforts, they have involved universities 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 one of the tools 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.

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

Class 2

(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 violent extremist acts without sensationalizing. So, for example, 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. 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, the question is, 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 think building community ties is a going to be important.  We have more guest speakers in this course than I normally would, probably as many as five. 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. This course will be included in the entrepreneurship minor in the Haslam College of Business beginning this fall, so I'm hoping we'll have some students from other departments join the class, which will help bring some interdisciplinarity to the course.