This morning, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story about online Jihadism.  Ordinarily this would not have been notable, but I found it personally ironic, given that we just concluded a conference titled “Islam and the Media” here in Boulder this past weekend.  It featured 104 papers from scholars across a wide range of disciplines and keynote presentations from global experts on things ranging from digital Islam to Muslim popular culture to news framing to emerging Muslim voices in the media sphere.  Over 140 people attended from five continents and 21 countries.  NPR new about it.  So did CNN, BBC, and our local media here in the metro area.  Did any of them come?  No.

So you can see how I might find it ironic that, just a few days after it concluded, NPR chose to give major attention to Islam and the media with no reference either to our meeting or to the kind of scholarship presented there.   Now, of course I am not naive about news processes and news values, so am not really surprised.  But there is a lesson in this.

What was the NPR story about?  It was about “online jihadism” and referred specifically to the recent CIA assassination in Afghanistan and the way the perpetrator is being remembered in some places online.  This means that, in spite of all the good scholarship out there that is helping us understand the range of ways that media and mediation are inflecting Islam, the primary media framing is still around terror and security.  That, we continue to learn, is the “real story.”  If they had attended the meeting, they would have received a much deeper understanding of many of the questions they asked in their story (and that their interviewee could only speculate about).  They wanted to know a lot about both the production and reception of online jihadist material.  Scholars present at our conference brought important insights into these matters and could have helped broaden and deepen public understanding of the implications of what is happening online.

The expert interviewed in the story, Jarrett Brachman, is a well-known security expert who teaches at North Dakota State (he was formerly at West Poiont).  He may be a competent scholar, but he is not a media scholar, and it showed in the interview.  I am not saying his insights are not important, but they are only part of what we need to know to understand these things.  A broader, interdisciplinary view is necessary. That is what academic discourse should be about, and it is what we had at our conference.  We all know the conventions of journalism that leads it to move quickly to certain taken-for-granted framings.  That does not mean we should not expect more, or be aware of what it misses.

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