Journalism to be the Great Mediator
The fighting among Liberals and Conservatives is reminiscent of a dysfunctional marriage where the two partners choose to stay together for the sake of the children, or in this case, for the good of the people. Neither side puts much faith in the other, but there is a nagging necessity to make things work if the country is going to thrive.
Spaceship Media might be the mediator journalism needs to regain trust and once again be a proxy for the people. With dialogue journalism, Spaceship Media aims to support meaningful conversation and communication between communities at odds. They ask “What can we do as journalists in this world where people are polarized, they aren’t talking and the media isn’t trusted like it has been” said co-founder Jeremy Hay.
For a recent project, Spaceship Media brought together a group of Trump supporters from Alabama and a group of Clinton supporters from California to see if they could start a helpful dialogue and create some healthy engagement. They began with a process they call 4QF in which they contacted each participant and asked them four questions. They were:
1. What do you think as a Trump (Clinton) supporter that Clinton (Trump) supporters think about you?
2. What do you think about Clinton (Trump) Supporters?
3. What do you want Clinton (Trump) supporters to know about you?
4. What do you want to know about Clinton (Trump) supporters?
The first two questions are intended to be stereotype inducing. “We wanted to get them out into the open and be something we could play with,” explained Hay. The third question draws on people’s desire to be understood for who they are, not for what they’re perceived to be while the last question is the opening for journalism to come in and be a force for good, “People are very curious, so we want to capitalize on that and it’s also our opening as journalists. You want to know something about that community, so we will go out and find it for you” said Hay.
Often in romantic relationships and in politics, we don’t seek to understand our partner’s position or beliefs, we just keep arguing hoping they’ll be convinced to see things our way. However, this is rarely successful in the long run and if the goal is to avoid divorce, you will have to find solace in the compromise. Better yet, if a mediator was able to foster empathy between the embattled couple, a genuine mutual appreciation can open up the possibility of establishing common ground — a foundation on which to build a win/win relationship.
For the Trump and Clinton supporters, Spaceship Media was that mediator. Hay and his team would harness the principles of journalism — it’s neutrality, thorough research, fairness to the facts and attentive listening — to help build understanding where it’s needed and be a service to these communities. “We are there to work for them,” said Hay. “ We start with what a community wants answered, not what we, the media, decide is the story. So we ask communities what they want to know about each other, and what they want other communities to know about them.”
Just like in marriage counseling, a space is needed where people can feel safe to share their views. That’s why Spaceship Media brought together the Trump and Clinton supporters in a private Facebook group. Once everyone was invited to the group, people started introducing themselves on their own and “feeling each other out.” Soon after, Hay’s team introduced prompts to jumpstart the dialogue. They started with two short videos that alternated the answers to the first two questions. The third prompt was based on a blistering topic that came up during the 4QF process: the Affordable Care Act. “The comments under these videos were pretty intense” admitted Hay.
At this point the mediator, Spaceship Media, begins researching and recording as much information as they could on the Affordable Care Act and presented the information to the communities, not as an article, but as a neutral listing of facts and summaries of research by topic. While the facts may not have ultimately swayed anyone to change their position, opponents were now able to hear what the opposition was saying and appreciate it, “There was an opening of understanding that didn’t exist before because of journalism” said Hay. For the participants, it was so impactful that they created their own group to keep the conversation going, “It inspired me to challenge myself to stay engaged with people, to try and find a bit of common ground and work from there” said Kelly Keller from California.
That’s the ultimate goal. Once we seek to understand our differences and can find common ground, we can begin to pursue a third alternative. The third alternative is a concept taught by Stephen Covey, author The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that applies synergy to conflict resolution:
The key to valuing differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are. When someone disagrees with you, you can say, “Good! You see it differently.” There’s almost always a third alternative, and if you work with a Win/Win, you usually can find a solution that will be better for everyone concerned.
In today’s political climate, the country is divided, but amidst the adversity a growing number of people are also showing more willingness to bridge the divide for the sake of the country. Spaceship Media has found its niche bringing people open to this possibility together and starts the process of creating empathy — the backbone of social journalism. Then once we appreciate our differences, perhaps we can grow away from trying to convince the other side that “we’re right” and open our minds to finding solutions that can elevate us all.