Topic: How to do possibilities journalism?
Convener: Sarah Van Gelder, Yes! Magazine
These are participant's raw notes of a circle-round conference session Jan. 8, 2010, at the University of Washington, organized by Journalism That Matters.
Participants: Michelle Ferrier, Ben Ernst, Shala McDonnell, Susan Gleason, Doug Schuler, Eileen Gilligan, David Beers, Sonya Green, Maureen Skowran
Benjamin Ernst: One World program show at KBCS in Seattle.
Shala McDonnell: Different ways of communicating and using art to bring emotion to issues. Street art is changing and ways to communicate important issues.
Susan Gleason: Getting voices heard. We need to collectively weigh in with the challenges that we face. The citizen journalism models, community model where we hear more diverse voices to the analysis and possibilities of change are. This conversation of solution-oriented journalism. I’m interested in hearing how Sarah describes it. How do I propose sessions at other conferences around this.
Doug Schuler: Teach at Evergreen. I’m really interested in not journalism per se but what journalism could be. One offs won’t be adequate for the problems that we face. I work with 85 other people to create the pattern language book. That was an attempt to identify seeds and each pattern is intended to be a seed to open up possibilities. Hopefully organize around some of the patterns. The activist roadtrip – travel and do shows on biodiesel and watching these performances. Freedom rides, etc. another example. Each pattern is an opening, a tactic that transforms. There are ways in which we are heading, we want to deflect, detour to get other thoughts included.
Sarah: Play around with the ideas of how we did this session at Media that Matters. Did this with Stephen Silha. We are headed in dire situation. We cannot continue business as usual. The question I am always looking for is where do we find the possibilities for the better world. What is going to change thing is what people actually do and telling that story and that story gets attention. Whereas people that are doing things to help our world survive, in a rigorous way and the potential that these stories have. Ways that we can keep from marginalizing those folks. I can send the guidelines for people who write for YES! Magazine.
Most journalists assume that there are two sides to the story. We believe that those two sides are polarizing when there are other positions that may be involved. If there are two sides are there more than one side. Who gets to decide what sides are legitimate.
Eileen Gilligan: Community journalism center at Oswego.
Sarah: Who gets to choose those sides? Also look at preordained values that underlie news coverage. We lump together fundamentalists and make assumptions about them. To what degree are we going along with the stereotypes presented? Who are the protagonists? If you look at Seattle and tent city it is organized by homeless people. Stories are coming out about how to live, solutions about how to live outside of the middle class lifestyle. Question: What’s possible now? Looking at the most difficult situation and what is possible out of that situation. Genocide in Darfur, look at the stories about those who held out and were courageous. Rwanda is being a progressive center in Africa and understand out of deep tragedy is there something else that possible out of that grief. What are we assuming about our audience? In recent years we’ve dumbed them down. But there’s more to it than that. They don’t want to be defined as consumers. What are your investments doing out there in the world. What is your role as a citizen of the United States and the world. Systemic issues involved. Like the health care debate. Why is it that Europe can afford to fund health care for all.
What kinds of stories to we tell to start raising up. What is possible in raising up people’s expectations? Getting down to core questions of how our society functions. Questions that can get things done because there are certain power structures in place that are treated as inevitable. The isolated person begins to feel marginalized, how can people exert power in traditional and current times.
One example of a story we did in YES! The story was in Mexico after NAFTA went into effect. The dumping of American corn put Mexican farmers out of work. “Light in the Sky” coorperative of farmers that created a local food system, fair trade network. The way they created the business that created an economy, they created a cultural space for their own aesthetic, murals that reinforced their own way of life. There’s a model of food systems that can be created all over the place. There’s another piece about NAFTA that creates poverty. The larger story is how these other models can feed into the resistance movements. Globalization, corporate rule are not the things that we want. We can say that because there are alternatives. Changing the big stories of what’s possible. The big story is the victims of a bad situation is that we can help these victims, we create them as passive or recipients of aid, but…There Is No Alternative (TINA). Show what an alternative looks like. We feel that these dynamics are too powerful, but there are alternative models of how individuals can have an impact.
Michelle: Said something that Susan Gleason tweeted.
Phil Legood: Vancouver Co-Ope Radio. Vancouver, Canada. City council is that top-down type of voice instead of looking at the groundswell of conversation that is happining around that topic. I’ve been trying to encourage them to go to council. I’m of the belief that it’s got to come from the people. I’m tired and want to bring the voices from the people. I’ve spent a lot of years battling council. Unfortunately, I was looking around. In public affairs there are a lot of things wrong, and 90 percent of our stories are about what’s wrong. How do we get the other stories in? How do we let people know that there are other stories there? What have we done? We’re at 35 years and more vital than ever in community radio. They are all volunteers. That could be a model. I think it is possible in a mile radius for low-power radio stations. High schools could be involved in producing that. Douglas: Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks. You’re in a situation where you’re teaching a formula. It’s an opportunity to teach the formula, but to also show how to live outside the formula. If there’s some critique. Who’s left out? What’s the bigger picture? If the students feel that that they can transgress now and again. Students will be able to in their own mind where I can transgress a little bit, when journalism becomes automatic and rote and what their job is. I’m more of a media consumer and so much of it is useless. There was never a golden age when journalism was perfect. It’s not been for community problem-solving, but news. And news is something that you consume. There doesn’t seem to be that education embodied in the journalism.
Susan Gleason: Sunny Leigh, his role was about the health of our democracy. He was touring all these j-school programs and conferences and looking about what was taught. Independent media didn’t have a presence in the schools and conferences. The path for those interested in journalism is formulaic – legacy media path and not much else. With the conversation about participatory journalism and citizen journalists, but what I’m wondering if there is this theoretical piece, to what end? Can one of those ends be that generative? How can we use journalism to build those options? I tend to think those conversations don’t have that in j-schools, possibility journalism to that kind of purpose?
Michelle: Will hope to write on this topic for Poynter Institute and share this ideas of what journalism is and what journalism could be. Also courses like “entrepreneurial journalism” where people create based on their passions.
Sarah: To be a journalist, you have to start with the mainstream assumptions. I believe these are worth questioning. Assumption: economic growth is good. What is it that the community actually wants. That we actually start interrogating that. Assumption about who’s voice counts. Pundits that got it wrong on Iraq and on the economic situation and journalists that keeps getting it wrong. Do we ask them as journalists to question who gets to be authorities? Maybe they should get a chance at the microphone.
Douglas: Chomsky/Herman wrote about why we have the media we have. He came up with the antipattern, disciplining the media. One NPR reporter was talking about the US supplying arms to the Contras illegally. The state department would send thugs over to scream at the reporters. (Resistance tactics). It’s all systemic. There’s different point of contacts and disciplinging the media is something we should be doing. Michael Savage lasted a week.
Sarah: That’s one of the places where citizen journalism is great. They are disciplining the media. They are also doing more in showing another way things could be done. Speaking with confidence. We can point those out as journalists. Let’s look at those that got it right. Not only who got it right and what are other ways to go about it.
These are objective questions and get real indicators. Actually looking at the facts.
David Beers: I’m someone that’s done solution journalism makes a specialty of solutions oriented journalism. Readers have funded solutions based journalism and how do we tell if it’s any good. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. You can do old-fashioned reporting by looking at something existing.
What might go right tomorrow? Instead of what went wrong yesterday. Who’s showing the way? Pundits are acclimate you to the future so that you think that it was inevitable. Alternative discourses about the future. To report on …is our future happening somewhere else right now? Is our future nascent/a small scale example that can be scaled up?
Harm reduction is a different way of looking at addiction. The reason North America was aware of these models and where there is data being generated. And the data was positive. A reporter could do their work and feel like they were not coopted by ideology. Pedestrian pocket (XXXX) San Franscisco Examiner. Built a town outside of Sacramento. Peter Calthorpe. Here’s an example of small-scale experiment idea. We made it tangible.
Safe injection project: Heroin. In Vancouver, small scale experiment, data. Go as a reporter to get an alternative future laid out. Those are two ways to teach in classes. Sort through ranting and idealistic spinning and reporting in journalism.
Maurreen Skowran: The audience can help bring solutions to light.
Eileen Gilligan: SUNY: Oswego, Oswego NY
Michelle: Minnesota Public Radio. Public Insight Network. People agree to participate and they toss ideas to the radio and the radio tosses ideas to the public and that people get to share their experiences. What we are really talking about is who gets to speak with the voice of authority. Everyone has situated knowledge – their personal experience and knowledge that is valuable, not by dint of degree or education, but other knowledges. We need to encourage that knowledge to be part of the traditional reporting landscape.
David Beers: What’s a positive experience that you’ve had with the health system that works? Go there and report on that.
Michelle Ferrier: Part of the problem is the mechanized process of the daily news process. What if that process is part of the problem? People decry the newspapers that have shifted from daily to twice/three times a week, but what if they used that extra time to really write this type of possibility journalism?
What if we created more of the what’s right news rather than the what’s wrong news.
David/Maureen: Long form: better to do thoughtful critique in print.
David: A glimmer of hope, a model of what seems to be working. Future-focused pieces. A lot of time is spent on where we’re going. These experts tend to dominate the conversation. Mitigate against future-focused journalism: reactive, anti-intellectual, humility about what reporters do. Reporters don’t solve the worlds problems they just report on them. They are not solving the world’s problems, they are reporting on people who have some success. Conflict is the news values. Future-oriented, Someone’s having a success stories have obstacles, story, critics, etc.
You have to show journalists how to write a future-focused, conflict driven stories.
Phil: In order to do the piece on harm reduction (drugs). There’s a third path that is yielding results.
Maurreen – Story about something that is overcome.
Sarah: Evidence-based writing.
Sonya Green added.
David Beers: Writing story as stranger in a strange land. Sex workers in XXXX.
Douglas: When I think of the US prison population. Harm reduction never occurred to anyone. Let’s do something that’s expensive and harmful. If that analysis has any merit, then we were totally betrayed by those that didn’t do these stories. Schwarsnegger said they were going to pass a law that education and prisons should have the same budget.
David: Schmoke in Baltimore… Holland and…reporters get information and put it out there.
Maurreen: Too much government stuff is political stuff. Don’t tell me about what this has to do with the party. Tell me what it has to do with me.
David: Go find some facts. In other countries. Comparative, experiments generating some data.
Susan: Way of reporting solutions. What Bill was saying about having solutions come from the people. Community radio does an amazing job of really giving voice to folks in the community. My favorite public affairs KBCS,;
Sonya: Can we say that an issue is one-dimensional? Can we bring voice to the voiceless and start with Why? I don’t want to tell yesterday’s story. What’s the story today? Why does that type of culture exist? Family first. Man that killed four police officers. Fact based and emotional based commentators from the communities. Affected by snitching. We know who did it yet did not go to the police. Dealing with cold case. I should have asked her about taking the law into their own hands. The same people that talked to her are the same people that wouldn’t talk to law enforcement. It’s not snitching it’s something else. Law enforcement and communities of color. Guests,
Michelle: Journalists as moderators of conversation. That we step outside the role of purveyors of facts and information, but those that create the space for conversation. Find the voices that are out of the ordinary. Find those that can contribute the rich conversation. Create a space for that conversation to emerge. And a space where others can come into the conversation (phone calls, comments, etc.)
Phil: Journalism shapes and works with government. Policy through editorial boards and government. Journalists can stimulate the public to create action forward. Instead of government being the source of all answers. When we started out it was all about bad stories. How do you frame it in a way that we could instill values of the environment and the world we live in to deal with things and act upon it.
David Beers: Journalism -- Paid colonizers of the future. Solutions journalism creates alternative realities.
Sonya: Sometimes as the journalist you must be the critic to take that position.
David Beers: We have this fellowship that readers give money to to fund solutions-based journalism. Found places in Belgium and others where free transportation was available. Homeless people will use them as rolling apartments and colonize public transportation. Maybe 40 cents. Critics are superhelpful. More pragmatic solution as well as the visionary. You aren’t doing yourself any favors to talk to those who are being rude or . …some impact where naysayers have been taken into account.
Sayla: How can we connect with the other side? How can we worth together? Present stories that the right will read them.
Sarah: Center for Independent Media. They have paid bloggers in cities. Write stories. They blog about it and create media shame because they are breaking the stories. Leveraging
Michelle: Taking on the System: Daily Kos…tactics for breaking through the mainstream media wall. Using the new media technologies to force mainstream media to deal with issues that it is not aware of or prefer not to deal with.
David Beers: Position story to speak their (media) language. New information. They couldn’t ignore it. Demand (make our dikes taller). Use the newsroom culture and ideas to shape story.
Douglas: Is there a model that we will make good journalism and good things will come from it. Sometimes when I’ve asked newspapers, they say their job is this. George Bernard Shaw…Newspapers can report on the bicycle accident but not on the downfall of Western civilization. What about the vision thing? Or are these things anathema? I think those voices …the ranters…belong in the media landscape. Maybe news is not what we’re after at all.
Michelle: How can we talk about things that are incomplete and nonending?
David Beers: I’m a journalist. I start with facts and there to idea. Piaget you need objects to learn. We can have a general conversation about safety. We’re talking about a thing that get towards universal ideas. Object to learn with was conversation starter.
Sarah: I think the civilation is in a dire place and that’s hard to get into the conversation – the classroom is a better setting, but everyday life, people don’t come to grips with how much of a chane is required. We try to take it from two perspectives at Yes – the qurtery lissue built around a theme, a variety of perspectives, models, coming together in a full picture about water, happiness, topics.
Now we are also doing specific daily news stories that link up to the broader. We have this archive on line of deeper and broader stories analyzing our water issues, linking them together, and our take on the newes might be on here are people taking on ..
We need both. Long, deep profound conversations, and also quick hits. When quit hits are linked to the news, better chance of being picked up. And we are getting picked up by mainstream media.
It’s 12:30. Wrap up?
Maureen – sort out solutions. For the town? The nation? Or for yourself. Be more clear about who the solution might be for.
Doug Shue (sp) The choir is always being trod on. You don’t want to preach to the choir, I’m told. But I am part of the choir and I want to be preached to.
Sarah: That’s a good point, the choir often includes leaders of movements and they need ammunition…
Phil LeGood – how can we combine the voices on the radio with the voices of print?