You Are the Guest

Conversation with John and Peter ~ December 12, 2016

You Are the Guest
Conversation with John and Peter
December 12, 2016

About every six weeks, for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their December 2016 dialog they decided to share some of their latest thinking and invite listeners to share their experiences in building new connections and relationships to strengthen our neighborhoods and communities.

John and Peter’s opening dialog was loosely organized around four questions:

  • What’s shifted in our thinking

  • What’s been confirmed

  • What gives us hope for the future

  • What are we worried about

In addition to the transcribed discussion here, some of the issues raised by listeners, and their responses to John and Peter’s dialog, were grabbed from the conversation’s chat box and are posted here.

Download or listen to the audio:

Maggie: Welcome to Journalism with Community at the Center. And thank you for joining us. John, Peter and I are pleased to have Eve Pearlman with us today and we hope that you’ll like what we’re doing to humanize this digital experience. We see each other’s faces. We’ll get to hear each other’s voices. So, I’d like to start with a poem.

  Famous*

  The river is famous to the fish,

  the loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so.

  The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse.

  The tear is famous briefly to the cheek.

  The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom.

  The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe which is famous only to floors.

  The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

  I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children and grocery lines famous as the one who smiled back.

  I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous or a buttonhole.

  Not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

  So, let’s find out who else is here. We’re going to break into small groups for a short conversation.

  And, at this point I’d like to thank Greg Jarrell for contributing that poem.

Peter: Eve is our guest today and I’m thrilled about that because I read in an article, the New York Times now dominates journalism. They have more subscribers than the next 10 people included. They have 1700 full time journalists and there’s only 20,000 left in the country. So, something has changed and Eve is in the center of that transformation. She’ll be talking about that. I just think that journalism is the narrative keeper. If they tell the story of who we are, then there’s great room and opportunity for new possibilities because if I let the national news, tell me who I am, no wonder isolation, no wonder in Great Britain they have a Minister of Loneliness.

  Good to have you here. And one of the things Eve represents is a commitment to create a structure to help people who from a distance seem unable to come together and to bring them together in a very special way. Maybe we could start with a specific ways you’re bringing people together which has not been journalism’s tradition. And then later we can talk general questions about journalism. So welcome, Eve. Thank you so much for spending time with us.

Eve: Thank you, Peter, for that kind introduction. I really appreciate it. So, I am a journalist. I’ve been a journalist my whole career, mostly practicing providing local news for a town in California of about 80,000, Alameda in the Bay area. In 2016 as I watched the rising polarization and deep divisions in our society, these growing divides, I really started thinking about my own journalistic practice. I’d always been driven by serving community, informing community, reflecting a positive vision of the community back to itself, but I really started thinking about how I might take a more active, intentional role in bridging and bringing people together in creating real understanding. And I also started thinking about how I do news itself instead of storing it, starting from an idea in my head, like I think this is the story, I think this is what should be written about.

  I wanted to really listen more intentionally and carefully to community and specifically divided communities. And so I launched this method with a co founder, what we now call dialogue journalism to think how to go to places where people aren’t talking or talking productively and use our journalistic skills to bring them together in conversation. And so we have a methodology. It’s seven steps. You can see it on our website [www.spaceshipmedia.org]. But in a nutshell, what we do is identify communities where people aren’t talking or talking productively. Our first project was a pilot between cops and students of color in my town. To invite them to begin to think about each other as people. So we ask a set of questions: what do you think they think about you? What do you want to know about them? And a few others.

  And we begin to invite curiosity and humanity into the process, and then we bring them together in a moderated conversation. And instead of reporting again from what we think, we use that conversation as a place to use our recording. What do people need to know to understand each other better? And then we work with ourselves and other news organizations to tell stories out of those conversations. There’s a lot embedded in this process. It’s slowing down, seeing each other as people, it’s thinking about service first, it’s putting community at the heart of our practice. But the idea is really how can we very intentionally meet the information needs and social needs of community? It’s been a joy to do this work and to fill community with lots of people doing bridging and dialogue work in other disciplines.

There’s a lot embedded in this process. It’s slowing down, seeing each other as people, it’s thinking about service first, it’s putting community at the heart of our practice. But the idea is really how can we very intentionally meet the information needs and social needs of community?

Peter: Have you had them in the room together at one time?

Eve: We’ve done it different ways, like with cops and students of color, that project we had them separate because the power imbalance is so profound there. We had a reporter ferrying back questions. So, the students would be like, is the cop who stops me and my friend the same guy who goes to a shootout? Or what weapons do you carry? And the cops had questions like, have you ever interacted with a police officer or is all your interaction through what you see on digital spaces? So, in that case we’d kept them apart. In other cases we’ve combined in-person meeting with online meetings. We’ve worked a lot digitally. We did a big project that brought Trump’s supporters from Alabama together in conversation with Clinton supporters in the Bay area. That was all on Facebook. So, we’ve done bunches of different things and I’m a believer that you can do really beautiful things not in person as well as in person.

Peter: So, when the cops answer the question, how did these young people find out what their answer was?

Eve: In that case we had a reporter going back, like here’s the students’ questions, here’s the cops’ questions, going back and forth and presenting that information. And what was interesting about it is that so much profound ignorance there was, and also how much sensitivity on both sides. The cops are trying to do their job and in a very difficult environment and they’re a flashpoint for our society for lots of good reasons. And so there’s a lot of vulnerability on both sides. We’re really interested in creating space for that sincerity.

John: And how then would a journalist listening to the interplay of these two viewpoints, what would they draw from it? Now I am going to be the consumer of the journalist who’s there. What is the journalist going to tell me about that? Are they going to tell me what each side said or are they going to talk about it in conflict terms?

Eve: We talk about in two ways. One, we think about reporting to meet the needs of the conversation. Say it’s a conversation about guns and it’s about bump stocks, then we can actually provide information about bump stocks so at least there’s a shared set of facts. So, we report into the conversation so that people can talk about what matters to them. And then we report out of the conversation to a larger audience. So maybe there’s a reporting that’s about a fat stack in a conversation but then our partner news organizations can write about that more broadly. We also think that it’s newsworthy that these conversations are happening.

  It’s newsworthy that people can in fact, when given space and support, talk about really difficult issues together. If you look at the story that’s come out of our work, some of it is that, like look, they actually did it and then look, they learned from each other. And I will say that it’s really important to remember that our work isn’t about changing minds, it’s really based in the idea that just the act of being able to talk respectfully to one another is incredibly vital on myriad levels for our democracy, for our humanity. And so that’s where we focus our efforts.

Our work isn’t about changing minds, it’s really based in the idea that just the act of being able to talk respectfully to one another is incredibly vital on myriad levels for our democracy, for our humanity.

John: When I think about newspapers at least, I think one of their useful activities is to provide me facts. In this kind of a discussion that you’re talking about, where do facts come in, or do they? I’m wondering whether or not the main thing is not that they don’t have information about each other, it’s they don’t trust each other. And if that’s the case, what’s your experience and trust building in that process?

Eve: That’s a huge part of this. Because we’re working from a place where so many people don’t know what to trust, don’t know how to trust. And for us, a core belief is that relationships come before first, right? They preceded. And we know this in our personal lives, we don’t trust someone implicitly, we trust them because they’ve earned it. And so part of what we’re doing when we bring people together, we sometimes think of a triangle trust between divided communities and journalism. And by showing up, by being real, by being authentic, by doing very explicitly making our work for community, not for us, for our ego, for our byline, for our clicks. It builds trust. And one of the really beautiful things that’s come out of this work is we find that when we report into conversation, people believe us because we’ve come forth with as much honesty and integrity and openness as we can. And so this is an exercise in trust building and it’s embedded in every piece of our work.

John: What are the key factors that lead the trust that you do as a journalist?

Eve: Throughout my career is a journalist I worked hard to be transparent, to be authentic, to be real. I live in a community so if I’m out and about and someone says, “Hey, I saw you did this, you wrote this, it’s not exactly right.” My response is, “Okay, why? What did I miss? How can I do better?” And I also have always worked in, especially in my work with Spaceship to just show up as an old person. I’m not pretending I don’t have views, I’m not pretending I don’t have biases, I’m not pretending I’m not firmly rooted in my life experience and coming to people that way, as you all know builds better relationships and so that’s a core piece of all of this.

John: One other thing I was noticing is you said when you get people together from the polls, you don’t want them to be avatars, you want them to come as individuals, not with any kind of categorical identity. Why?

Eve: Because that’s how people want to be known, right? That’s an interesting question. No one’s ever asked me that. I don’t want to be known as a left leaning liberal woman from the Bay area. I want to be known as the complexity of my nature. And so asking people to be real and authentic is very helpful. And also we find that people’s views are much more nuanced when you give them a little space to slow down. One of the beautiful things that happens in every conversation we do is people start to say, well, I’m basically pissed but in these ways I am different than others. And so we see it invites texture and reality instead of these beaten down talking points that you hear on either side.

Peter: I feel the same joy and relief listening to you and what you’re saying, John and Eve, as I did from the poem. I think what you said was we’re not here for ego bylines and clicks, and that’s a radical stance; it is mostly belief system of the dominant and the fact that you are committed as a journalist to see the nuances of identity, stance, beliefs is such a radical, you call it dialogue or relationship. To me that’s quite amazing because as soon as we finish this, as soon as I pick up a paper, I’m going to see something very different than that. And I don’t care what that paper is called, left, right, center, et cetera. And the fact that you’ve created somewhat of a business out of this means there’s an audience for this and you’re claiming as your own identity of a journalist, space that people who did facilitation used to claim. It’s so interesting. What’s next? Suppose somebody came to you and said, money, no object.

Eve: Well, I wish they would say that.

Peter: Well I’m saying it. Money is no object. I am an avatar. I can’t deliver on my promise. Where would you take this? Where’s the next generation of this kind of mindset that you’re living?

Eve: It’s interesting. First, I wanted to say that, just to respond to something you said, I feel like the work has resonated because there is such a deep hunger in our society for something real. We are so desperately in need of, and you all know this, connection and slowing things down and being human with another. But if money were no object, I come out of local news and local news has been so profoundly decimated across the world for lots of reasons because of the change in tech, because of the changing economics. So I’m interested in what I’m piloting right now are these local journalism pilots. So we think about community conversation in my town of Alameda becoming a place for conversation and reporting out of that.

  So, taking this concept of conversation driven news cycle into local news spaces. We’ve mostly done topics, specific things like immigration, guns, electoral politics, policing. What I’m interested in, can we take this model of listening first, of holding community and uses it in local spaces. I’ve got a couple of pilots going with that. Without the texture of an intimacy of local journalism, we really lose stuff in your point at the top about New York Times is dominating right now. For example, I live on the West Coast and the way the West Coast is covered by New York journalists––it’s not quite right because they’re not here. They know it’s different, right? And so all that intimacy of local really matters and lots of people in the journalism space are working on models to how to refill this. Is it a nonprofit model? Is it a membership model? How do we do it digitally and in other ways in this changing world?

John: It seems to me, and you’re right, the map of New York city, the whole thing and there’s a little sliver called West Coast.

  But what I thought from you is not only bringing people together but you know how to report it out. And it seems to me that there’s a world of important local neighborly things happening.

Peter: We just started something called the Common Good Collective [www.commongood.cc], which should try to create a discipline out of being able to get citizens engaged with each other about things that matter to make their life better. But then when you say you don’t have to report it out, that’s so missing right now. Say more about reporting out and what that means to you.

Eve: I’m going to jump a little and then you’ll tell me if this answers your question or not. But when I think about old-school local news, the town I live in used to have nine reporters and had a daily newspaper and those reporters told stories about schools and they told stories about City Hall, but they also told stories about births and deaths and marriages and accomplishments. And so the community could see itself as human instead. My neighbor might be ideologically different than me or be supporting a different context. I kind of did, but I know that they are human, I’m keenly aware of it. I’m reminded of it. And so our shared faith and our shared humanity was more often reflected in our publications. And so that has gotten stripped down and stripped away. And so some of what I want to rebuild is just the texture and the fabric of daily life. I don’t know if that was an answer to your question.

Peter: It’s a wonderful response to my question. I remember I was talking to the mayor and his father once. I was thinking of starting a local news thing, and the father said, “There’s only one job I want. I want to be the one who decides what is news.” To me what you’re doing is redefining. Right now we think big boxes are the only place that news resides, big bangs, conflict, violence. You’re going to change that. You’re going to say for us to find our humanity via Common Good Collective. We have to get off this notion that only people in power are doing things that matter and that’s truly beautiful about what you’re doing and saying and you’re developing a methodology for that. You’ve crossed the virtual line. You say you don’t need them in the room together. All you need is somebody you needed to build trust with the things that you’re doing. I just think that’s pretty amazing. You’re redefining what constitutes news and you’re developing vehicles to do that and it is about local.

We have to get off this notion that only people in power are doing things that matter. You say you don’t need them in the room together. All you need is somebody to build trust with to do the things that you’re doing. You’re redefining what constitutes news and it is about local.

Eve: It is about local. One of the ways we think about it is what is the information people need to live their lives.

  We think a lot about what is the information that people need to live their lives. So like right now with Coronavirus, right? People need really clear advice about what they can do, what they should do, what’s happening in their communities. I’m in the Bay area, we now have cases. The infrastructure of the major news organizations in this region are so pared down that people don’t know. And so they’re looking in all kinds of places and it’s very scattered and it’s difficult. And so having community where that’s discussed, where we report in response to what people are asking, somebody like, where do I get alcohol? How is this transmitted? How many cases are there in town? All of that information is what people need right now in this particular community and that’s how we think about it. Not the big headlines that alarm.

Peter: Not its impact on the stock market.

John: Eve, I’m trying to imagine a discussion and you have people on the poles, let’s say about immigration, you had that, and you got a couple of journalists there. They’re learning something that they probably have not learned before at that personal level and now they’re ready to write a story. When I’m having a little problem with my imagination is, what are they reporting out? Find the outcome of this is something that they’re writing about an event that is very unusual where people are talking across poles.

Eve: It’s a good question. So we did a big conversation about immigration in California, and just for an example, one of the stories came out of that was, at one point in the group everybody started to, that was a tough conversation. Feelings are very high and very intense so we’re working really hard. But at one point the groups started talking about their own immigration plan. What they would do if they were in charge, what laws they would put in place, how they would manage it. And it was a very heartfelt, it was on Facebook conversation and people really thinking in detail about what to them made sense from their vantage point.

  And that reporter ended up doing a story about that conversation and then a little Facebook Live thing came about of that too. So, two of the people who are most involved with that talked about their plans. So that’s just an example of the kind of thing it’s varied a lot. In the guns conversation we did, a lot of stories came out about points of connection and points of people recognizing each other across these wide divides and belief systems and practice. So, does that help give texture to it a little bit?

John: Right. Another thing I wonder is, it has seemed to me that people are more likely if they’re face to face, to come to some kind of reconciliation than they are, for instance, in this kind of a medium, chronic world or in any other kind of position where they are representative of something. I’m wondering whether you see that the very act of being together in a relatively familiar small space is itself an important part of what makes for more communication.

Eve: I believe that really beautiful things can happen in digital spaces. And I’ve seen it and I think it’s very easy. I believe first of all that there’s no substitute for being in the same room as someone. It’s a different experience. But I also think that there are remarkable, beautiful, extraordinary connections that happen in digital spaces online. And there are some elements of digital communication that you don’t have in face to face. You can take a break, you can pause, you can type and you can delete. You can walk away for an hour or a day. Our conversations are generally over a month, and so you get a chance to go in and come out. Constraints are often very empowering and so there’s the constraint of you can’t see each other.

There’s no substitute for being in the same room as someone. It’s a different experience. But there are remarkable, beautiful, extraordinary connections that happen in digital spaces online. And there are some elements of digital communication that you don’t have in face to face. You can take a break, you can pause, you can type and you can delete. You can walk away for an hour or a day. 

  You’re removing all the things, the richness of in person communication but there’s opportunity there. If you look at all the tremendous affinity groups online for example, around all kinds of issues, around every disease discussion, every transition of life discussion, there’s so much richness and intimacy. You can find people all around the world with very similar experiences. And in our case you can find people who have really different views but who have some structure around how they engage. We say we’re platform agnostic. I think there’s value in digital communication, there’s value in in-person communication, they’re really different. I think a lot of introverted people thrive in digital spaces. So I think there’s just lots of ways to connect and they’re all really valuable.

Peter: I want to say, because we’re going to break in a minute, two things. One is you are kind of changing my thinking about the advantages of distance. There’s time for reflection, asynchronous life. You’re saying there’s learning advantages, there’s peacemaking advantages. I thank you for that. The other thing that’s powerful is in the reporting you are saying that citizens have their own expertise. And that you as a reporter would find it interesting and maybe more interesting citizen’s solutions, what they would do with immigration where part of the centralization and elitism of democracy is the belief that it’s only a few people know and they’re the ones, so it’s really such a humanistic and citizen based thinking that you have. And for journalists who believe that, I’d love to know what they’re teaching in journalism schools these days, but I’m not asking that. It’s time for us to break into groups.

  One question, what would it be if you believed everything she said? How would that change the way you think about what you’re doing in your own neighborhood? If she was right, if it was true, what’s the transformation in you that would flow out of having heard her for 14 minutes?

What would it be like if you believed everything Eve said?How would that change the way you think about what you’re doing in your own neighborhood? If she was right, if it was true, what’s the transformation in you that would flow out of having heard her?

Maggie: Darin’s going to break us up and we’ll come back in 10 minutes.

Peter: I’m just thinking, how is this going for you? What’s shifting in you as a result of being in this conversation right now?

Eve: For me? I love talking about this work. It always makes me really happy to reflect on it. And I always like it when people ask questions that I haven’t answered exactly that way like John asked a couple of questions that I hadn’t framed that way so it makes me think. I just like doing what I do a lot.

Charles: Eve, I’m curious. What you’re bringing up is, responding to is the power of questions, and John and Peter, I mean, the beauty, the power of the questions that you ask. I’d just be really curious, either Eve or John or Peter, to hear just get a little bit inside your brain around where those questions arise from.

John: I think I tend to ask practice questions. That’s because that’s where I’ve spent most of my life and so it generates from being with people a very local level and I know people leave a room, they’re saying to themselves, what can I do with this? I would always hope when people leave, they would have two things that happen, some shift in their thinking and some idea of what to do. Those two things.

Eve: I guess if I were going to pitch to answer that kind of question, John, it would be, I have a lot of things I say to journalists but to non-journalists I would invite empathy for journalists. As you read their work and watch their work it’s a hard job and it’s a hard job because of the time constraints, it’s a hard job because every time you make a piece of content, it’s a creative act. Even though there’s a structure in a formula, it’s you’re making something from a whole bunch of stuff. And there are so many business pressures and social pressures. It’s a beautiful job but it’s a difficult job. That would be my takeaway.

Charles: You know, Eve, what you’re speaking to I think it connects a little bit to one of the questions, the question that David Guthrow brought into the chat and that’s this overcoming the fear of bias. And his comment, people are primed to look for spin in spite of declared intent. And so as mentioned earlier, the number of journalists is decreasing almost as rapidly as the increase in PR professionals. So I think it’s question in such a powerful and important one in the context of this conversation about questions but also about this fears of bias.

Peter: I think it’s possible to be biased and live with an open heart and an open mind. I liked the notion for every great idea, the opposite idea is also true. I think that’s so much what you embody. It’s interesting your question about questions. John’s is one of a practicality. I’ve never been burdened with that.

John: That’s why we’re a good pair.

Peter: I’m never worried about what I was going to do. I just think only about purpose. What was the point? If I knew the point in this moment I would know what to do. And I think they’re both true. You can’t care about ideas without action. You can’t care about action if you haven’t had anew thought.

John: Eve, another thing I just wondered about is you can even imagine that there are newspapers that have a tilt and certainly the cable news has a tilt. And that framework of understanding is an argument about ideas. But Trump comes into the picture and he erases the idea that there are competing different ideas and he says the other side is fake, we’re going to erase it. There is no argument over there. It’s fake news. And I think it’s been very powerful for his constituents. I wonder if you have thoughts about that dilemma. A new argument you can make.

Eve: Before I do that, John, Charles your question about, we’ve highlighted David’s question about fear of bias, and that is a much bigger question, as is yours John. But for me, I think a lot about being transparent and being authentic. I was a columnist for a long time so it led to this but it’s not to pretend that I don’t carry views, that I don’t carry bias and to be really open to the feedback from the community. So, when we report into conversation, when people say, hey, why did you choose this source or, hey, this smacks of bias to me, we work very hard to engage that authentically and to acknowledge our own perspectives and bias.

  So, that transparency is fundamental to that. Objectivity in journalism as a whole kettle of fish or whatever with barrel worms. I don’t know but it’s a whole thing onto itself. But back to your question about Trump, journalism is really struggling with how to manage an overt liar and a manipulator. And the traditional frame of saying one person on one side said this, person on the other side said this doesn’t work as Trump has figured out how to destroy that. And so there’s a lot of work and thinking in journalism of how to reckon with that.

  And it goes against a lot of people’s habits of practice to just simply say, he said this, it’s a lie, because for a whole lot of reasons and so it is really difficult to break practice but a lot of people are working very hard. And one of the ways through is something called citizen agenda which you guys could look up, which is to start from are the policy and platform issues of candidates. What are they actually doing? How does it impact people’s lives? What do they stand for versus the horse race, Twitter coverage kind of thing that we have. And so there’s a real push back in journalism to think about how to deal with that. It’s very clear, he’s cracked open the failings of how we have done this work.

Peter: We’ve got a little section here [where] I think we listen to what happened in the groups. If anybody would like to say something, I think you physically have to raise your hand, I guess, or unmute and claim your space. It’s like you can choose to be born all on your own. Will, are you unmuted?

Will: So, when you’ve got these groups, so maybe it’s individuals and police officers and you want to bring them together, how do you deal with the motivation to bring them together? What are some best practices there?

Eve: What do you mean [by] the motivation?

Will: If you wanted to create a conversation between two groups that were maybe at conflict with each other, how do you bring them together? Beyond the mechanics of creating the journalism how do you actually make them want to talk to each other?

Eve: We don’t make people do things but what we always do in every start of every project is to post a call out with usually our partner news organizations. So it’s, are you interested in a fact-based, respectful conversation about issue X? So that calls out some people. Some people are like, I don’t actually want to talk to them. And then we do an intake survey and ask a bunch of questions. And if people come in and they’re full of expletives and explain why the other side is terrible and horrible, we don’t invite them into the conversation. So, it is a certain percentage of the population that is willing to do this. But we don’t need everyone, we’re just interested in bringing some people together. And some people, like I’ve had people sign up for conversation and then be like, actually I can’t talk to them. I feel too personally threatened, too angry, too frustrated. I don’t want to talk to them.

Peter: Thank you, Will. Other people like to make a statement [or] ask a question? All you have to is raise your hand. Unmute. David. You’re on.

David: Okay. This is great. And some things flow out of a conversation that I had last week. It was a conversation about hope and I am why we have hope about changing things, making the world a better place, et cetera. And the person said, the only thing that is holding them back is the crisis of trust that we’re in and moved into talking about journalism. So, I was quite interested even the things that you were saying about trust and the intimacy of local journalism and the idea that there was a time when our local communication was local enough. We could trust it because we knew something about it. We were participants in it. When the local newspaper came out, I knew that story was true because I knew some of the people in the story for example and all of that. And so I’m in Canada by the way, all of that has disappeared. Sorry.

  There’s plenty of work to do up here too. But I think there’s some really interesting pieces here about that whole local piece of that and link trust and I just really liked the way that you’re getting people together and that triangle of trust for journalism. I got to go and talk to some of the journalists they know soon.

  This time. For what it’s worth, I was doing some work with a group of NGOs, international NGOs as well as folks from the extractive industry––mining, oil and gas and things like that. And they actually wanted to explore each other’s opinions on working in developing countries. And they used something that I hadn’t heard of before. You probably heard of Chatham House Rules, which from a journalistic perspective, everything was recorded and reported but not attributed because people were really concerned about what happens if someone hears me actually agreeing with something that was said on the other side. And so there’s getting people together in the room but also trusting the journalists, just pulling it together that they will be as devoid of biases as possible. And if there’s concern about that, being able to report it out in a way that everyone could hear it but not under sort of the veil of fear about the judgment that might be heaped upon them.

Eve: Interesting you say that because the way we deal with, like say it’s a Facebook conversation of 100 people talking, our rules, our guidelines are that we won’t share anything you say in this group or anything without your explicit permission. So we treat it as an off the record community. We very explicitly ask to quote or to use a story or to use anything from the group. And that’s important because of this idea of the way journalism has so many times been so extractive and harmful to people and so that’s a part of our process. It’s not Chatham House Rules but it’s this is private, this is off the record unless you say otherwise.

John: Ron had his hand up.

Ron: Yeah. In response to John’s question about trust. I think we do an adequate job of that by using storytelling so that around the big issues, we have an organization called Sidebar Stories [https://www.sidebarstories.org]. So we invite the community to come in and create their own sidebar stories to the major issue around us, and we teach a very simple map that they can use to develop their story. But then your point, Peter, on how does it get out there? We don’t know how to do that yet. We’ve brought in local artists, musicians and writers to take some of these stories and turn them into original music, visual art through the storyboards and narrative writing and put it on stage. But we’re looking for a better way to get more of these stories out attached to the big story because every sidebar story is attached to some general social issue and we don’t have a connection to help people feel like their stories are really being heard.

Peter: I think that’s a beautiful statement. There’s so many people doing so many amazing things and yet we don’t know there is a journalist waiting for us and that Eve knows how to do that and she doesn’t have to draw a crowd every time, she doesn’t have to manage 300 people, she doesn’t have to do that. But the two of you, something comes together. Two of you are connected so thank you. Yeah, Larry. Unmute.

  Go ahead, Larry.

Larry: I love this work. So, my question is, Eve, has anyone borrowed this idea and used it successfully in other communities or have you written it up so that people could borrow it? I’m working with a nonprofit in Kentucky that’s trying to get schools, public schools to engage more deeply and thoroughly with their communities and with their parents. And we have already started some workshops along those lines but this sounds like it could either contribute or add to it in some way.

Eve: Thank you for that question, Larry. So, for me that the interest is in supporting this work as much as possible and making it live in the world. On our website you can download a toolkit [https://spaceshipmedia.org/toolkit/introduction/]. It’s long, it’s 80 pages but it really maps out what we do, why and how and there’s a whole lot of news articles. It’s free. And there’s a whole lot of news articles too, but I’m also happy to talk to you about it. For me the way these projects are run is they’re large and demanding, but I think there’s lots of ways to take bits and pieces of this work. And I talk to journalists all the time who are doing similar things or taking some of the thinking or taking some of the practice into their own work.

  So, I invite you to do that and invite everyone to do that. I’m happy to chat with anyone who has questions about how they might set something up or how they might learn from what we’ve been doing. I think there’s so many ways to iterate on community connection and relationship building both in the journalistic space and outside. There’s also a great organization, the Bridge Alliance [https://www.bridgealliance.us/], which is a collection of organizations doing bridging work not in the journalism space. But there’s just so many organizations that have been doing this kind of work for a long time and then lots of new ones that have come up. Spaceship Media is the only one that I’m keenly aware of that is, and I’ve been looking, that really is in the journalism space doing bridging, thinking about community in this way.

Peter: And most of the people that cover your work call it human interest story. In fact, they let you write about it and they said, well, you write it and we’ll publish it. Whereas what Eve represents I think is a journalism that says what you are doing is news and the Common Good Collective wants to make that explicit and make it easy for us to come together and learn from each other how to do this so it becomes a collective of share the expertise and wisdom and not an academic expert based methodology so join us. Any final thoughts you have, John or Eve, about today [and] our conversation? And then stick around because we’re going to keep the space open for you. So, if you want to take a break, the you can continue the conversation after we [hear] final reflections from Eve.

  Eve, thank you so much for not only being here but enjoying being here. Anything you’d like to say about this conversation or reflections for the group that showed up?

Eve: Just thank you so much for having me and letting me be apart and just want to reiterate that there’s a resource on my site. And I said this during the breakout but I want to say it again and emphasize it, which is if there’s a takeaway, John had asked about takeaways I think, it’s to, as you look at news to have empathy for that reporter, that journalist who’s working hard to do this work in a complex and difficult and demanding landscape. But also I want to add to that, don’t be afraid to communicate with journalists in the way that you of course would like to be communicated with. If you see reporting that is framed in a way that you see as problematic or if you see things that aren’t accurate, help journalists, help them serve the community better. And I think and that’s hard to do in this landscape but it’s worth trying because providing feedback and valuable information in a respectful way is an important piece of all of that.

Peter: Journalists have their own sense of, I also think, reaching out.

  The journalist, you are part of our community and thank you, Eve, so much.

 

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About the Lead Author

John McKnight
John McKnight
John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.

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