Listen Louder – How journalists can counter polarization
Polarization is an increasing danger both to freedom of the press and to democracy. The gap is extreme in the US but there is little room for complacency in Europe and elsewhere around the world. The Constructive Institute in Aarhus, Denmark, has brought together a group of international journalists at the beginning of this year to look at the issue. They examined the broad causes of polarization but focused mainly on the extent to which the media is to blame. Constructive Institute presented the project at the annual global constructive journalism conference in Bonn on June 22, 2022.
The Listen Louder project highlights ways in which journalists can help reduce polarization in politics and society at large, through best practices, tools and recommendations.
As part of the project, the Constructive Institute together with the analytics company Epinion has conducted a comparative study on attitudes to news and journalism, and participation in the public debate. Press here to read the report.
Welcome. This is the place for your contribution. Our project is intended just as a starting point, the first building block. The project will only work if people like you contribute to build it up, to bring it alive.
Please add any comment, or examples of good practice you have seen or tools that would be useful for journalists. We welcome criticism of the project and suggestions for improvements. Tell us what we have missed. We would also appreciate if you would add examples of good practice from around the world that we have undoubtedly failed to find. And please add too any recommendations for further tools for journalists.
A Practical Booklet
The group produced a booklet to be presented at the Constructive Journalism conference in Bonn on June 22. Members of the group also participated in the Global Medium Forum conference in Bonn in the preceding days. The booklet is titled Listen Louder, partly because many journalists tend not listen to what public wants, contributing to news fatigue and loss of trust. They especially do not listen hard enough – if at all – to younger readers and viewers.
The Listen Louder project highlights more than a dozen examples from around the world – from Japan to Germany, from Israel to Norway – of innovative ways in which journalists are trying to reduce polarization. It also make recommendations for a toolbox that journalists can pick from to help in moderating political debates or engaging the public. The booklet is just a starting point. The aim is for it is build up online as journalists and others contribute more examples of good practice or identify useful tools. Or simply just engage in further discussion.
“Journalists are needed as moderators of public conversation. In this way they can contribute to social cohesion and help strengthen democracy. Constructive dialogue is a fundamental condition of democracy.”
– Peter Lindner, Explorer & Former Editor at Süddeutsche Zeitung
Democracy cannot be taken for granted, unfortunately the public debate is often conducted favouring the loudest and those with the most “likes. Absence of rigorous moderation can to lead to polarisation, apathy and trust meltdown in society. Media play a key role as a filter between reality and the public perception of reality, and journalism has an important task to facilitate communication between experts, decision-makers and citizens.
In a debate setting with politicians and the public, news media traditionally find inspiration in warfare. These debates—the word coming from the French débattre, meaning fighting—are labelled by the media with aggressive titles such as “Duel”, “Crossfire” or “Fight Night”. News media need to find new formats for public conversation, new questions, new frame settings. Alternatives must be found for digital platforms as well as on TV, radio and print; formats that focus on important issues in society with inspiring ideas, best practices around the world, moderated dialogue and facts.
“How we can bring people together in a way where it’s okay that you disagree? It is important for our democracy to have conversations and debates with the purpose of learning more about other’s views. Younger generations don’t like the way we, the grown-ups, do debates. Let’s bring them in and do it their way—The young way!”
– Anne Katrine Førli, Explorer & Debate Editor at NRK
The Constructive News Lab, is located in the heart of the institute. It is an innovation center, nurturing new journalistic concepts, conducting experiments on new moderation styles, facilitating workshops and discussions. The lab has previously invited mediators from Law School, private marriage counsellors, crime conflict councillors, international hostage negotiators and other professionals with experiences in dealing with and mediating conflict.
Throughout the project, the Explorers will obtain insights from constructive journalism through lessons and conversations and doses of inspiration from international study tours (international trips to meet media, parliaments, NGOs and businesses in different cities from Oslo to Nairobi). They share an office at the institute and are part of the wider fellowship network.
The funding comes from Constructive Institute, and we have decided to use a no-strings-attached general donation from Meta to launch this important project.
“The journalism model we have now is partly broken. The old ways of doing journalism don’t work anymore, we need to look at journalism in a different way. The truth is in the middle.”
– Ewen MacAskill, Explorer & Former Journalist at The Guardian