Solutions journalism

13. Reconciliation journalism /

It is both a genre of journalism that is still experimental and the ultimate phase of solutions journalism. Reconciliation journalism succeeds in dealing with divisive issues by calming minds and finding ways out of conflicts. 

Christians against Muslims, moderates against rigorists, atheists against believers, secularists against communitarians, antifa against white supremacists, hypochondriacs against antivax, Generation Z against boomers, cyclists against motorists, proletarians against bobos, peasants against urbanites, taxi drivers against VTC drivers, hooliganised yellows supporters against hooliganised blues supporters, uninhibited masculinists against proselytising mysandres, historical feminists against neo-feminists, universalists against essentialists, federalists against nationalists… and you are spared the tribal hatreds that cross all continents.

The world is becoming polarised and the debates increasingly divisive. Social networks feed on insults and invective, enriched by stereotypes and buoyed with misinformation. A separatist state of mind becomes the norm. Spouting hatred that sometimes transforms into action…

And journalists contribute to maintaining it. The era of “blablaclash”. The most intolerant people make the best talk showguests. But the most seductive punchlines are also hard blows to reason, peace and a particular art of “living together”. We stage wars instead of helping to solve them.

“As long as journalism is content to keep conflicts alive, it abdicates the power it has to help people find a way out of it,” says Amanda Ripley, author of the essay “Complicating the Narrative” for the Solution Journalism Network.

But this depressing observation is not inevitable. It is even the whole point of “Complicating the Narrative”, which explains how to transform this confrontational journalism into what we could call ” reconciliation  journalism”.

Changing your perspective by changing your method

Like many journalists in the United States, often liberal in the American sense of the term – that is, closer to Democratic ideas – Amanda Ripley was traumatised by the election of Donald Trump in 2016. And like others, she wondered why she had not anticipated this victory and how she could have better understood the motivations of the voters.  But unlike others, she was not content to meet them armed with her own prejudices. She tried to question them in a different way. Amanda Ripley understood that the essence of the conflicts that were undermining American society could not be appeased with conventional journalistic weapons. So she turned to specialists in conflict resolution: psychologists, lawyers, researchers, diplomats, mediators and even rabbis. “They know how to break toxic narratives and get people to reveal deeper truths,” she writes. “They do it every day – with spouses exhausted by their relationship, rival business partners, aggressive neighbours. They have learned how to get people to open up to new ideas, rather than shutting themselves away in judgement and indignation”. 

She discovered that it is useless to try to reason with an angry or frightened person. “Anyone who values the truth should stop worshipping reason,” sums up social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Irrational deadlocks can be real, deep and seemingly insurmountable. It is, for example, impossible to arouse the curiosity of someone who feels threatened. They will remain enclosed in their “filter bubble”. First of all, they need reassurance.

Why we don’t want to talk to journalists anymore

It is also becoming more and more complicated for journalists to speak with certain segments of the population. This is what happened in France during the “gilets jaunes” crisis, for example. This deadlock can occur anywhere when the atmosphere is close to a low-intensity civil war and the slightest issue is perceived as aggression. The journalist, even if honest and impartial (so they believe), is necessarily perceived as being on the other side.

Nina Fasciaux of the SJN (Solution Journalism Network) sums up this mistrust we experience after (unconsciously) provoking it: “Some people refuse to talk to us because the questions we ask attack them, put them in boxes.They don’t feel listened to, they don’t feel heard, they feel betrayed”. In fact, they have the impression that we already have their answers in our heads when we question them and they don’t want to “fit into this schematic we drew for them”. In short, to fit in with the angle we’ve created without asking their opinion.

However, Nina Fasciaux managed to ease relations between journalists and the “gilets jaunes” during a meeting in early 2020. How? By applying a method taken from Complicating the Narrative which is based on four pillars and starts with a rather unorthodox practice for journalists: looping.

The looping technique In other words, “loop for understanding”. In an interview a loop is where the questioner repeats and reformulates the respondent’s answer.”This listening technique aims to ensure that we have understood what the person wanted to tell us while showing that we have a real desire to understand what they are formulating”, explains Nina Fasciaux.In concrete terms? 1.We listen to understand.2.We share with the interviewee what we have understood (in our own words).3.We observe his reactions and validate (or correct) what we say. 4.We correct if we have misunderstood. Then we go on to find out more. The aim of this method, which may seem a little restrictive, is to build confidence. And then, something quite magical happens for Nina Fasciaux: “When a person feels understood, they tend to lower their guard and be more open to an opinion opposite to their own”. Asking about motives, not opinions Everybody has opinions. And we spend our days listening to the opinions of others, in our milieu as well as in the media. Mediators who are used to working on conflicts call these “positions”. And what interests them is digging underneath these positions. Instead of asking “what do you think…?”, we completely change our perspective and say…: –      How did you get there? –      How has this conflict affected your life?

  • What has shaped this opinion in your life?
  • What makes you trust one statement over another?
  • What is important for you?
  • How do you feel when you tell me?

“These questions may seem tricky,” writes Amanda Ripley, “but it’s surprising how rarely people have asked them.” “You see people blink and say, ‘I never thought of it like that’.” In total, the SJN listed 22 questions to “complicate our stories”. Find them attached.  The BBC experience To see what good reconciliation journalism can achieve, head to the BBC. “Crossing Divides ” is probably the most successful programme in reconciliation journalism. Surfers, rich kids riding the waves with inhabitants of favelas, pro and anti-brexiteers who talk to each other calmly or this extraordinary report about Christian and Muslim child soldiers who became friends in Indonesia… the range of subjects covered in ” Crossing Divides” is very broad. The formats are also varied: from video reports to analytical articles, including a day of “live” radio debates between people who are at odds with each other on the most divisive issues, from climate change to immigration. “The idea is to bring people together in a fragmented world,” says Emily Kasriel, the pioneer of solutions journalism at the BBC.Even though the ” Crossing Divides ” brand has only been in existence for two years, the concept will continue to permeate BBC programmes. And without doubt inspire other media in the world…

Something to think about before offering a peace pipe

  • Practise with people who don’t think like you at all. Practise the looping technique.
  • Meet mediation professionals and get inspired by their methods.
  • How do you deal with the most contentious issues in your media? How could you approach them through the lens of reconciliation journalism?

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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