Meeting Report

2010: Journalism That Matters For the 21st Century


Three themes, framed by recognition of the Power of Storytelling, emerged for further work from the Media Probe conducted on April 28-30, 2005:

Cultivate “healthy journalists”, renewing the inner life of the journalist;

Prepare the next generation, with an eye towards the emerging citizen journalist; and

Invent a new economic model. As one participant put it, “Perhaps journalism as we know it is a phase.  Rather than further compromise the work, it’s time to separate journalism from its current funding sources and find a new model.”

Perhaps the core idea uncovered by the probe:

Renew the inner life of the journalist to shift the questions asked.  Shift the questions asked and change the stories told. And if journalists tell different stories, we, the people, are better served.

Fetzer is uniquely positioned to contribute to a positive future for journalism because of its appreciation of the role of story in shaping culture and its existing expertise in working with the inner person.  Throughout the session, participants, who are actively engaged in improving their field, told us these two subjects we were discussing weren’t part of the current conversation. (Unlike the changes in technology which dominate the industry’s attention.)

By working with journalists, Fetzer has an exciting opportunity to experiment in supporting both individual and social formation.

Two next steps emerged from the meeting:

Explore Integrating Fetzer’s Individual Formation work reshaped for journalists into existing mid-career journalism fellowship programs:

  • Nieman Fellowships for Journalists at Harvard University;
  • University of Michigan Knight-Wallace Fellows program; and
  • Stanford’s Professional Journalism Fellowships program.

Conduct a second, larger probe that builds on the work recently completed.  The challenges facing journalism are extraordinarily complex: decreasing audience, disappearing traditional revenue sources, and radically changing technology that is altering the media landscape by offering new sources for information and changing the information model from “lecture” to “conversation”.  While the themes are clear, bringing together a larger sampling will enable us to better understand how to shape plans for social formation.

Background and Context

On April 28-30, Fetzer hosted five journalism professionals with experience in television, print, and new media, including working journalists, educators, a business person, and a community activist.

Journalists are in a deep malaise.  As an industry, newsroom culture has been characterized as defensive:

The readership study found that newsrooms had a strikingly defensive culture, both passive and aggressive. It is a culture most closely compared to the military and hospital emergency rooms. The study’s authors noted that “in the past, defensive cultures fared well — but today they are ill-equipped to respond to rapidly changing customer needs, surging competition, and revolutionary advances in technology.”[1]

Among the probe’s participants, this feeling that “things are not okay” expressed itself as a sense of urgency and willingness to step into the unknown.  Within the first hour, people dove deep into their own stories, speaking of their passion for journalism and their commitment to finding a path to a meaningful future.

How might this work impact people’s vocational life?

Given that virtually every aspect of the system is changing, it is no surprise that the “inner journalist” needs support.  Even among our open-minded probe participants, we expected some skepticism for Fetzer’s mission of fostering awareness of the power of love and forgiveness.  Instead, we found a belief that there would be a critical mass receptive to this notion.  The insight that renewing the journalist as an individual could affect the nature of storytelling was a key finding.

As journalists come to understand the power of love and forgiveness, they are ideally positioned to find bridging language to their audience.  For example, the idea for a column, program, or section on “Tools for Living” was met with enthusiasm.  The journalist as translator and educator is a feasible long-term outcome of a Journalist Formation project.

Healing the fear that divides us

Discussed throughout the meeting is the shift in journalism from a one-to-many orientation to a many-to-many orientation.  The implication is that journalists must learn new skills for interacting with audience.  They are no longer solely lecturers, telling their audience what they need to know.  They have the potential to be conveners and facilitators, bringing together diverse perspectives to create new understandings.  They can be the synthesizers, translators and bridges in a complex world, uncovering connections among the many facets of the whole rather than simplifying complexities to “a vs. b”.  Specific strategies for mentoring a new generation of journalists versed in such skills remain to be discovered.

How does this impact the dominant cultural story, provide different perspective?

Another theme from the weekend was the nature of questions.  What would happen if the simple act of “asking questions from another angle” broadly entered the consciousness of the reporter?  Could it lead to stories that envision a more loving and forgiving world view?  Today’s remarkable technology shifts make every person a potential journalist.  Wonderful ideas emerged to shape a new generation of citizen journalists.  For example, create a “shadow” paper with stories of hope and possibility, created through the passion and commitment of ordinary people, supported by professional journalists mentoring them on the essentials of journalism.  And to fund such a venture?  How about reaching out to non-profits, community groups, or others who are traditionally invisible.  As different stories are told, in different ways, perhaps the many voices of hope and possibility that already exist become more visible and the dominant culture story begins to shift.

While an ambitious experiment in social formation, what field is better positioned to shape a new cultural story?

Goals and Objectives

To engage the power of journalistic storytelling to shape a new cultural story by

  • renewing the inner life of journalists through individual formation work; and
  • uncovering new directions for preparing the next generation of journalists and developing a viable economic model through social formation work.

Long Term Outcomes

  • Shifts in the nature of stories covered to include, among other changes, increasing awareness of the power of love and forgiveness
  • A new, more interactive relationship between journalists and communities


Journalist Formation Project

  • Connect with the mid-career fellowship programs to offer formation work.
  • Work with a mix of journalists and people familiar with Fetzer’s formation work to shape an offering

Probe II

We propose a gathering of emerging media leaders who are collectively shaping the stories that inform our society’s thinking.  The process addresses these questions :

  • How do journalists grow capacity for handling the uncertainties of today’s world through  the power of story to shape culture?
  • How best to cultivate “healthy journalists”, deepening individual and collective awareness of our capacity to make a meaningful difference, rekindling the spark that brought many journalists to their vocation ?
  • Is it timely to seed a community of practice as a strategy towards sustaining the work begun by the Advisory Group,  uncovering potentials for small actions with large impact (e.g., asking questions from another side)?
  • How to cultivate the next generation of journalists –including the citizen-as-journalist made possible by technology’s evolution—by preparing them with the skills to reach out across what divides us?
  • Can we discover new economic models for journalism that tells an emerging cultural story –“journalism that matters”?

Core Disciplines of the Process

  • Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  Developed by David Cooperrider and colleagues in 1987, AI’s extensive research reveals the gift of an appreciative inquiry – questions, interviews, storytelling – to uncover strengths and possibilities as a basis for illuminating and inspiring powerful individual and collective action.  Given the critical role of inquiry in media, AI is a particularly valuable form for engaging media professionals.
  • Open Space Technology (OST).  Created by Harrison Owen in 1985, OST invites people to take responsibility for what they love.  Because of its power to quickly engage diverse people in self-organizing around what is important to them, it is extremely effective at uncovering unexpected insights, new connections, often creating clarity and commitment to action.  With media people, who as a culture are wary of manipulation, its expectation of adult behavior is warmly welcomed.
  • The World Café.  Shaped by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, TWC builds powerful relationships and community around their burning questions so people notice their patterns.  TWC enables voice in an intimate setting in which people begin to experience themselves as a fractal of the whole.  For journalists, it is a means of providing a space for sharing personal stories.
  • Dialogue.  Ancient in origins, brought into modern practice by physicist David Bohm, Dialogue develops the capacity to sense together.  Often a profound experience, in media, a field which frequently reduces issues to “a vs. b,” dialogue provides a remarkable opening to the possibilities inherent in connectedness, complexity and wholeness.

Taken together, these disciplines are a powerful testament to what consistently occurs when people are invited to express what is being called from their deepest inner resources.  In the process of being present to each other, people often experience a remarkable discovery: that what is most personal is also most universal.  New ideas and connections frequently emerge; people begin caring for themselves, others, and the whole, inspiring coherent, committed action in service to meaningful purpose.  In the context of media professionals, we believe we can create a nutrient container that seeds a community of practice committed to cultivating media that serves and sustains us all.

The Essential Flow of the Process

  • Work with our Advisory Group, including some who did not make it to the gathering, to prepare for the gathering:
    • To invite thought leaders, people on the “fertile crescent” of journalism, to a gathering of about 24 people, composed of emerging leaders who are influential and respected among their peers, reflecting the core disciplines of the field:
Business Reporter/Blogger* Editor/Producer* Total
Print 1 2 1 4
TV 1 2 1 4
New Media 1 2 1 4
Radio 1 1 2
3 7 4 14
Citizen Media Activists 3
Educators 3
Wall Street 1
Funders 3
Total 24
Other Characteristics #people
Race 1/3 minority 8
Gender 40% female 10
Geography balanced across east, west, midwest, south, southwest; some international
Political Perspective 20% conservative 4
Independent Media 15-20% 3
Age 15-20% participants under age 30 3
Guild person (union) 1
International 2

  • To shape appreciative interview questions based upon the themes identified in the initial probe so that new participants begin from that base
  • To help cast Fetzer’s mission in language that is compelling to journalists
  • To counsel the facilitators on design decisions resonant with media culture
  • Conduct appreciative interviews with invited participants
  • Employ a variation on the process used for the initial probe, bringing participants together for an evening and three full days (Thursday evening through Sunday noon), creating a setting that reaches towards the “tipping point” of a new story of journalism
    • Open with an evening of personal storytelling using the World Café to create an atmosphere of intimacy
    • Conduct two days of exploration in Open Space to deepen and broaden the themes
    • Synthesize the learning to focus on next steps on the last day of the conference
    • Support an on-line environment that enables ongoing connection among participants and others invited into the process
    • Engage an academic partner with graduate students who can trace the effect of this work over time

[1] NAA/Northwestern University Readership Study,, 2001.