Pre-conference interview by Tom Honig

Conversationalist 1: Peggy Holman

Conversationalist 2: Tom Honig

My conversation with Peggy Holman was particularly fascinating for each of us because we come from two different worlds — she from community activism, I from mainstream journalism, working for one smalltown newspaper for 35 years. Peggy came to the world of journalism through her concern that arose out of media coverage. In her case, the incident was a shooting at a Jewish Community Center in 1999. Her concern arose out of coverage that was overly simplified and didn’t serve the greater needs of either those involved or the community in general. She felt that the stories coming out of the violence did not really serve the needs of the community. She asked: “What in my world could serve the journalist?”

She was lucky enough to meet Steven Silha and Chris Peck, who were both smart enough to realize that her background in organizational behavior and the process of appreciative inquiry could add a lot to the discussion of the future of journalism. As her involvement grew, including at a presentation at APME in 2001, Peggy learned that many journalists care deeply about the craft and about its importance. She says in this age of upheaval, that she is reaching out to people like me — mainstream journalists who are seeking new ways to bring traditional values to the public.

1. My takeaway from Peggy is that the new form of journalism will be engagement. No longer will consuming news be a passive activity. Rather, the consumers are part of the process and are engaged with stories. They’re part of the storytelling process because there are so many questions that the so-called “expert” journalist can’t answer. It’s about community engagement. However, what form will that take? Going along with community engagement is a more nuanced dialogue. People are becoming frustrated with mainstream journalism for a number of reasons, but one of important reasons is the tendency toward oversimplification. Instead of covering “flame-throwers” from each side of a dialogue, the future of community-engaged journalism ought to present news and information in a more complex — and truthful — way. In her words: It’s harder (today) to do a good story. Things can’t be reduced to A versus B; There are more voices of color present in our reality than even 20 years ago. To tell a story only with the ‘usual suspects’  isn’t sufficient. More than the technology is a consciousness that says it’s really important to get at least three sides to a story. We need a way of telling stories that look more into inter-relationships. It’s possible to tell a story that doesn’t shirk the truth, but frames it in a way to find a handle in a way to check in (with the community.)”

And: “An old story is dying and a new one is being born. It can be likened to the early days of the country. Bloggers are the new pampheteers and new reporters; they are rekindling civic engagement by what they’re doing. It’s the seeds of a new media explosion; how do professional journalists and citizen journalists mix.

Also: Peggy says the big question in the future of journalism revolves around the art of engagement. How do we engage in a civil dialogue? People have skills to do that. The journalism of the future may be in the community hosting role creating spaces where there are agreements. Too often the norm has became “keep your mouth shut.” And it’s killing us. In reality, and in her work, distinct points of view can bring you together. It’s what is at heart of art of engagement: have a conversation with people different from yourself and stay connected. People are doing that online.

2. Standout quote: Newspapers cover stories; citizens share stories.

3. The conversation with Peggy Holman was an example of two people from different worlds having a dialogue about the best in journalism and the best in community engagement. It’s my feeling that the future of journalism will be necessity include the news consumers, and yet the best of journalism will have bring to the party what it does best: provide information and perhaps even knowledge that is fact-tested. In an increasingly complex world, news reportage will have to feature clarity even when it comes to the most complex of scientific, technical and financial information. Journalism is about way more than opinion. We must carry forward informed dialogues. Yes, journalism must engage with the community. But there comes a point where those in position of more technical knowledge are provided a forum to explain the world to those who may not be informed.

Finally: the biggest unanswered question, to me, is this: who is going to pay for journalism? How will those who specialize in covering the news in a responsible way do it in a way where they get  paid a living wage?

About Peggy Holman

Peggy Holman supports organizations and communities to uncover creative responses to complex challenges using innovative engagement processes. The Change Handbook, co-authored with Tom Devane and Steven Cady, documents many such processes. The book is the considered the definitive resource for leaders and consultants working to increase resilience, agility, and collaboration in organizations and other social systems. Peggy co-founded Journalism that Matters in 2001 with three journalists to support the pioneers who are shaping the emerging news and information ecology. Peggy’s latest book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity, supports people facing disruptions to invite others to join them in realizing new possibilities.
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