Reconnecting to our values and each other means setting aside the language of politics
Here’s how journalism can help us get back to our roots.
Hey y’all! Anita here. It’s been almost exactly a year since I wrote about polarization in this newsletter, and coincidentally, I felt compelled to write a companion piece of sorts for this week’s edition of The Other Wave. 🐻❄️
Several months ago, I stopped attending one of my book clubs after nearly two years because I eventually realized that the group of acquaintances I met with every month largely weren’t interested in critical discussion of the books that remotely strayed from their political views. On one occasion, a member retorted that I “sounded conservative” after I commented on the beauty of the sentiment in one particular passage from Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, which explores themes of obligation to self, society and family.
When I was commenting on the Lowland passage, I was expressing my belief in personal responsibility and the need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. It’s basically the “fill your cup because you can't pour from an empty cup" concept, which isn’t at all tied to any political ideology. The book club member didn’t understand that I was speaking to my values, rather than my politics.
Although everyone in the club was a highly educated and accomplished professional, several members fell prey to groupthink and heuristics. That got me thinking about the way we talk about modern politics, and how we need to be more thoughtful when framing political issues and perspectives — especially since, as George Orwell argues in his seminal essay “Politics and the English Language,” political language is vague, meaningless and meant to conceal truth rather than express it. In the context of journalism, because political writers often use the same phrases that politicians do, they pantomime ideology without thinking and limit political ideas to only those expressed by political parties. Ultimately, Orwell says, independent thinking is the victim.
Anand Giridharadas, author of one of my favourite newsletters The.Ink, echoes this perspective in “What we talk about when we talk about politics”:
We have come to a place in American political life where we no longer talk about the thing. We are always talking around the thing. About the process that might or might not bring the thing. About the players advocating for and obstructing the thing. But we never, ever talk about the thing.
As you can imagine, this lack of precision in language can lead to misunderstanding and can fan the flames of polarization.
That’s why I was so excited to come across a recent report from the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which found that the lack of public trust in journalism may be more rooted in people’s moral values than their politics:
We found the participants in our study fell into four distinct clusters based on similar moral values and attitudes toward core principles of journalism. Only one of those clusters leans clearly partisan—a liberal, mostly Democrat cluster of people who strongly endorsed journalism values. The other three groups are composed of a mix of party affiliations and ideologies, and have varying degrees of hesitation about some core journalism principles.
This is very heartening because, as the report suggests, if stories are rewritten to broaden their moral appeal, they become more interesting to people in all groups. Not only could this approach help journalists rebuild trust among the public, it could also build bridges between people with conflicting politics thereby creating a shared truth, which is essential for a functioning democracy. I plan to test out this moral-values framing with The Green Line’s journalism, so stay tuned for the results in future newsletters.
When I look at my own social circle, I don’t intentionally seek out people who share the same politics as me. As a baseline, I enjoy surrounding myself with people who are honest (with themselves and others), and who treat their family and friends well — folks you can find across the political spectrum.
Follow The Green Line
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Paid opportunity: Apply to be a Green Line fellow
The Green Line is currently hiring Business Development Innovation Fellows, as well as News Innovation Fellows who are interested in reporting on digital communities, e/sports and sneakers, especially through a Toronto lens. I’m prioritizing applicants who identify as being from underrepresented communities in Toronto, which in this context means people who don’t see themselves reflected in legacy local media.
If you want to learn more, feel free to contact me for more information. Or if you’re interested, please send me your resume, cover letter and links to three clips (multimedia is preferred).
Vote for me in #ONAElects
I’m running for re-election in the 2022-23 Online News Association Board of Directors election this year! Visit my ONA profile, check out this extended Q&A and watch the virtual candidate forum to find out how I’ve contributed to the digital journalism community.
Polls close tomorrow, so you only have one day left to cast your ballot. Vote for me if you share the same vision for the future of journalism that I do — one that embraces both 🧠 and ❤️
In my community
This past week, I joined The Narwhal’s Fatima Syed and The Toronto Star’s Evy Kwong on a panel hosted by On Canada Project, Google News Initiative and LION. We shared the lessons we’ve learned disrupting traditional news spaces and our visions for the future of Canadian journalism.
I’ll be teaching two courses for the Canadian Association of Black Journalists’ Media Startup Bootcamp in November. If you’re a Black content creator or aspiring news entrepreneur, register here.
I recently hosted “Building Better Digital News for Blind and Other Disabled Users,” a featured talk at ONA Insights where I interviewed Chancey Fleet, assistive technology coordinator at the New York Public Library, about how to address the gaps that prevent people with disabilities from fully accessing digital news.
News Revenue Engine is a new, open-source product that aims to help newsrooms with technology that makes it easier to get funding. Developed by News Revenue Hub and Google News Initiative, the product will be released next year.
Cool stuff I like
My colleague and Online News Association executive director Irving Washington sent me a Very Important Link to the Cat Writers' Association, “a global cat-centric professional organization dedicated to excellence in written, visual and audio media.”
Listen to The Green Majority, described as Canada’s only environmental politics radio show, on CIUT 89.5 FM every Friday at 11 a.m. ET. It’s also hosted by my good friend, Stefan Hostetter.
Check out this article in The Conversation in which three anthropologists argue that land acknowledgements meant to honour Indigenous people too often do the opposite by sanitizing history. The authors say they may harm more than they heal. Do you agree?
How you can support The Other Wave
My professional mission has always been to support the global movement towards more thoughtful, impactful news coverage, and all the ways that manifests. If The Other Wave gets you to think even a little differently about journalism, especially in Canada, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do. And if TOW gets you to take action and support Canadian media outlets — especially ones that strive to be innovative and inclusive — I will have exceeded my expectations.
If my values and goals resonate with you, please consider supporting fiercely independent media analysis that fills in gaps in coverage of the Canadian journalism landscape. How? Feel free to provide feedback, pass along resources, donate money or simply share this newsletter with your friends.