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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Common Conversation



By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

It was bittersweet, reading Newsweek’s last print issue (it can now only be read digitally). All the writers reflected on a common theme in that issue – the unique type of “group journalism” that was used in this weekly news magazine. Stories and analysis were written based on files from reporters all over the world based on an agreed upon journalistic standard. For a long time, the articles in Newsweek didn’t even have bylines.

Now, instead of “group journalism,” news is produced and consumed in a very fractured way. “Group journalism” is a thing of the past, and most people now follow the analysis of television celebrity “talking heads.”  There are countless outlets, websites and channels, and many of us consume our news in a very tailored manner. I recently talked with some friends who said that they only watch one particular news channel – because they agree with that channel’s viewpoint, not because it had any excellence in news reporting.

The information revolution has allowed us access to news and information that is no longer controlled by a few major sources. It has allowed us access to news media from all over the world and from different perspectives. In some parts of the world, it has allowed us to hear alternative stories that we don’t hear due to state (or corporate) controlled media.

But it has also reduced our ability to have conversations based on a common groundwork of information and assumptions. We get the information we want, and consume more of the opinions that we agree with and that do not challenge our way of thinking.

And as a result, especially on topics we disagree with, we can’t talk to each other without either offending each other or wondering how on earth the other could think that way and still be a human being. The most recent US presidential election was an example of that, with so much political vitriol being shared and spread over Facebook, for example, that many people wanted to “de-friend” some of their friends because of their political opinions.

I want to change that, at least for myself. Here is what I’m doing to keep my mind open and capable of having common conversations:

  1. I maintain diverse friendships. Despite being very tempted to “de-friend” some people on Facebook, I decided to keep them as friends and even force myself to read their posts and comments. I do the same with friends in real life, not just on social networks. I want to keep my mind open to the way others think, and why they think that way. 
  2.  I double-check my sources. I rarely rely on one news source for information. I keep a few trusted sources, but  I’ll usually check a few outlets, especially if I find a story hard to believe.
  3. I avoid talking heads. It’s hard to check the facts while at the same time be entertained by a “talking head” with whom I might emotionally agree. 

How do you keep your mind open? How do you maintain common conversations and good relationships with people you may disagree with?