Public Conversation, the News Media, and Us

US media are abuzz with the controversy over health care reform and
disruptions of so-called “town hall meetings”.
News media could contribute to the health of democracy far more by giving
at least equal time to
  * the many instances in which high quality public conversations
translate political differences into greater understanding
  * the creative thinking going on in the dialogue and deliberation
professional community about how to make public conversations more positive and productive and
  * the ways that public officials could improve their dialogic
engagement with constituencies — approaches that citizens could demand their representatives put into practice.
Furthermore, news media could also actually convene high quality public
conversations, as envisioned by Journalism that Matters visionary and process maven Peggy Holman in her recent KOSMOS
article (which describes,
among many other journalistic innovations, my vision of how journalism can contribute to community
As I wrote today in response to a Harvard “Journalism as Conversation” blog
  “‘Journalism as a conversation'” need not be limited to online
conversations between journalists and their readers/viewers. Recognizing the vital importance of high quality
conversation for democracy, journalists can convene quality public conversations and then report on them to stimulate
further quality conversation in the public sphere. Perhaps the most remarkable example is MACLEAN’S magazine’s 1991
“The People’s Verdict” special issue
which triggered months of creative dialogue all over a hotly divided
Canada. The need for this is vividly obvious today from the fate of the current ‘town hall meetings’ on health care.
Media could follow guidelines and resources at
and make a real difference in our democracies. Instead of simply reporting
on conflicted parties, get them to interact creatively and then report on THAT. Maybe that’s democracy 3.0.”
The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation has compiled a whole
page of links to new commentary on the subject of creative public dialogue in these times of controversy and crisis
and compiled their own overall response in a link-filled op-ed piece

Perhaps most importantly of all, they have created a sample letter that democracy advocates like you can send to news outlets (letters to the editor), your friends, and in your blogs, your blog comments, and your tweets. They also created a letter especially for public officials to give some guidance on how to convene better public conversations on controversial topics.

Both of these letters end with this list of resources:
  ** NCDD Members Directory:
Find a facilitator or convening organization in your region. Or contact for help finding someone.
  ** NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework:
This free resource helps practitioners, community leaders and elected
officials decide which public engagement methods are most appropriate for their circumstances and resources.
  ** Core Principles for Public Engagement:
These seven principles were developed collaboratively by leaders in citizen
engagement, and have been endorsed by over 50 organizations.
  ** Discussion Guides on Healthcare
– Coping with the Cost of Health Care: How Do We Pay for What We Need?
(National Issues Forums):
– Citizens Survival Kit on Health Care (Public Agenda):
  ** Millions of Voices: A Blueprint for Engaging the American Public in
National Policy-Making: (pdf)
Offers a plan for National Discussions that will engage more than one
million Americans in substantive deliberations about public issues.
If you want to propose even more innovative approaches, you can gather
material from our Co-Intelligence Institute website page on politics
and participate in CII’s “‘Listen to the People’ Pledge Campaign for
Politicians and Public Officials”
or spread the word about the way a “choice creating” process could be used
to generate breakthroughs in the health care debate (you can get a pdf on this from
I invite you to use this material from CII, NCDD and elsewhere as grist for
your own mill: What would YOU like to say to the media, your networks, and public officials? Use, quote, modify, or
ignore what we’ve articulated and compiled to the extent it serves your efforts for democracy. Your passion and
clarity is what counts. (Brevity also helps — a lesson I continually try to learn!)
This is a teachable moment. We can use the media buzz about the conflicts
and dysfunctions of our political life as a carrier wave for our visions of a more vibrant and wise democracy.
Peggy Holman suggests there is one more question journalists should ask
after they get answers to the classic news questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. That question defines
an emerging field of “possibility journalism” — “What is possible now?”
Both our media and government will only move towards higher forms of
democracy to the extent we demand it. So let’s demand it.

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