#Solutions

I was talking with an old friend of mine a few weeks ago. This particular old friend also happens to be one of the finest journalists and storytellers I know so, because I am hoping to recruit him to be a guest on my podcast, I will wait to introduce you until later. But during the course of our conversation he told me about a woman he had met who was working with an organization called the Solutions Journalism Network that had some goals in common with Project to Find America. He suggested that I reach out to her, I resolved to and then promptly forgot amid my travels earlier this month.

But, for whatever reason, that conversation was the first thing I thought of upon waking this morning and I’ve spent much of the day since on that site looking through a treasure trove of interesting articles about how we are collectively solving some of the world’s problems. Needless to say I will be reaching out soon.

One article that caught my eye was the story of how a woman in St. Louis started an organization in the wake of the Ferguson, MO shootings in 2014 that has helped at least one community foster meaningful conversations about race and bias at a time when that dialogue seems more crucial then ever.

https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2019/0821/How-one-African-American-mom-tackles-racism-head-on?

Another story explained how the state of Arkansas (and some others) is enlisting the help of truck drivers to fight human trafficking.

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2017/11/the-truckers-taking-on-human-trafficking/545927/

This last one sparked some serious interest from the youngest member of the Craib house this morning. My son Alistair has shown an uncanny interest in the worn out and outdated electronics that fill our basement since he was a baby. Now an organization has come up with an approach that might help in not only reducing solid waste but also providing marketable service skills to a generation that may well need them in the age of automation.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3kxqmv/a-new-generation-of-students-is-teaching-us-how-to-reduce-e-waste

What do these stories have in common? More than you might think. But at the simplest level they are all about solving a problem. I doubt that any would claim that the subjects of these stories had the only solution to a problem or even that it was better than others – just that it aimed to fix something…to make things better.

We need more of this…a lot more. If and when we get it, politicians will be expected to talk about the solutions they propose and how they will work instead of trotting out the tired and well-worn recipe to political campaigns today:

  1. Talk in general terms about all the problems our world faces
  2. Offer unspecific and unmeasurable solutions to these “issues”
  3. Blame the other guy/party for the problem and criticize their approach to dealing with it

If candidates are using this approach when others are talking about measurable solutions they should seem as obviously lacking as the fourth-grader on the playground who tells everyone what a great basketball player he is but never seems to be found on the court.

This is achievable and it’s achievable in time to make a difference in the next set of federal elections coming next year. But we’ve got to start by doing three things.

  1. Just as we can only hope to change the behavior of elected officials at the polls we will probably only be effective at promoting better sources of news by, wait for it, consuming better news. Seek out solutions-based journalism. Solutions Journalism Network is a fine place to start. The upcoming 435 Voices podcast will also aim to highlight more journalists that are covering the nuances of issues that actually impact our lives. Finally, you might like this list of news sources from Forbes put together by a professor of journalism in response to a question similar to the one we covered last week.
  2. Learn to read and think about Internet news laterally not vertically. You will find a nice explanation of what this means here, but basically instead of reading more of a site to assess its credibility, leave the site open and use other browser windows to search on a statement and see what other sites have to say about it.
  3. Start to take a hard look at whether the people representing you in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are offering specific solutions to the outcomes you care about. Put their names in Google News and try Duck Duck Go too, it’s a pretty cool new search engine and you might be surprised to see some different things come up.

PS – While I’m on the subject of worthwhile organizations that are trying to mend some of the same fences we are, I want to mention Better Angels. A couple of readers have mentioned it to me after seeing what I’m tying to do here and I think their approach is fantastic. I hope you’ll have time to check it out. Incidentally, you can get a guide that offers approaches on how to have a productive conversation with that “difficult liberal” or “difficult conservative” in your life. I ordered both.

Unplugged?

It was an Internet connectivity double whammy this week. I was celebrating my upcoming birthday by camping with my family and some friends in the hills of Vermont. Our site had no electricity and there was also no cell signal except for one lonely bar that came up if you walked to the top of a nearby hill. I started writing this post looking out at beautiful Ricker Pond last weekend but getting these words to join the billions of bytes traveling the Interwebs turned out to be more than I could muster.

Ricker Pond in Groton, VT

I was chatting with a friend on the trip about Project to Find America; I am not good at this yet. If you have been reading this blog lately it would be reasonable to assume that I am an insufferable person to hang around with. That may be, but it’s not because I talk about PFA all the time. It is a difficult topic to bring up. It is not in my nature to enjoy making people uncomfortable and from my perspective, bringing up the topic of politics does exactly that.

But she brought it up. I’m beginning to try to make some sense of next year’s election, she said, but I don’t know where to start, I don’t know what to believe. She went on to say that she thinks most of the people she talks with are in a similar spot and I have seen this happening with my other friends as well.

The idea of a representative form of government is based on the idea of an informed electorate. We can hardly do our duty to choose an individual to represent our views if we don’t know what is really happening and have little to base those views on. But instead of an informed electorate in the United States today we have a populace that is increasingly misinformed, which is much worse than not informed at all.

For reasons that are pretty well articulated in this Prezi but I won’t rehash here, our perception of any news we get is likely biased in the first place. Here is an interesting but troubling view of this. The statements below look pretty easy to me to parse but almost half of the survey respondents were able to correctly identify three or fewer of the five statements below in each category as fact vs opinion.

Is Truth in the Eye of the Beholder?

But it exacerbates that problem ten-fold when media organizations decide what to write about or show us based on what their mountains of data tell them we will continue to read and watch. We like stories about who is winning and losing because it’s easy to keep track of, particularly if there are only two sides… so those stories are what we get. Sensational stories are even better at drawing us in and politicians have learned this, so despite the fact that most of the issues our government is trying to sort through are nuanced, often the coverage is about people making outrageous statements rather than offering constructive ideas. Give us too much nuance and we’re clicking a link and off to find out the amazing truth about what Marcia Brady looks like these days (actually it’s not that amazing, she got older like the rest of us)…it’s called clickbait for a reason.

But the point of this post isn’t to bash the media. It is too easy a target and this problem does not have easy solutions. There are a lot of very good media outlets in this country and reporters providing excellent fact-based coverage of the news. But they are hard to find amid all the flotsam and jetsam. Even more difficult is finding stories that provide the objective nuance we need to understand complex issues like how to make healthcare more affordable for most people and what a sensible approach to immigration policy might look like.

Enter 435 Voices. My original intent for the podcast we will launch next month was to invite people with a variety of backgrounds to talk about the outcomes that matter in their congressional district and approaches to delivering those outcomes. I may well come back to this before the series wraps up on Election Day 2020. But for now, I’m going to focus on at least two journalists from each district and my hope is to leverage the excellent work many journalists are already doing in their local coverage to contribute to these topics at a national level. Look for the schedule of the first congressional districts we’ll cover in the next few days and if you know someone who would be a great guest on 435 Voices please let me know.

Thank You!

Finally today I’d like to thank all the folks who sent me birthday well wishes yesterday on e-mail and Facebook and LinkedIn. They are most appreciated. Could I ask for just one more present from you this year? If you can think of two more people that might be interested in improving the way we talk about and cover political outcomes in this country would you send them the link to this blog (findamerica.org) and ask them to follow it too? It’s going to take a lot of us to begin to change the discussion.

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And Now The News

If there is an antidote to the kind of inveterate optimism it takes to believe we can actually cure the ills of Congress it is a stroll through the news of the day.

So far today I have read a quite disturbing story titled The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism, which as the author points out is a fairly ironic topic.

I’ve also learned a new and horrifying term...swatting.

I’ve read the latest on Jeffrey Epstein’s death

I even waded into op-ed, since it seems refreshing to me to still find opinion labeled as such in the newspaper rather than just mixed in with the news as if they were the same thing. Unfortunately this particular op-ed only served to convince me that what I would have guessed to be a universally desirable outcome, like safeguarding the electoral process, can be turned into a partisan topic.

I’m not suggesting these stories are not news, they are. The Times story, in particular, appears to have included some very good journalism. But isn’t there room somewhere for articles and information about what can be done to control healthcare costs? That has been at the top of almost every “which issues matter” poll I’ve seen this year. What is the President proposing to do about it? What is Congress’ next move when it returns to Washington next month? What does your representative think?

How about increasing wages? Or preparing today’s students and the millions of Americans without the skills to compete for the jobs of the future with those skills. Isn’t there room somewhere for coverage about what’s being done and, more importantly, not being done about that?

These were the top three outcomes listed in the July Project to Find America poll. Admittedly these are based on a tiny survey. More on that in a minute.

July 2019 Preferred Outcomes

Where do we go for news about what the President, or Congress or your state or community government are doing to drive these outcomes? That’s the question I’m hoping to address next.

But I need your help with this. Whether you voted or not in the July poll, I’ve reset the poll for August and you can vote now. And please please please, share this page with others and ask them to vote. Wouldn’t it be cool to get a real sense for the outcomes that Americans commonly want to drive instead of just the issues that divide us?