Why Hold a Different Kind of Better Angels Event?
Better Angels is so good we want to share it. The Sacramento Alliance is always looking for new ways to help people experience the Better Angels magic.
We wanted to hold a public event on a provocative topic that would attract a larger audience than a Red / Blue Workshop with less organizing effort. We picked the topic, “The Media’s Role in Polarizing America.” The event was open to the general public, so although we advertised to attract both Reds and Blues, we did not have to orchestrate strict parity between the groups. The event took place on October 27, 2018.
The two hour program had two components. The first was a demonstration of two Better Angels techniques: the Fishbowl, and Questions of Understanding. The second component was a panel of local media experts convened to discuss the media’s role in polarization.
Demonstration of Better Angels Exercises
For the demonstration, we recruited eight volunteers (four Reds and four Blues) who had previously participated in workshops. In front of the audience, the volunteers participated in a shortened Fishbowl. In a normal workshop, we use the standard generic questions about the value and shortcomings of each side. For this event, we modified the questions to make them relevant to the topic:
- How do you pick your media for news and current events?
- Do you have any concerns about the media you pick, such as creating self-perpetuating media bubbles?
After the Fishbowl, the volunteers demonstrated the Questions of Understanding exercise. In a regular workshop, the Red and Blue groups each take 20 minutes to meet separately and formulate good questions for the other side, questions that are tough but not “gotcha” questions. We didn’t have the luxury of taking that much time during this event. Instead, we discussed questions with the volunteers beforehand and had them ready to go.
After the demonstration, we took questions from the audience about the exercises and how the workshops work. People were intrigued and energized about the possibility of conservatives and liberals being able to talk and listen to each other in a civil and positive atmosphere.
For the media panel, we used the contacts in our network to recruit an impressive array of local media experts. The panelists included a journalism professor, a Republican media consultant, a retired executive from McClatchy, Inc. (parent company of the Sacramento Bee), a conservative AM radio talk show host, a retired television reporter, and the chief of content for the Sacramento NPR affiliate.
The moderator for the panel was our own John Wood, Jr., Director of Better Angels Media.
The panel discussed the challenges of the current media landscape. The proliferation of internet and social media platforms has given everyone a voice, and potentially, a following. Algorithms that cater to the preferences of the users can create self-referential echo chambers where people hear only the news that confirms their predilections. Extreme positions get the most attention and generate even more likes, shares, and views. The panelists explored the responsibilities of media companies and users alike.
Over 100 people attended the event and many expressed an interest in attending future workshops. We considered the event a huge success and plan on holding similar events on other topics in the future.