Spaceship Media Dialogue Journalism Toolkit

The Moving Parts

This section explores the components you should think about when embarking on a Dialogue Journalism project. It outlines the ways that the seven steps of our method are implemented in practice.

The Organizing Question

Each project starts with a organizing question. The question should go to the heart of the divisive issue you are convening the conversation about. The question should go to the heart of the divide, while also leaving room for multiple viewpoints within a conversation.

Conversations will of course veer from the central question — this is expected and welcomed — but the core driver for involvement is interest in and concern about the issue at the heart of the organizing question.  

Example framing questions:

  • Do you support or oppose increased enforcement of immigration laws?
  • In a world where the climate is changing, what type of food system do you think will best improve and safeguard the future of food and protect the environment?  
  • Do guns, gun violence and gun-related policy in America matter deeply to you?

Dialogue journalism is asking two opposite groups the most basic questions about perception.

—Brianna Calix, Fresno Bee

The Moderator

Moderators are essential to Dialogue Journalism. They are the ones who support and nurture dialogue and also deal with day-to-day logistics. Most importantly, moderators make sure the conversation is progressing in a useful, valuable, respectful manner.  Moderators are models of curiosity, civility and careful listening. When seeking moderators — whether from your own team or from outside your organization — look for people who are observant, empathetic, clear communicators, even-tempered and willing to have one-on-one contact with conversation participants. Moderation and moderation strategies are detailed in our downloadable toolkit here.

The Platform

After you settle on an organizing question, you should think about location. Where will you host your project? In person? Online? Both? Your aim: host your project in a space or on a platform where people are already gathering or where it is easy for them to gather. We explore platform specifics in our downloadable toolkit here.

The FactStacks

FactStacks are central to Dialogue Journalism. They are non-narrative compendiums of facts and figures reported directly in response to the questions and issues that arise in conversations we host. FactStacks begin with a participant’s question, a conversational impasse, or a desire for more information. FactStacks are bulleted lists of facts and figures about the topics people are discussing in the conversation — from the legislative history of Confederate statues to the basics of bump stocks to a comparative look at health care costs in different communities.

Abby Crain, AL.com reporter in The Many on how she regularly checked the group to find story ideas.

“Reporters of my generation have always looked to social media to see what people are talking about,” she says. “It’s easy to get the person with the most polarizing response, but it’s important to get the nuanced stories. This really helps dig a layer deeper.”

Reporters often generate FactStacks, which are carefully sourced, transparently reported compendiums of facts and figures delivered to participants in the conversation. Other reporters spend time reporting back in to the group as well as out of it. In both Guns: An American Conversation and The Many: A Conversation Across Divides reporters created a newsletter that was sent out to participants about interesting conversations they may have missed each week.  

Libraries and Librarians

In The Many: A Conversation Across Divides, we partnered with librarians who provided research and reporting that our editors turned into FactStacks for the conversation. If your newsroom is tight on resources, a library partnership for creating FactStacks is an excellent option. While this method still requires an editor (in the case of The Many, that job was part of the duties of the Project Manager), it leaves the research to the librarians, who are well-placed to provide this kind of in-depth, well-sourced reporting. In a time when trust in journalism (and journalists!) continues to dwindle, libraries and librarians continue to enjoy public support as beacons of truth. You can read more about our library partnership in our downloadable PDF.

Participants

When selecting participants for a conversation, you’ll want to look for people who are interested in and open to having conversations of substance with those whom they disagree. Not everyone is interested in this! That’s OK.  And sometimes people say they’re interested, they’ll respond to a call out and fill out the survey, and then change their minds. That’s OK too. You want to find people who are game to be a part of different sort of dialogue.

You also want to build communities that are even on both sides of the divide you. You’ll also want each group to be reflective, as best as possible, of the diversity, by all metrics of each side of the divide.