When Spaceship Media's Erica Anderson found herself arguing with her mom over vaccines, she wanted to apply Spaceship's dialogue journalism techniques. What resulted was even more personal than anticipated.
In this episode, Eve Pearlman and Erica Anderson discuss centering relationships and community when having conversations across differences, how Spaceship Media approaches dialogue journalism to inform those conversations, and how the approach played out in Erica’s conversations with her mom in their new podcast, The Wedge.
(3:21) – Launching Spaceship Media and then The Wedge podcast
(19:03) – The tension between journalism and authenticity
(24:05) – Putting relationship and service first
(30:54) – The great scale question
(33:21) – Presenting facts in a way that people can hear them
(36:31) – Vulnerability and using objectivity as a personal shield
(39:08) – What does it take to do this work of dialogue journalism?
(43:03) – Rapid-fire questions
(56:22) – Fact check
Listen to the episode here:
- Spaceship Media: web, Twitter, Facebook
- Colorado Press Association: web, Twitter, Facebook
Eve Pearlman is a lifelong journalist with a deep commitment to serving and building communities. She cofounded Spaceship Media in 2016 as an experiment in journalistic innovation with a mission to reduce polarization, build communities and restore trust in media. In the years since, she has built a track record of developing, implementing and conceiving novel journalistic projects and approaches.
Earlier in her career, Pearlman was a reporter, blogger, columnist and social media strategist. She is the veteran of two startups: Patch, AOL's effort at serving local news markets; and State, a London-based social media platform connecting people around shared interests and views. She holds a bachelor's from Cornell University and a master's in journalism from Northwestern University. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Erica Anderson is an engagement journalist and moderator at Spaceship Media. She earned a Masters in Engagement Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. Erica also works for the NPR show StoryCorps and StoryCorps podcast as a fact checker. Before her pivot to journalism, she was a producer, actor and start-up co-founder of Seed&Spark, a film crowdfunding platform.
Eve Pearlman: You know, as the news and information space has gotten fragmented and cacophonous, it becomes even more vital to sit in that space of, like, humility with empathy and service, because people feel that. And that's, that's what you have going for you that trumps everything else, because people respond to real, to real connection. And it gets a little, I don't even know, if it gets a little woo-woo, but that's what you can do. It's like love does triumph, right? We get to the places we need to when we bring our best selves. And that's what I've been working on. And that's what Spaceship has been working on. And that's what this podcast is about. And that's where you see the transformation in the podcast is when, when that becomes the center.
Tim Regan-Porter: Welcome to the Local News Matters podcast, where we explore pathways to stronger journalism, better businesses, and healthier communities. I'm Tim Regan Porter, CEO of the Colorado Press Association. Each episode is sit down with guests from newsrooms and others in the local news ecosystem to highlight the innovative work of local newsrooms and those that support them, as well as the crucial questions they face.
This episode, I'm excited to bring you Eve Pearlman and Erica Anderson of Spaceship Media. Spaceship Media is a pioneer in dialogue journalism, using the tools of the craft — careful vetting of information, diligent research, attentive listening, curiosity, a commitment to serving the public good and our democracy — to engage and inform communities at odds.
Eve is a lifelong journalist with a deep commitment to serving and building communities. She cofounded Spaceship Media in 2016 as an experiment in journalistic innovation with a mission to reduce polarization, build communities and restore trust in media. Earlier in her career, Eve was a reporter, blogger, columnist and social media strategist. She is the veteran of two startups: Patch, AOL's effort at serving local news markets; and State, a London-based social media platform connecting people around shared interests and views. She holds a bachelor's from Cornell University and a master's in journalism from Northwestern University.
Erica Anderson is an engagement journalist and moderator at Spaceship Media. She earned a master’s in engagement journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. Erica also works for the NPR show StoryCorps and StoryCorps podcast as a fact checker. Before her pivot to journalism, she was a producer, actor and start-up co-founder of Seed&Spark, a film crowdfunding platform.
I’m also excited that this is the first episode produced with our partners at Pirate Audio. Their help raises the quality of the podcast and frees me up to focus on the things I need to do. Pirate Audio believes every community deserves great things to listen to, and they are on a mission to help local newsrooms reach their communities via audio. We’ll be working with them to help get more newsrooms into the podcasting space. More on that to come.
If you like what we’re trying to do here, please rate, review and follow in your favorite podcast app and tell your friends about us. You can find a full transcript and relevant links, and sign up for our newsletter, at localnewsmatterspodcast.com.
And now, I am pleased to welcome Eve Pearlman and Erica Anderson of Spaceship Media.
LAUNCHING SPACESHIP MEDIA AND THEN THE WEDGE PODCAST
So, why don't we start with a quick overview of Spaceship Media and the new podcast you have The Wedge. And then I want to dive into the podcast, and then zoom back out and talk a little bit about broader issues of having conversations across differences. And along the way, also I get a little bit of both of your backgrounds. So, do you want to start, Eve?
Pearlman: Yeah, I'll start, and then let Erica talk about the podcast. But Spaceship Media was launched in 2016 right after the election by me and another journalist who were interested in looking at the challenges of bringing people together to have meaningful dialogue embedded in a journalism space. And so, we launched with a conversation that brought Alabama Trump supporters together in dialogue with Bay Area Clinton supporters. And since then, we've hosted conversations about polarizing issues in partnership with existing established news organizations around the country. And this podcast is a little bit of a departure for us. It's a deep dialogue between two individuals. It was kind of birthed by the pandemic. We had some funding to do a much bigger dialogue in person and that didn't happen. And then, Erica had been working for Spaceship for a couple of years at that point on a number of different projects as a moderator and a reporter. And I'll let you talk about how we started in on this unless there's more you want to know, Tim, about Spaceship.
Regan-Porter: No, that's a good start. Erica, you want to take over?
Anderson: Yeah, Eve and I had been talking about, you know, trying to figure out what could we do and what did we have the bandwidth to do, especially, you know, as reporters reporting in the pandemic or journalists working in the pandemic, just sort of how much how much space did we have in our own life to really, you know, dig into these things and hold space for other people to have these conversations. And the initial project was looking at pairs of people who loved each other, but were approaching the pandemic differently. And we had focused on older people and younger people sort of look—approaching the pandemic in different ways. And a lot of younger people having concerns for their older relatives who weren't maybe taking it as seriously. Like my father who would go to the store 18 times in two days, the beginning of the pandemic. And it was driving me insane. And then in my personal life, I was dealing with the fact that I have family members who are pretty intensely anti-vax. And so we sort of floated it as an idea of could could we set up a conversation or could we look at something that was sort of ongoing that would be between me and one of my family members as a pilot episode or a pilot season of something or a way for us to look at how would we ask other people to show up to these conversations since normally in space of we do sort of these big group conversations. And this would be different because it would be one-on-one and people who already know each other and care about each other. So emotions are just going to be higher in general, you know, running higher.
Pearlman: I'm trying to remember, Erica, if we started talking about this before you got COVID or after. So Erica was in New York. She was in Brooklyn. No, no, definitely it was after because you had COVID in 2020, right? So Erica had COVID very early on, like was quite sick. It was scary. So that was…
Anderson: Yeah, I got sick two days after New York City shut down. So I was like one of those like early, early cases. And the rest of my family lives, my mom lives in Hawaii. So it was a very different pandemic for her. And the rest of my family was in Colorado. And so COVID hit really differently. And I, you know, from the very beginning was just this like totally panicked, like didn't feel like anybody was taking it seriously enough. And then I was one of the first people to get it in my family. And that that sort of shocked one wing of my family and not the other, I would say.
Regan-Porter: I want to dig into the podcast. You know, Eve and I go back a few years. We connected partly because of the project you were doing with Alabama Media Group and partly just through JSK with your partner in the business and had gotten to know each other. And back, I think right before the election, I was planning this podcast and had you on my list as one of the first people I wanted to talk to because we were coming up to election season. And you reached out and said, “Hey, we should reconnect. And we're starting this podcast with Colorado Public Radio called The Wedge. And that launched in early November. And I've really been enjoying the podcast. It's fascinating on a number of levels. And I want to dig into that. But it's, you know, you start off the podcast by saying, this is a national story. It's also a Colorado story. So Erica, neither you nor your mother live in Colorado, but why don’t you explain the Colorado connection.
Anderson: My mom only just recently moved from Colorado. So she was born there and lived there until she was in her, I guess, late 50s and her whole life had never lived anywhere else. lived on the Western slope, lived in Denver and then spent the last, I think 20 years in Boulder. I was born in Denver and then grew up in Boulder mostly and was there until I was about 18. I've moved back three times. So Colorado roots run very deep in our family.
Pearlman: So I grew up in Boulder also. I lived here from zero to 18 and have recently relocated back. Youknow, Boulder has its own particular culture. I mean, it's changed in the decades since I lived here. But certainly when I was young and when Erica, who's more than a decade younger than me, was here, there's a very particularly—
Anderson: Barely a decade, Eve.
Pearlman: There's a focus on wellness and health that is not unique, but it's, it's, there's some, you know, it's, it's a particular way of looking at the world. And I think it's important to, to flag that, you know, Erica's mom, she comes from that spot of thinking about the body and how it can care for itself and how you can take care of yourself and have fewer interventions. So she comes out of this culture. And so for me, that's a big piece of why it's a Boulder or Colorado story.
Regan-Porter: One of the interesting things I find about this podcast is it's, you're having a conversation that is of, you know, will certainly be familiar to many, many listeners across the country and beyond. But it has, it does have a different flavor for that very reason, that this is not your typical red, blue conversation that your mother—I think you described her as a hippie, coming from out of that sort of background. And so talk a little bit about that, how it has many echoes that will sound familiar for people who are used to the conversation, the sort of traditional left/right. But this has a whole different set of nuances because of, because it's not that divide specifically.
Anderson: Yeah, I think, I think you've really touched on something that, that's what caught Eve and I early on, like how could both of us being from Boulder and really feeling this just like, I don't know, confusion that there seemed to be this meeting of, you know, far lefty wellness culture with this like very intense sort of what we typically think of as like alt-right mentality. And this is what's really not typical red/blue. And Boulder to me, and you know, there are lots of other places, you know, like outside the Bay area, and you know, like Marin, places like that that have this same kind of wellness, holistic culture that I didn't really realize until we started digging into this podcast, how huge an industry it really is and how these sort of subtle messages and then not-so-subtle messages anymore about, you know, your body being, you know, something that you shouldn't be tainting that you should be, you know, that viruses are a natural occurrence, you know, sort of all of these, and they're, you know, the messaging is much more subtle than that. But that makes up for so much of the misinformation that we see on the internet. And I was shocked to find out that like of these people that are sort of, you know, pushing this stuff out into the world. My mom followed a lot of them. And my mom is like peaceful activist, but in a like, you know, loving open your heart, see the best in people. And then there's also just this like really suspicious, fearful vein that I watched her kind of get into. But I think specifically that far left meeting, alt-right, is this really interesting crossroads that they don't think we're done with yet. And it's a different podcast, but I would love to do something on Boulder specifically, really digging into this aspect of it.
Regan-Porter: And let's step back for a second. And can you just describe for listeners sort of the arc of the story without spoiling anything? But just what are they in for? What's this journey that you go on with your mom?
Anderson: Oh, man. Eve, how would you describe the arc of The Wedge?
Pearlman: It's funny because we were talking before like, how do we not spoil it? But so it's it's a mother and a daughter, Erica and her mom, Kini, talking over the course of a year in 2021 about not just their ideas and feelings and views about vaccines, but about the medical system and about health and about wellness. And it starts with Erica inviting her mom into this project. You know, it comes from Erica being wanting to engage with her mom and sort of wanting to find a way to coexist in a better way with her mom and to be close to her mom. And so they start by talking, you know, she asked her mom to talk to her and then really invites her mom to talk a lot and share a lot about her life and her family and the interaction she's had with the medical system. And then there's, you know, the conversation deepens over time. They visit a therapist together and apart. Erica goes on her by herself and they go together and talk to people, scientists who cover misinformation and cover just regular science journalism. And so then it's, you know, it's a story of kind of digging deep and arriving at a spot. I think it's not spoiling it to say that Erica's pregnant during the time, and it's Kini's first grandchild. You know, it adds this very layer of intensity and urgency that that wouldn't have been there because there's the health of the, you know, the real risks of the health of the baby and Erica's pregnancy during a pandemic. It was a journey. I mean, I can't, I wish I knew, I wish I could tell you how many hours of conversation we recorded and I can tell you how many drafts we went through. There's a lot packed into it. We worked really hard to tell, you know, tell the story as fairly and with as much nuance as we could. And in a certain way, it was a luxury because we were, we had a lot of time to do it.
Anderson: Yeah, I think too something that would be important to know that one of the tenants of Spaceship’s work is to start by listening. And I realized that my mom and I had been doing a lot of talking at one another and exchanging facts, arguing and hanging up on one another and you know, like, and not so really just continuing to try to do the same thing and hope for different results. And so the very first part of this project was me taking a step back and saying, okay, well, if I'm a journalist, what do journalists do? They ask questions and they listen at the beginning. And I realized there was a lot of things I didn't know about my mom just in who she is in the world, but also kind of what drives her. And she's had quite a life. I think that that is something that listeners are definitely in for, that Keeney Christie has lived many, many lifetimes and the things that have happened to her and what she has, you know, just through her own strength of will really gotten through would take out a weaker person absolutely. So my mom is definitely a fighter in that way and a huge love. So that's where we started was I interviewed her about her life and focused on kind of how the medical industry really plays a part in her life, but I would say for anyone who would want to try one of these dialogues or, you know, is having an issue like this in their family to start by asking this person to tell you who they are. And my mom says that that was one of the most meaningful things for her during this whole process, to feel like, a) I would just as her daughter take my personal time to do this, but that I would devote, you know, part of my job to this and that she matters that much. I think a lot of times and what was happening with my mom and I, certainly around vaccines, but other things are that if I didn't want to talk to her about it, if I didn't want something to be uncomfortable, I would just start avoiding it. And she just felt more and more frozen out from my life. And so it was like an olive branch to say, no, tell me, tell me who you are in your words. It matters to me. So that was a huge place to start. And from that, we realized that we had a lot of hurt. And there were a lot of old stories. And I realized that I couldn't do it alone. I had the support of Eve and the support of Spaceship, but that in order to move forward, we needed more help. So that's another thing I would tell people who were trying to do this, that it isn't just about like keep having the same conversation over and over and over again. It's about finding new ways to connect and new ways to listen. And so we saw a Colorado based therapist, Julie Caldwell, who is incredible. She is a miracle worker. And that was a huge, huge piece for us in order to move forward.
Regan-Porter: You know, there's so many aspects of this that I appreciate. The time period, the extended conversations, the intentionality. It's very different than arguments over, you know, an issue. You know, this is not Jane Coaston in The Argument with the New York Times. It is a very, it's a very different flavor and goal. And, you know, I think that that underlies sort of everything Spaceship Media does. And the fact that it's you and your mom is also something different. Could you have had this conversation, do you think—this extended listening and back and forth—with someone who wasn't family?
Anderson: I don't know that I would have bothered, honestly. I think part of this, you know, I have my, I have a brother for instance, who I love dearly. And we initially thought, oh, okay, maybe this, maybe I would have these conversations with him, but we've been estranged for a while. And it didn't feel—not that it was worth it. I don't want to put it in those words. But with my mom, I could see that there was a relationship there that I really wanted to preserve. And I think being pregnant and having, you know, wanting my mom to be in my baby's life was a huge reason to push forward. But there were definitely times where I, you know, called Eve and would be like, I don't think that I can do this. And I don't know if it's worth it. I think the answer might just have to be that I don't have my mom in my life. So I think that, yeah, it was pluses and minuses for sure. And I think you have to choose carefully who those people are that you're really going to fight for, because it, it's a lot. It takes, it takes a lot.
THE TENSION BETWEEN JOURNALISM AND AUTHENTICITY
Regan-Porter: Yeah. And then from a journalistic standpoint, of course, you know, traditional journalism—and I think all of us here aren’t particularly vested in the traditional way of doing things. It's not uncommon in podcasts, but traditionally the journalist is separate from his or her subject, which is obviously not the case here. And the projects you've done before Eve had been you as an outsider going into a conversation. So how do you approach that differently? And how do you, how do you maintain sort of, I don't know if objective the right word, but how do you maintain the journalistic value of what you're doing?
Pearlman: Yeah, that's such an interesting question. I mean, I just want to flag that for me as a journalist and for the way Spaceship works with journalists is to invite them to what I think of it at the most simple is just to be really real about who they are and where they stand. And so like, you know, I've done a lot of work in the American South. And so I've always gone into those relationships, not pretending that I'm not exactly what I am, which is like I'm a coastal lefty, I'm a Jewish person, I've been a columnist, you can go find them, you know, my values and views are very clear. And so I always struggled prior to this, you know, that kind of to me feels false or pretend. And so part of the construction of other work we've done and also this conversation was to invite Erica as a journalist to say, I have a view about vaccines, right? I have a view about COVID and to be really transparent about that, which doesn't mean she can't look at information carefully and vet, you know, sources reliably. And you know, we worked really hard to be to be as true as possible to Kini and to Erica and to the other people, obviously, to represent them as best we can and as accurately and as with as much fairness as we can. But that certainly is a piece of this, the thinking of Spaceship is like, let's go forth as what we are. And we can still do the work as journalists. And I don't know if you want to add to that, Erica, but that's sort of what we said.
Anderson:I think that this also touches on sort of an inherent tension that we felt in this process, but that I feel in all of Spaceship’s projects and journalism in general, but I had the desire to change my mom's mind, 100%.
Pearlman: And I felt like this is where me and Erica were, and I'm interrupting you almost on purpose, Erica. Because, oh, wait, I've, there's a little lag, but I want to say like this was the the hugest point of tension between me and Erica.
Anderson: Yeah. And but in a good way, you know, so it was like there were two goals. I wanted to maintain a relationship with my mother and have it be, you know, an honest and open and loving relationship. And I wanted my mom to change her mind about her views. And those two things I hoped could coexist, but it made it incredibly frustrating because as a journalist, I have access to, you know, I have an experience of how to research and how to find experts and how to talk to them. And so I had hoped, oh, I'll bring my mother into my world. And she, and she will see, she will see the light, you know, of the truth of what this is. And that doesn't, that's not how the world works. And there are so many conversations where I would come to Eve and I would say, you know, it's not working. She goes, that's not the point, the point is maintaining the connection. And then we see, and then we see what happens because you can't get anywhere with anyone if you're not, if you're not in connection. And I was like, yeah, I got totally totally totally, but I'm still going to change her mind. You know, like that, that was just this constant, constant piece. And, you know, I often feel like we have these big conversations and people are in a room or online and they're, you know, finding common ground. These people who, you know, voted for Trump and voted for Hillary. And they're not feeling animosity towards each other. And then my question always is, okay, so now what, how do we change the people's mind who are wrong, you know. And then it's like this, so I'm constantly having to reset of just that isn't the point. Even as frustrating as that is, you know, for journalists who want to talk about, you know, big-T truth, you know, I don't, I don't have all the answers, none of us do. And I don't know that that future ever happens, but what became so clear doing this podcast was there has to be a way to coexist and not just tolerate one another, but be able to, you know, live and love my mom and respect her and respect her choices and remove her that like the emotional connection of her feeling like this threat to me and my baby, you know, and therefore that's what was driving me to try to change her mind. And once I sort of figured that out through therapy and many sessions with Eve, it became a really different, well, it became really different in my, in my life personally and professionally, but that's also an ongoing thing. It wasn't just like a place you arrive at.
PUTTING RELATIONSHIP AND SERVICE FIRST
Regan-Porter: And that tension came through throughout the podcast. And I find that fascinating and very relatable as I've have been conversation with my mom who says she wants to understand, but I think she wants to convince me and I think I want to convince her. Adam Grant had a book out a couple of years ago about changing your mind. I don't know if either of you have familiar with that. He basically said there are four modes of thinking and operating in this sort of environment. And he had a two by two matrix. One axis was evidence and belief where you fall on that spectrum. And on the other was winning or finding truth. And he described the different quadrants as preacher, politician, prosecutor, or scientist. And of course, he, scientist is the goal, I think, for a lot of us, evidence based and finding the truth. But we all, his, his assertion and I would validate this from my experiences, we tend to fall into one of the other categories. We're, we're very interested in winning. And I hear you struggling with that. What are you trying to accomplish here and, and what preserves a relationship and covering something true. And so, yeah, the whole process was fascinating.
Pearlman: It's interesting. I don't think about it that way, but I do, you know, every, all the work I do, reaffirms my understanding sort of a, of a core operating principle for Spaceship Media, which is relationships come first before any, anything else. So without relationship, without connection, without respect, any kind of dialogue is not going to have resonance or meaning or value. And I also, you know, a corollary to that that it's become increasingly clear to me and it plays out in this in Erica's story is that, you know, and it's almost like a platitude because everyone says it's like, you can only, you can only change yourself, right? You can only, you can, you cannot control what the world brings you, but you can't control your reaction. And what Erica and her mom do, that is so brave and extraordinary, is that they self reflect and they self reflect again, and they pay attention and they are aware, you know, they both have tremendous emotional intelligence and ability to articulate the complexity of their feelings and their ideas, but that understanding, which I'm forgetting which episode, where Erica really under—begins to understand what's happening for her in this dynamic with her mother is to me the—you know, people always want to, people are always like, what do I do? How do I do this? How do I fix this? You know, how do I, people, we want a how-to, we want a 10 point list, we want to, and we can do that, but the, the, the real transformation, the real movement, the real growth is always going to be, I believe, internal first because then you interact differently in the world and then the world interacts differently with you.
Regan-Porter: Fascinating. So I want to dig into a little bit about that whole aspect of it as it relates to journalism. You're operating in that space, and when you talk about relationships, that's very hard, I think, for journalists to think about. There's a line from singer-songwriter, T Bone Burnett, a song where he's criticizing politicians and preachers, and he says, when you're talking to that many people at one time, you're bound to be lying to somebody at some point, you know, sometime. You know, how do we think about journalism, which is still maybe too much (of a) broadcast mindset, but it's, it's how do you think about relationships? How do you think about having these rich, nuanced conversations when you are talking to a lot of people at once and all the nuance tends to get sucked out?
Pearlman: I don't know how to answer that question exactly, Tim, but I think a lot about, you know, when I was a regular journalist, right? I always did my very best to, even if the story was short and simple, to give truth to the deepest complexity. So maybe I would spend 20 hours on a story about something, and it's only, you know, it's not a long story, but I've in each piece of my creation, I've tried to not belie the complexity below what I'm presenting. I don't know if that's a, that directly answers your question, but another thing I think a lot about is humility, and, you know, the older I get, the more aware I am of how much my vision is just one vision, my place of seeing is just one place of seeing, and, you know, I think I became a journalist because I'm deeply curious, and I'm always, for me, excited by when I can like actually get a glimpse of someone else's mindset, or someone else's interpretation of the same set of facts that we see and how it means something different to them. And so I guess if your question is how, how, how to bring, I don't know, empathy or death, it's, it's that ongoing awareness of our own fallibility, and, you know, the possibilities for what we don't know, because, you know, journalists are, I always think journalists are such interesting people because we have to create something from nothing, often on deadline, we have to synthesize and storytell and make stuff happen. It takes a tremendous amount of confidence, and I think that, you know, marrying confidence and guts with constant evaluation and reevaluation is a good, a good way forward. That may have gotten wandering in general, I don't know if you want to add something more specific and useful, Erica.
Anderson: So I, I came to journalism late. This is not my first career, and I feel really privileged for the fact that my lens into journalism was through this engagement style of journalism, and seeing first and foremost, like, is this thing that you are making going to serve someone or a population or a community of people? Is this giving them information that they need? Is this, is this somehow making their life better? Is it giving them a blueprint? Is it giving them a tool? And, and to me, that's, you know, showing a relationship between my mom and I, this is definitely not what I thought I would, you know, would be the thing that I would make early in my career, something so incredibly personal, but certainly the feedback we've gotten is just, you know, everybody has someone that they love and that they disagree with, and they don't know what to do about that, to varying degrees. And our hope was that this could be a blueprint or just a release valve or, you know, for other people to take a first step to think about what it would look like to have that person in their life again. And, you know, we set out to make a piece that we thought, I thought, was going to be a lot more about facts and changing minds and like showing the journalistic process to someone who was not a journalist. And that's not ultimately what brought any sort of conclusion to this or any kind of, you know, payoff.
THE GREAT SCALE QUESTION
Regan-Porter: Yeah, you know, I think part of, part of what I would say to my own question would be, you know, we need the fact-based traditional reporting, but the end point is not an article laying out the facts, that I think if news organizations are going to be crucial to the community, which I think they are, they're going to maintain that place, really have to engage people beyond just factual reporting. We need to engage them in dialogue. We need to understand the emotions and the relationships embedded. And that requires formats that are different, that requires convening, that requires conversation. But it also requires a lot of effort, as your podcast illustrates, some of that sort of mammoth undertaking. And so how does the scale? Does it scale? Does trust scale? Do relationships scale? How does a news organization think about being in there and actually making it work?
Pearlman: It's the great scale question. I always, I have a cheeky answer to that, which is that, which is that relationships don't scale, right? You don't scale your marriage, you don't scale your parenting. You actually, and you don't even scale, you know, your craft, like an investigative piece can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. So I don't even know if scale is the right, right question. I always think that there's just lots and lots of lots of ways to do journalism, to be a journalism, to be a journalist. There's great value in the piece that takes three years. There's great value in the piece that lets you know why the street is closed down there. It's different, but it's, it's, we need that. There is a movement, you alluded to it, you know, engagement journalism, participatory journalism, constructive journalism. There's a lot of people who are working on the same sorts of challenges to the, the kind of journalistic positioning that, that doesn't invite consideration and empathy and expansiveness and humility. And so I think we're seeing all kinds of efforts to do it differently. I mean, I think I often sit on the point of we're not, we don't have a shortage of information, right? Like there's plenty of good reporting that exists, but we do have a shortage of people being able to hear it. And that's why, you know, Spaceship sits where Spaceship sits. It's just like how can we make it so the facts that I bear are hereable and consumable or digestible.
PRESENTING FACTS IN A WAY THAT PEOPLE CAN HEAR THEM
Regan-Porter: And what have you learned about that question? How do you present facts in a way that people can hear them?
Pearlman: In our sort of traditional dialogue journalism process where we convene groups of people with journalists as moderators, what we've learned is that when you show up as a person, as you show up in relationship, and when you show up consistently, when you show up in service, people can hear your facts. And I, and I think that that's a, I want to flag that as a really important thing is I think about Spaceship’s work and many other journalistic innovator works as centering community, not the reporter. So not my byline, my story, my brand, but what am I doing to be in service to, in our case, divided communities who aren't hearing each other, but across the board. And I think when, when you show up in service, people know that and hear that. And that's very different than showing up extractively, right? Here, give me the quote that fits my story. Give me the sound bite that says what I have in mind, you should say, so that it flows in my piece. It's just a very different orientation. And I, I sort of believe that, you know, as the news and information space has gotten fragmented and cacophonous, it becomes even more vital to sit in that space of like humility with empathy and, and service, because people feel that. And that's, that's what you have going for you that trumps everything else, because people respond to real, to real connection. And it, and it gets a little, I don't even know if it gets a little woo-woo but that's what you can do. It's like love does triumph, right? We get to the places we need to when we bring our best selves. And that's what I've been working on. And that's what Spaceship has been working on. And that's what this podcast is about. And that's where you see the transformation in the podcast is when, when that becomes the center.
Anderson: Good job, Eve. That was so good.
Pearlman: It's so funny. And you should know how many hours—I really want to call out the team on this podcast, because it's, it's Erica was, it's Erica's voice, but we brought on Emily Harris, who was at CIR/Reveal. She edited this, way beyond the scope of her original contract. And Maya La Pearl, who she, she was in the weeds. Yeah. But like the, so the four of us had endless conversations about this, about what we were doing, how to do it, how to be fair, how to support Erica. Like it's, it was, you know, that's like the story behind the story. Like, and thank God a lot of my voice ended up on the cutting room floor, but it was an exercise in like, consideration and empathy and storytelling.
Anderson: Yeah. I mean, for every conversation I had with my mom, there were three that happened with Eve and Maya and then Emily, you know, from what is the story we're trying to tell to, you know, what do we do next? And then ultimately like in the, in the writing and editing process, you know, all of that all over again, but it was such a collaborative experience and so many, so many woman hours put in.
VULNERABILITY AND USING OBJECTIVITY AS A PERSONAL SHIELD
Regan-Porter:: And I really appreciated your vulnerability in that process, Erica, from what, as a listener. I want to find the exact quote, maybe you an tell me what episode was in, but you, you said something about you realize you were coming at this project and trying to intellectualize everything. And then you realize there's something deeper. And, and the fact that you invited us onto the metaphorical psychologist's couch and let us hear some of those sessions, that's, that's, that's a rare glimpse into that process. So I really appreciated that openness and transparency and vulnerability.
Anderson: Thank you. Yeah. I think that that was a big realization. And I think it's something that we do as journalists, sort of this idea of, you know, objectivity that I, that somehow you could stop being a human to report on something and that that would in any way serve you. And obviously, you know, that's tricky, you know, talking about bias and things like that. But we also do this a lot to just make it through the world, you know, to make it through our day. You have to, you know, intellectualize things a little bit to separate it from you. But in this case, that just, that wasn't serving my life. And it also wasn't honest because, you know, what was driving me was absolute terror. And I wasn't acknowledging that. I was making it about my mom being wrong. And I recognized that it was very vulnerable. I think in the process I felt so held by the women that I was working with. And the fact that it was my mom and it was a therapist that I've seen for 10 years. And now that it's out in the world and I'm like, I see what they mean by this is really vulnerable. And I don't regret it at all. I think that, I think that's where big change happens. And it is also scary. It's, you know, then it's vulnerable to have it out there. So yeah, but thank you for saying that.
Regan-Porter: By the way, I particularly appreciated the moment with the therapist where she encourages you to give in to yourself righteousness and just lean-in to your thoughts. I think as Americans, we're very used to repressing all the shadow-side stuff.
Anderson: And you realize when you actually really do, and this is obviously why her tools are so brilliant, but that like you realize that you've been thinking that that's the truth. And how big of a space that's filled up, at least for me when I get to you know, say it out loud. But it is also very satisfying.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO DO THIS WORK OF DIALOGUE JOURNALISM?
Regan-Porter: Before we transition into some rapid-fire questions, Eve, I want to give you an opportunity for publishers, small business owners, editors who love the idea of this, but just feel too stressed and overwhelmed and wonder what the impact on their own organization would be, what's your, what's your, what's your pitch for why you really need to devote some, some resources to this?
Pearlman: Well, first I would, I would say that you should only do it if you want to because look, it's not for everybody and everybody, you know, people have different skills and different interests and different passions and different ways to be. But I, our conception here is very much specifically to say, hey, journalist, you have views and values and ideas come forth with them and talk to someone with whom you disagree. Like that's the conceit. And so that takes a particular kind of person. And so that, you know, starting from there. And then I would say, um, it's fun. Look, we, I became a journalist and everyone I know became a journalist in part because they're curious and they want to push and they want to challenge. And this is one way of pushing the kind of you know, the works that Erica did and that other, other journalists have done a partnership with us is one way. Right? It's like, to me, it's always feels like you're looking around like what you quite can't, can't quite see. And that's growth and that's exciting. And, and that's why this podcast is exciting because there's growth and important growth. So I don't know if that's a pitch or a disclaimer, but I, I think it's fun and challenging, right?
Anderson: Yeah, I think that, I think that journalism organizations that, you know, we talk about being really strapped for cash and how do we scale things and yet, you know, we plan huge, you know, projects that last a long time and cost a ton of money and in the grand scheme of things, it was, you know, four of us primarily and we were all doing other projects as well. And I think, you know, a traditional news room, whether that's, you know, a radio station or, you know, there's no one's ever just working on one thing anyway. And in our best versions of ourselves, we're really good at collaborating. We already have that, you know, that set up. We have reporters and editors and, and then distribution arms and I think that it's getting creative with your time. And so this one took a lot of time because we also had time. And there's, you know, there's another version of The Wedge that we could have released a year ago that wouldn't be as tight, but it would be great still. And so I think we talk about how much time went into this and how much care and how much love, but it wasn't anyone's full-time job. I did it until, you know, I was pregnant, work doing, you know, other work and working on this, you know, until that day I went into labor. And yeah, I just don't want people to feel like it's this monumentous thing that they would have to like carve out an entire team in their newsroom to devote only to that. I don't actually even think that doing it that way serves, serves kind of doing these, these new journalism projects. So that's my pitch to shake it up.
Regan-Porter: I think that's a good reminder. But these, these community engagement, listener/reader/audience engagement, can be very meaningful and take lots of different forms and not be a herculean undertaking. And I would just encourage people to look at the marginal benefit of that additional cop story versus actually forming a relationship, even with a small number of people, because that grows and is more impactful in many ways, certainly to those people.
Pearlman: I mean, I think it's also worth mentioning, you know, this is a family, this is, this matters more, this is Eric's mom. Like your mom is, is a really important relationship to invest some time in.
Regan-Porter: Yeah. So some rapid fire questions and your answers can, can be short or long, that's fine.
Pearlman: I feel like I need a buzzer, Tim
Regan-Porter: So we'll start off in an easy one, messy desk or clean desk?
Pearlman: Oh, messy.
Anderson: I mean, aspirationally clean, always messy.
Pearlman: 100% messy. And I have, there's lots of research about like how that's good.
Anderson: That you have found.
Pearlman: Oh, yeah, I'll share with you after.
Regan-Porter: I’ve found that research as well. Compared to a year ago, are you more or less optimistic about the future of local news?
Anderson: When was a year ago?
Pearlman: Well, Erica. December 15, 2021.
Anderson: More. More.
Pearlman: Okay, I'll leave it there. Do you have a favorite failure? You're better off because you failed, because you learned something or it put you in a different place.
Pearlman: I'm happiest working when I don't feel failure. I don't fear failure, when I'm like, this could go wrong, but I'm going to try my damnedest to keep it. And sometimes it does, but that's not a specific failure. I just like having failure in my consciousness because it pushes me towards like knowing it's okay and trying to avoid it at the same time.
Anderson: Well, and feel free to not include this, but I immediately thought, my mind went to like more, you know, on a personal level of like a failed relationship and like really dark and like, you know, having a miscarriage and being so, so, so grateful to not be in that relationship. And that means not having had that kid. And that, that was the reason that relationship failed. And I'm eternally grateful.
Regan-Porter: What's the best single piece of advice you've been given?
Anderson: The one that comes up the most for me and actually a friend of mine just reached out to me yesterday, and he was like, I told a whole room of journalists this thing you told me and I was like, oh god. But when there are days where you are, you know, really overwhelmed or, you know, every, you're just kind of like in the shit of it or in the weeds that those are not the days to make like big life or career or personal choices, those are chop wood, carry water days where you just do the things that you're supposed to do. And that that comes straight from my mom. And it's amazing to me how many people are like, you know, send me a text today as a chop wood, carry water day. Like I see you.
Pearlman: Adriana Garcia, who you know, Tim, through the JSK thing gave me a bracelet that has inside it keep fucking going because—and I like that and I wear it often. I'm not wearing it at the moment, but it's like just go, keep going. Even if you're just carrying water, you're going.
Anderson: It's like the Winston Churchill quote, like if you're going through hell, keep going because if you stop, then you're staying in hell.
Regan-Porter: What piece of of common advice or conventional wisdom drives you crazy its wrongness or over-simplification?
Anderson: My mind just goes blank. Right. I'm like, I've never been told anything.
Pearlman: Where I went was like, was to sort of a dark place around gender because a lot of things that are, that are maybe truisms for male entrepreneurs are not truisms for females. Like I'm thinking about, you know, the research. Well, first of all, you know, like 97% of venture capital money goes to men, but also like you see these comparisons of like if women to behave, say this, they're considered, you know, know-it-alls, but if men say this, they're considered assertive. And like, so I get sort of frustrated by advice that applies to men that doesn't apply to women. And they're treated as universal truisms.
Anderson: Yeah. Thinking about that in terms of motherhood as well. The recommendation for, you know, just give your partner a list of things that he should do. Make the list for him. And I hate that because that means I'm in charge and I have to do the mental work of coming up with the list, you know, and I think that that's just bullshit. You know, I don't want to make a honey-do list. I want, I want a partner, you know, where we're both thinking about this life together and I'm not assigning tasks to you.
Regan-Porter: What is your favorite place to think big?
Anderson: The shower.
Pearlman: Outside usually for me, oceans, mountains, also under the covers for some reason too. Anderson: I guess in the shower, they just like come to—I don't like intend on it, but I'll suddenly be like, oh my god, I'm having a great thought.
Regan-Porter: And how do you capture that? Just try to remember it until you can get to your computer?
Regan-Porter: What's one thing you do to restore yourself and maintain your sanity?
Anderson: A bath. I figured out pretty early on that taking a bath kind of resets my nervous system. And I remember in eighth grade, I was going through, my parents were in a getting, they were already divorced. But anyway, there was like a lot of stuff going on. And every day for like six months, I would come home and take a bath and I would make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and have a glass of milk and take a bath. Like I have not like had peanut butter and jelly since, it was just like this very specific time, but that started the like bath tradition.
Pearlman: I think quiet is, I, you know, spending a lot of time in quiet by myself away from noise and discord of our time is very helpful.
Regan-Porter: What's your smartest time saving heck?
Pearlman: Oh, I don't save any time at all.
Anderson: Like doing things really fast.
Pearlman: Yeah, this one pertains to you a lot, Erica.
Anderson: I don't feel like I'm, I'm hacking the time saving aspect of things. I feel like I honestly as a new mom, I've just learned how to do things faster. I didn't think that was possible. And I hated hearing people say that before I had kids, but it has been a truth for me.
Pearlman: I guess I will say that I don't, I don't require myself to work if I'm not working. I like, I know things, if I'm in a right state of mind, things can happen very quickly. And I don't pretend at all. You know, I don't schedule. I don't make myself sit at a computer for a certain time. I just do it when it's makes sense to do it. I don't think that's a hack.
Regan-Porter: What's a creative measure of success you've set for yourself or for a team you've managed?
Pearlman: You know, I was for this podcast and other things. I'm super interested in making, I don't know what the right word for it is, but sort of non-hierarchical, making space for everyone to contribute and to sort of utilize the intelligence and skills and sophistication of everyone in the room.
Anderson: I saw a theater piece when I was in high school called the Laramie Project in Denver, the Denver Center. And I was so, and I was like, you know, a documentary style type piece. And I was so affected. I was, I can remember palpably sitting in the audience and the way I was feeling like I felt changed from when I sat down in that seat, both emotionally, but also intellectually and sort of the information that I had received and the relationships and the art and you know that it had this you know, physical effect on me. And I think I was 18 at the time. And I said, if I could make people feel the way that I feel right now, I would do that for the rest of my life. And I thought that was acting. And that was a, that was a world for a while. And that's my like ultimate goal in any piece that I make is that it will, it will make people feel something and feel changed when they are done experiencing it.
Regan-Porter: And then finally, what are some media recommendations you have? It could be books, podcasts, newsletters, movies, websites?
Pearlman: So a book I am almost through right now is How Minds Change: The new science of belief, opinion and persuasion. And it's by David McRaney. And it's a very well crafted look at how our brains work and why and how it is difficult to change minds. And I highly recommend that.
Anderson: The one I'm reading right now is called Pleasure Activism. And this woman is just the most—adrienne maree brown. She wrote another book called Emergent Strategy. And it's— Pleasure Activism is how do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience? And you know, not you know, feeling like how do, how can we make change and also make it pleasurable so that we will keep doing it? I think it's really, that's been really interesting to me lately.
Regan-Porter: Well, you just released your podcast. Do you have any must listen podcasts that you personally…
Anderson: Oh, yes. And then we're going to out Eve by not being a podcast listener.
Pearlman: I know. Because I have no, so initially I was like, they were, they were all like, we have to make a podcast. And I'm like, I don't know; I don’t listen to podcasts. I don't process information that well through my ears. And they're like, no, no, we're making a podcast. I don't know.
Anderson: Well, one that we actually talked a lot about while making The Wedge was Rabbit Hole by the New York Times, which is like, you know, I don't know, talking about like, you know, have you heard of like these awards that give out to movies; they're called the Oscars. Like, I know Rabbit Hole’s like something people have heard about. But I think it's really interesting what they did by really getting to show someone's process over time by having their browser history or their YouTube history to really see what, what it looks like when you are pulled down the rabbit hole and why, you know, of misinformation. But the other one that I just finished, which I just absolutely loved was called Dead Eyes. And it's by this actor and comedian who in the very beginning of his career was, auditioned and got a part for, Tom Hanks and Spielberg when they did Band of Brothers. And he was like a brand new actor. And I'm not spoiling anything. This is like, he says it in the beginning of it. He got called by his agent the day before he was supposed to start filming and said, you know, there's a huge problem. You have to go in and re-audition for Tom Hanks because he thinks you have Dead Eyes. And this is now, I mean, that was like 20—it was like 1999 or 2000 that this happened. So this is a long time ago. And he uses this podcast as this incredible journey with this sort of like tongue in cheek, like maybe I'll get to talk to Tom Hanks and I, help find out, you know, I'll find out what really happened because he ended up getting fired and he never got to do the piece. And the question was did Tom Hanks really say that. But it becomes this beautiful piece about rejection. Talk about a failure that you learn something from. And he like he quit acting for 10 years. And then he starts doing, you know, his whole life completely shifts. And it's three seasons. And it's just riveting to listen to him talk to a bunch of different actors, different writers about success and failure and vulnerability. And when something means too much to you that you know, the stakes are way too high so that it just crushes you as a human being. And then you know, he's talking to really interesting people throughout it. And it's just such good storytelling. And I highly, highly recommend it.
Regan-Porter: All right. And finally, let's tell listeners how they can find The Wedge, find out about Spaceship Media, where they can follow each of you on social media, which is important, I think, for you, Erica, because there are two Erica Anderson's in journalism in New York.
Anderson: I mean, they're like a bazillion of us in the world. So it's, definitely my parents don't get like originality awards for my name. Where's the best place to send them, Eve, CPR?
Pearlman: Yeah, it's—I mean, The Wedge is on every podcast platform, but I've been sending people just the NPR link, but just Google NPR and The Wedge.
Anderson: And then it's distributed by Colorado Public Radio, so you can find it through their podcast. But it's, you know, Apple Podcast, Spotify, The Wedge.
Pearlman: And spaceshipmedia.org is our website. We're spaceship_media on Twitter, and I'm EvePerlman on Twitter. And Erica, your Twitter handle is wingsofapig.
THE FACT CHECK
Rachel Pickarski: Rachel Pickarski, partnerships manager, here.
Bay Edwards: This is Bay Edwards, assistant director at the Colorado Press Association.
Pickarski: Just like good journalists, we want to make sure we're checking the facts. So this is the fact check portion of this episode. Tim references a line from a T Bone Burnett song. The exact line is “Because when you're talking to that many people at one time, you're bound to be lying to someone at some time.” It's from the song “I Can Explain Everything” off the 1992 album, The Criminal Under My Own Hat. While T Bone Burnett is a singer-songwriter, he is best known as the Grammy-winning producer and music supervisor behind such movies as O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Walk the Line and albums from Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Bradi Carlile, and many others.
Edwards: Tim mentions a book by Adam Grant about changing your mind in different modes of thinking: preacher, prosecutor, politician and scientist. The title of that book is Think Again: The power of knowing what you don't know. Here's a quick overview of how those four ways of thinking are described in this book. Preacher mode is when we're convinced that we're right. This is the style you use when you're trying to persuade others of your way of thinking. Prosecutor mode is when we're trying to prove someone else wrong. Politician mode is when we're trying to win the approval of our audience. And scientist, which is when you favor humility over pride and curiosity over conviction. You look for reasons why you might be wrong, not just reasons why you must be right. Grant argues that we should be thinking more like scientists, willing to hear new points of view, but eager to seek out evidence that contradicts your opinion.
Pickarski: Erica mentions the book Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown. She explains that the book is about making social justice a pleasurable human experience, not only in how we can make change, but also making it pleasurable so that we will keep doing it. The book summary is how do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience? How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life? Editor adrienne maree brown finds the answers in something she calls “Pleasure Activism,” a politics of healing and happiness that explores the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work.
Edwards: They mentioned the Winston Churchill quote, “If you're going through hell, keep going.” They quote this correctly, and Winston Churchill said this in 1940 when the British faced the Nazis during World War II. This is the line that summed up his personal career and the spirit that led the British to victory, which was “never, never, never give up.”
Pickarski: In the rapid fire questions at the end, Tim asks, “Where is your favorite place to think big?” Eve she does her best thinking in the shower, and this is something you hear a lot. People having an aha moment or an artist conceiving their next greatest hit in the shower or doing some other seemingly mundane tasks. There's actually science behind that. Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive scientist and co-author of Wired To Create, described a study he did showing that 72% of people get creative ideas in the shower. The study highlights the importance of relaxation for creative thinking. Kaufman says that the relaxing, solitary, and not judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams. There are similar studies showing that taking walks, getting outside, and other activities can guard her the same effect.
Edwards: They talk about the Rabbit Hole podcast and mention that they actually talked a lot about this while making their own podcast, The Wedge. The Rabbit Hole is an eight-episode series about what the internet is doing to us. The Times tech columnist Kevin Roose discovers what happens when our lives move online. That's it from the fact check.
Regan-Porter: Thank you for listening to the Local News Matters podcast. And thank you to Eve and Erica for your time and thoughtfulness and all the work you do to serve communities. Check back next episode for my conversation with Michael Bolden, CEO and executive director of the American Press Institute. The American Press Institute advances an innovative and sustainable news industry by helping publishers understand and engage audiences, grow revenue, improve public service journalism, and succeed at organizational change. And we have a wide ranging conversation around that holistic view. If you like this episode and what we're doing more generally, please follow in your favorite podcast app. Leave us a five-star review in Apple podcast and tell your friends about us. It really makes a difference. You can find a full transcript and relevant links and sign up for our newsletter at localnewsmatterspodcast.com or for lazy typists like me at lnmpod.com. If you have recommendations of others doing interesting and innovative work in local news, let me know through the contact form at the website lnmpod.com.