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Inclusive and Generative Journalism for a New Narrative

Curator's Note: The Reimagining Democracy blog series by Peter Pula continues with an exploration of the key elements of a reimagined democracy. In this blog, Peter writes about another one of those elements: inclusive and Generative Journalism for a new narrative. A blog on the topic of schools as an element of a reimagined democracy is forthcoming. To read Part 1 in this series, click here.

The stories we tell shape our culture. Journalism as a civic art, to be of real assistance to democracy, has a few things to overcome.

The first is where it looks for the emerging narrative. Institutions have resources and power. This is how they continue to dominate our news narrative. The people, on the other hand, are more loosely organized and their resources and power are less concentrated. They can be harder to find. Who is to tell their story? How do they get the attention of our storytellers? Fellow journalists, where is it that we are looking for our news? Let’s look to community and those who are exercising their creativity and agency.

Secondly, we must transcend to higher states of inquiry. Consider carefully the questions we ask. Every question either reinforces the current narrative or it cultivates new life.

  It is not at all that we need to create something that is not there. We have only to have the imagination to see where it already exists. We must then illuminate and cultivate it.

Do your questions rest in who-what-when-where-why, then report on the observed facts, thus reinforcing them? Or, do they mine for giftedness, emergence, and what is about to happen? Do they surface what is possible now that wasn’t possible before? Do they tug away at discovering how our source might go about getting there, and what sort of support they would like from their fellow community members? Do you dare anticipate what might happen next and print it?

A third thing to address is change theory. It is time to move beyond industrial-age change theory. Approaches like biomimicry, asset-based community development, and appreciative inquiry are all well-tested approaches. They are fresh, accessible, well-taught, and supported by communities of practice. To get good at them takes a change of mind and lots of persistence.

A fourth hurdle is one of context and content knowledge. Media in general knows how to cover business and politics as usual. So, it does. Its approach to narrating the cycle of protest, debate, and competition fans those flames and reinforces an old narrative. It has yet to see past its current paradigm of democracy. It believes it is serving, as the fourth estate, as well as it can by doing what it has always done. It too often serves to reinforce the institutional-system-world narrative. It has so far done little to emphasize an alternative narrative. It is beholden to its dissociative embeddedness in the institutional narrative of protest and debate.

Every election we allow ourselves to become yet again distracted by the circus at the expense of illuminating the enabling and ennobling stories of real democracy, that of civic and associational life.

A new expert storyteller will learn to be comfortable and transparent with their subjectivity, to deepen the arts of inquiry, to recast their view of democracy, and to point their gaze in a different direction. They will become aware of the forms and functions, stepping stones, and life cycles in and of a reimagined democracy.

It is not at all that we need to create something that is not there. We have only to have the imagination to see where it already exists. We must then illuminate and cultivate it.

These are but a few of the elements of a reimagined democracy.

What comes to life for you when you consider a reimagined democracy?

Where have you seen something like that at work?

What could you do, as a first small step, to bring that closer to being true here in your community?

What would you like from your fellow community members to make that happen?

This blog is Part 4 of a 4-part series on the topic of reimagining democracy. To ensure you don't miss any of this content, sign up for the free Axiom News e-news by clicking here.

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 1: "Beyond Voting: It’s Time to Reimagine Democracy."

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 2: "Elements of a Reimagined Democracy: Citizen-Led Community Building & Democratic Workplaces."

Reimagine Democracy Blog Series, Blog 3: "Elements of a Reimagined Democracy: Unleashing Local Capital & Pent-Up Capital."


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Peter Pula's picture

Peter is the Founder of Axiom News. He has also founded and led a community newspaper and a corporate communications agency. He has served as a member and chairperson on the boards and committees of children's services, schools, municipal grants, arts, and local exchange organizations.

Peter led the discovery, founding, and practice of Generative Journalism as a healing and community art.

He has been invited to host workshops in Canada, Europe, and the United States on the practice of Generative Journalism, an open communications approach for emergent and constructive change in organizations, networks, and communities.

To bring dialogic and narrative arts together Peter and Axiom News initiated the Peterborough Dialogues in 2015. Over 150 deep dialogues, circles of trust, working circles, and summits have been held in Peterborough, Ontario to cultivate citizen-led community co-creation with beautiful results. The Peterborough Dialogues continues to be a rich practice field delivering up daily insights into the power of community convening.

Peter continues to integrate convening, journalism, and narrative arts practices to hold space for community to heal and for citizens to take the lead in creating the community of their dreams.

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There are two recurring complaints addressed in this letter:

  • Generative journalism just publishes “nice” and “positive” stories and doesn’t face reality
  • The phrase, “emerging narrative of gifts” is a string of buzzwords that are ultimately meaningless.

I have come to see capitalism as the ideology or worship of capital, of money. Absentee investment is the root of so much in the way of dissociation. Money for money’s sake, and not for what it can do. Instead, we should look at intimate and engaged investment, that puts the power of money to good use.

One of the challenges we face in realizing a reimagined democracy is the force of narrative. The dominant narrative, the one purveyed by mainstream media, corporate communications, and political campaigns, is for the most part an institutional narrative. It isn’t really for or by the grassroots at all.

During election time, we can easily get lost in the notion that voting and politicians are at the centre of democracy. And yet, democracy is so much more.

Today, democracy’s detractors point to the US experiment to denigrate the idea. In Canada, our politics have to a degree followed suit.

“The future of journalism is to play a fundamental and important role in an ecology of community development works and capacities and professions,” says Peter Pula, founder of Axiom News and pioneer of Generative Journalism.

Peter is now co-leading a local initiative to bring citizen-led dialogue and community development in direct partnership with the media.

Awakening to healing and becoming whole In community

In 2015, the year Axiom News gave birth to the Peterborough Dialogues, over 100 gatherings were hosted. I was asked by an astounded colleague in Europe, why would anyone do that? Well, to know and to serve. That’s why.

We have become so remarkably accustomed to a form of leadership that comes from the top. Why? Well, because it is easier for everybody. It is easier for the leader because they can indulge in their narcissism. And, well, we want them to. You see, if they are shaping things according to their filters and persona then we can move in a direction that is embodied by the leader.