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Hello Petter Beckman ...

... project developer at Direktpress in Stockholm, the media corporation that is a hub in the research and innovation project 'Conflict Management, Dialogue and Reader Engagement in the New Media Landscape'.

What is the idea behind the project and what is happening right now?

-We want to investigate how journalistic media can take back its role as a democratic public square - or "forum for debate within and between groups" as it's usually called - which has been considered one of journalism's central tasks. The role has moved increasingly over to social media, which may have contributed to the polarisation that we are currently seeing. I believe we can be beneficial in many people's eyes by doing what the new media doesn't seem capable of: offering forms for more sensible conversations that counteract growing polarisation and promote problem-solving. Right now, a research study on how this can be achieved concretely is under way.

What is the next step?

Within the next few months, the project will have a basis on which to proceed. This initial stage is financed by Vinnova and the plan is to seek financing for a second stage. Then it is a matter of starting to develop prototypes and new solutions and the collaboration that is needed to be able to implement ideas and innovation.

Direktpress has begun, in parallel, to test new journalistic approaches related to dialogue in the Stockholm area. Can you explain what you are doing in practice?

We have tested, among other things, a discussion model that we call the "Metro Seat". We have borrowed a few seats from the metro train that we drive around with and set up in public squares, in parks and outside of shopping centres in various parts of Stockholm and offer passer-bys to take a seat and discuss different controversial issues with each other: such as the causes of the shootings in the suburb or segregation. We film the conversations, upload them to Youtube and write and publish in the newspaper.

What are you testing this? What is the objective?

We want to show what we are convinced of: it is much easier than many people believe to talk about important matters and points of view if it is done in a controlled venue. We also want to stress why it is important and meaningful to make room for such conversations in our everyday lives.

What reactions and what involvement have you encountered?

Basically, everyone who has participated in the Metro Seat though it was fun and interesting. Many people indicated that they miss a discussion climate in which you can discuss topics in that manner. We have been encountered by curiosity and been given the thumbs-up when we uploaded the films to the internet, but we are still working on how to spread them further. We are also developing the concept so that the films are quicker and more exciting to watch.

Do you ask what people might be missing to want to participate in the public debate or for discussions about general issued to be better and more constructive?
In the focus groups that we interview in the project, it is clear that many people mistrust digital communication and are seeking more discussions face to face. It becomes a challenge to see how we can utilise that insight as we develop the project.

What have you learned and do you think that the lessons will be beneficial for the main project?

The experiment confirms that many people are looking for new forms in order to discuss. We have learned that it is surprisingly easy to have a good discussion. People are normally eager to hold a balanced and constructive dialogue when given the chance. We have also learned a great deal about how it is necessary to fine-tune the presentation technology so that it is also interesting for the audience. This will all be useful and provide concrete input for the main project.

What is Direktpress' ambition and hope?

To be able to contribute the development of local media's role as a cohesive force in society. Local media has an especially great responsibility that the public discussion works in everyday life specifically because they work locally and can reach so many people. If we find solutions for this that can also spread to others, it should be possible to strengthen the belief in journalism and democracy alike.
 

ABCs of the project

  • 'Conflict Management, Dialogue and Reader Engagement in the New Media Landscape' is based on a so-called challenge-drive innovation.

  • The focus of the first stage is to develop, test and share the idea and innovation. The idea is to develop a new journalistic dialogue platform.

  • The project's partners are Direktpress, Ifrågasätt, RISE Interactive, Södertörn University and Medier & demokrati. 

  • The project runs from April 2019 to the end of December 2019.

 

The metro seat interviews can be viewed on the Direktpress project page #ettsthlm