Mediation, Media, Social Media, Journalism

El Mercurio newsroom
El Mercurio Newsroom, by JD Lasica.

We use language and communication so much that sometimes we take it for granted.

‘Media’, ‘mediation’ – when we look at these words, it’s all but impossible to note the exact first 5 letters. This is no coincidence. They both derive from the noun, ‘medium‘. Digging further gets you to a Proto-Indian root, ‘*medhyo‘, something you can drill further down into if you wish.

It’s an interesting history in not words, but concepts and thoughts. Medium has been used to describe, ‘intermediate agency, channel of communication’ since around 1600. The basis of ‘media’ and ‘mediate’ is medium. Are they so different in concept?

In theory, no. In practice these days, it’s hard to say.


As mentioned before, I took the first level of training in Mediation at the Conflict Resolution and Media Center of Trinidad and Tobago, and after hours I began thinking about the common etymology of ‘media’ and ‘mediate’ which got us to where we are, here. Yet when I look at the two as they are now, through a fresh lens, that seems to be the only way in which they are linked other than through some serendipity.

Mediation is a confidential process that works toward resolution of conflict through communication facilitated by a neutral third party. I did learn a few things.

Media, on the other hand, has come to mean any communication over one or more mediums. Newspapers use paper and literacy, radio uses sound and radio frequencies, television uses sound, video technologies, and sometimes literacy, and the Internet combines all of these to varying extents. ‘Social Media’ is redundant, really, because all media is social – it’s really media that allows easier feedback, and these day, allows things to be shared faster than other forms of media, driven by interests of users.

From Media To Journalism

‘Media’ encapsulates entertainment, education, and news. However, these days, we hear it used in the context of ‘news’ a lot. The lines between entertainment, education and news have blurred with the ‘talking heads’ and the prevalence of bias to sell advertising or simply to keep it. So when we hear about ‘The Media’ in this context, it’s about a specific use of the media. It’s about what we are given as news. And journalism is where ‘news’ is supposed to come from, or where we say it’s supposed to come from.

If you talk to anyone with a point of view, they will say that there is bias in published journalism – be it published in print, on radio, on television, or on the Internet – and that’s where things can get fuzzy. And so does what a journalist actually is. As Mark Lyndersay points out in , “What Is A Journalist?“:

…Paul Richards asked, “Who or what constitutes a journalist and should be protected by this?”

“And more importantly, who should not be considered a journalist?”

The American Press Institute notes, “Asking who is a journalist is the wrong question, because journalism can be produced by anyone.”

As the Institute explains on a series of pages on its website dedicated to considering the role of journalism professionals (report here), the journalist is a “committed observer.”

In 2011, “We Are All Journalists Now” by Scott Gant covered the same issue. It’s 7 years later, and I’m not sure society has changed enough to deal with it sensibly. And if we get into the etymology of ‘journalist’, we find this:

1690s, “one whose work is to write or edit public journals or newspapers,” from French journaliste.

As A.J. Liebling wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” The Internet gave everyone with access to the Internet access to such a press. To publish publicly without a media organization, potentially publishing things less biased by advertisers – but then, to make money, advertising became necessary, and all that happened was the atomizing of the same business model.

What all of this really gets to, though, is an phrase attributed to Edmund Burke, supposedly used in a debate in 1787  when the House of Commons of Great Britain was opened to the press.

Indirect But Significant Influence

There are 2 definitions of the Fourth Estate defined on

  1. the journalistic profession or its members; the press.
  2. a group other than the usual powers, as the three estates of France, that wields influence in the politics of a country.

The first definition fit better before the Internet, where there was a more substantial difference between journalists and the general public. The second definition fits better in modern times, where we can all publish. And there you have the link between journalism and the public as it shifts in one definition.

These days, the more popular what you share is, the more influence you have – for better or worse. What others share that you have demonstrates how much influence you have as well – a closed circuit.

Thus, if we can get past definitions of ‘journalist’ and ‘journalism’, words doomed to a period when journalists broadcast instead of interacted, we get back to us all being a part of the Fourth Estate.

But what does this all have to do with mediation? Not that much right now, it seems, and yet, maybe it should. The Fourth Estate is necessarily not confidential, but maybe it could be more neutral. Maybe that’s what they should have in common. Maybe that ‘neutral third party’ should be everyone publishing to some metaphorical public journal. Maybe we should all be facilitating facts instead of regurgitating hearsay – after all, hearsay is heresy.

An informed public, after all, is what I expect from journalism. What I get, on the other hand, hardly seems to fit Journalistic Ethics and Standards. I can’t criticize what happens in the industry, because all I know is hearsay – but I can make a few distinctions that I believe can accepted and agreed upon as truths in the context of journalism aspect of the media:

  • When it comes to the media in the context of news, people need to be informed. They want to be entertained. The two are separate.
  • Publishers are the ‘media’, journalists are not the media unless they self-publish. If they don’t self-publish, they just work for the media.
  • With the atomization of the Fourth Estate, anyone who publishes has a greater responsibility when using their influence.

In these ways and more, we might get ‘media’ and ‘mediation’ to make more sense together when we see those common five letters.


On Mediation

Inland Storm Meets The Atlantic at New Smyrna Beach (B&W)
A Storm On New Smyrna Beach, FL, by Taran Rampersad. All rights reserved.

I recently took the level one course on Mediation at the Conflict Resolution and Mediation Centre of Trinidad and Tobago. This by no means makes me an expert on mediation (yet?), but it makes me more informed than others.

Conflict is something we deal with every day. Conflict is not something we’re always good at dealing with, either, no matter how well we think we do. Therefore, sometimes we need that catalyst to move things forward – and mediation has many advantages over other ways of dealing with conflict. You can learn that in the courses.

How we deal with conflict varies from person to person, from organization to organization, from incident to incident, and is biased by things as simple as having a good night of sleep or not – or being triggered by things that may or may not have a bearing on the situation.

Right or wrong, conflict changes us just as a storm does. This leads to a quote I use often – and here I’ll give it in it’s entirety:

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

An you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

Haruki Murakami, Kafka On The Shore.

Mediation is one way out of the storm that facilitates the communication necessary to resolve conflict. It’s about being neutral, about being confidential and thus allowing trust between parties. It’s about actual communication beyond the dueling monologues we encounter all too often. It’s about facilitating resolution. And, it’s a process.

Mediation happens all around us every day, and it’s the sort of thing you don’t read or hear about – it’s necessarily confidential. From family disputes to business disputes, it facilitates the resolutions. And, through what I expect were relatively simple vignettes, I can tell you that it’s not easy to do and that not everyone can mediate.

Because of all of that, because of training I hope I will not waste, and because of my own background I saw other things not covered by the course. It gave me new tools to look at things, a new lens through which I could focus my mind. In that way and other ways, I highly recommend the training at the Conflict Resolution and Mediation Centre of Trinidad and Tobago. Check out the CRMC Facebook page as well. 

Like any good training, you get out of it what you put in. More than that, though, is that lens through which we can look at other things.

I’ll be writing more about these things over the course of the next few entries – new ways of looking at things that have been on my mind that may not relate directly to mediation itself.

Customer Service Post Mortem: Ugh

Public 'Services'

I went to pick up a few boxes of contacts at the optometrist company I presently deal with. I won’t write of the fact that they wanted me to pay more to have my prescription myself instead of being monopolized by them – a tactic abandoned in other countries.

On this particular day, it was the quarter finals of the World Cup – something I had chosen to miss because I had a friend in the hospital I wanted to see. I arrived with ample time to get that done, pick up some medications and get to the hospital for visiting hours. A young lady met me at the counter, as usual. And then, having pulled me up on the system, asked me to have a seat in the back – a seat which faced an empty desk. I sat for a while, with someone else there – a lady as I recall – and we discussed the match for a few minutes before she was called away.

I sat there, alone, for some minutes, occupying myself with the phone. Nothing was happening. I could hear people moving around, so I stood up and surveyed the situation calmly – there were three people with three customers. There were three other people who, upon seeing me watching got busy with shelving. One asked the others if someone was at lunch, which apparently was true. It was 3:30 p.m.

Now, getting contacts shouldn’t be a process like this. Everywhere else on the planet, they pull up my prescription on the computer, see if it’s in stock and if it is, I pay for them and leave. This takes less than 10 minutes on a bad day. On a good day, less than 5 minutes. That day, I had passed the 15 minute mark.

I started to leave – I had other things to do before heading to the hospital, and I would be busy the next day so I needed to get these things done that day. One of the busy people, one with a customer, left her customer apologetically and told me she would be right with me, and I explained to her firmly that getting my contacts or even ordering them is a simple process. The unspoken was that any of the three people who were playing with shelving could have gotten onto the system, see I had an up to date prescription, and then sell them to me. The argument could be that they were unqualified.

What I saw, as a customer, was people who should be able to handle a simple transaction avoiding me. My experience, with this company, is that they think I come to their office to sit down and wait for what should be a standing transaction – every time.

I went, ordered and purchased medications at the pharmacy, and went back to the optometrist where I was immediately seen by a customer service person. She was diligent to the point of aggravation, going back to physical files instead of trusting the computer system that all their customers pay for to have better convenience. I mentioned that. She wanted to be sure. I can understand that, but it added to the irritation.

But the real conversation I left with was this:

“Mr. Rampersad, I know you probably want to get to see the football game and…”
“It’s not about the football game. I’m rushed.”
“Well you shouldn’t rush all the time…”

Yes, she did that. I stared at her and quietly said, “I am not in a rush, I am rushed. I had three things to do. The first was at least order the contacts, the second was to pick up medication, and the third was to see my friend in the hospital.” I looked at my watch. “And now, we’re wasting visiting hours. I’m rushed because a simple thing is taking too long. The time it took me to get medications is exactly how long it should take to get my contacts.”

Silenced, we went through the rest of it as quickly as she could. After I got rid of her preconception that me needing to get things done in a timely manner, unrushed, was about football and which, therefore, she didn’t think was important.

In essence, she didn’t think my needs were important. There are flaws in the process I have seen at this place over the months, one of which is constantly asking me to sit down for things that should be able to be done in minutes.

And I’m pretty sure that when my prescription runs out with them, I’ll be finding a new optometrist company to deal with because I vote with my feet – and wallet. Because I don’t settle for paying someone to prejudge me, my intentions, and why I need things done quickly.

Of Digital Shadows And Digital Ghosts

Ice, Shadow and StoneIn writing about shadows and ghosts, it’s hard not to draw the line to how we process data – the phrase big data gets tossed around a lot in this way.

Data Science allows us to create constructs of data – interpreted and derived, insinuated and insulated, when in fact we know about as much about that data as we do the people in our own lives – typically insufficient to understand them as people, something I alluded to here.

Data only tells us what has happened, it doesn’t tell us what will happen, and it’s completely based on the availability we frame in and from data. We can create shadows from that data, but the real value of data is in the ghosts – the collected data in contexts beyond our frames and availability.

This is the implicit flaw in machine learning and even some types of AI. It’s where ethics intersects technology when the technologies have the capacity to affect human lives for better and worse, because it becomes a problem of whether it’s fair.

And we really aren’t very good at ‘fair’.

Beyond The Box

Framed WorldI read a lot about what people have to write about innovation, particularly here in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the larger Caribbean. It’s a global issue, of course, where Silicon Valley faces increased criticism for being divorced from reality. In Trinidad and Tobago, I’ve seen talk of innovation with a prominent and ubiquitous software logo prominent in the background, I’ve heard people talking about the need for innovation.

And I see people doing largely the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, something Albert Einstein once defined as insanity. Arguments are made about how things have changed, how with this new product and this new knowledge unspecified innovation will arise.

It’s an old story told before I started in the software industry, and it will likely continue after I’m long gone. Under the surface, it’s the reinvention of language by marketing departments, much like ‘smart mobs’ was a novelty rebranding of ‘collective intelligence’. Reinventing the same thing is not inventing. 

“We trained hard—but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

– Charlton Ogburn

In the end, one cannot force innovation as one would a bowel movement or you get the same result, hemorrhoids and all.

Beyond The Box.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, ‘thinking outside the box’, or used it, it might be worth knowing the history of the phrase. It’s about being creative with what is available and using it beyond what most others would because they’re limited to a framework – a framework of 9 dots.

We like frameworks. They make things easy for us, but they also create framing – where we do not think beyond the frame, much as we acknowledge anything outside of a frame has nothing to do with a painting or picture. This is false, of course, as what is outside the frame of that art affects how the art is seen – the context within which the art exists, and part of the frame’s job is to make that boundary visible and aesthetically pleasing.

Everything is framed, and framing is a powerful thing because it implicitly frames our expectations. It also leads to what is known as ‘availability’, where if something keeps getting pushed as a solution we reach for that hammer even when we’re dealing with a phillip-head screw.

To think outside the box, we have to think outside the frameworks. To think beyond the frameworks, we have to explore beyond those frameworks and see what’s outside the scope of the issue. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most prodigious innovators, would go outside and stare at the sky, wondering why it was blue and actually figuring it out. Thus the phrase, “blue sky thinking”.

Framing works against innovation in so many ways, and only helps in one: It defines what is inside the frame, and in that way, defines what is outside of it. A shift in focus is needed beyond the frame, and that requires knowledge well outside of that frame. It requires the context. If everyone is reading the same books, seeing the same shows, seeing the same news, it falls to the individual to look at things differently.

This is why I’ve often disagreed with people who say that money needs to be spent on innovation. Moaning for money is a tragic attempt at a solution when someone has what they think is a great idea. If that innovation doesn’t have an audience willing to listen, it simply doesn’t matter.

Beyond that innovative spark, those eureka moments, comes the hard work of making something that makes money, that saves money, or that otherwise contributes value. There’s a tendency to forget the latter because the world is presented to us in dollar signs. The amount of money spent on a problem is a poor indicator on whether a problem will be resolved. We humans, for example, will say that a flooded area had millions of dollars of damage, but that says nothing about how much it affects lives.

In the end, innovation isn’t what you get from following the same paths or playing within frameworks. New paths aren’t created by traveling the same roads, innovative solutions don’t come from someone else’s framework, and doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result remains insanity.