Apr 11 2014

Startups for Journalists: PositionDial

PositionDial – what’s yours?

Post by Mariam Cook

PositionDialWhere do you stand? Why? And what are you doing about it?

Citizen’s views must be heard, debated, contested, and taken account of, for democracy to truly function. So said Habermas’s work on the public sphere.

With the advent of the internet – we have the opportunity to speak, to reach one another like never before: but how can we all be heard? How can we all influence? Avoid the topocratic nature of previous social and political systems simply following us, smugly, into this hyper-connected era?

As individuals we still doubt our great power centres much of the time. Public trust is persistently low in politicians, corporations, and media. Even charities.

For their part, those in power care. They want our trust. MPs grapple with the ‘crisis’ in voter engagement in special committees and companies woo us with CSR initiatives and communications – suggesting we kiss for peace, so that we will love them more.

But yet a disconnect persists. A recent study by the Social Market Foundation found only 2% of shoppers say they mostly have enough information to judge the ethical position of companies whilst 73% say they lack such information most of the time. And on the political side, a survey by 38Degrees found that even those people who do vote, do it out of a sense of civic duty, not because they think their vote will make a difference.

We want to know more, to know who to listen to, to have better ways of connecting where we stand with what we do: from who we vote for to what we buy and support.

Chantal Mouffe challenged the Habermassian public sphere model mentioned above: arguing that power relations affect the opportunity and weight given to every voice; that untenable antagonisms flourish when some voices are pushed out in the name of ‘liberal consensus.’ That we should not strive for homogenous and artificial agreement, but rather for tenable but agonistic pluralism. Importantly, she argued that extremists triumph and violence erupts when voices are marginalised.

Yet the screen-filled world we now inhabit does not enable diverse voices to be easily accessible and navigable. Instead, most of the time, we inhabit what Eli Pariser has described as ‘filter bubbles.’ Search engines lead us down paths that we self-determine, with the results we receive increasingly tailored to our own previous behaviour. While social networks work on the basis of who we choose to follow and like.

But there are different sides to every story: sides that we are missing out on. If we can see and understand alternative perspectives, not just the ones we already agree with, we make better decisions. We fight less. Innovate more. Occasionally we may even change our minds.

PositionDial enables you to discover more, faster, about the issues you care about. To explore the whole spectrum of opinion, and get your own, personal PositionDial. Your PositionDial is at once intimately personal, 100% private but uber-social in the possibilities it offers. It is a representation of your values, and what matters to you. With your PositionDial in hand, you can make decisions that chime with where you stand, instantly.

Position is not everything. It is the only thing. Every thought, act, hope we have, is based on our unique perspectives. The one-off journey we have taken through life. Every time we read, learn, watch TV, we are forming positions and opinions. Imagine having the power to effortlessly capture and put them to use.

On our site right now you can see the different sides of the story and get your PositionDial. We have exciting and not too distant plans to start integrating action recommendations. We are new and growing. Please visit, have a play, and send us your feedback @PositionDial.

It was a great honour to speak at the Polis conference. Not least because PositionDial is very much inspired by the great teaching I had in and around Houghton Street. Thank you for giving me the platform, and look forward to seeing you all over mine.

Mariam Cook presented PositionDial at the 2014 Polis Annual Journalism Conference.

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One Response to Startups for Journalists: PositionDial

  1. IAS2014 says:

    Dear Marion,

    I agree with all your sentiments above – especially those that refer to the ‘lack of trust and confidence’ the public has in politicians – including Social Justice and Fairness in the lives of ‘ordinary’ people. However, I must also stress that I know someone who has had personal experience of taking his story to the many media outlets in London… and they just didn’t want to know. Additionally, this was a BIG story that reflect on a government scheme that ‘failed’ many – tens of thousands of people where evidence exists – and he not only lost his viable business as a direct result of this, but also his home too. Now, this individual stems from a disadvantaged and somewhat vulnerable background and is therefore someone who ‘got there against all odds… only to be failed’. I am deeply as appalled as I am concerned by the media’s failure to confront this story – especially given the fact that this individual was failed so many times that his fight to ‘get back on his feet’ also meant that he was driven to take an OVERDOSE!!!

    I understand that the BBC had this story – about the government scheme failings – and was collating information when they came across an email from my friend. What happened was that initially the BBC reporter forwarded the email content to he colleague saying “… look, the person has been failed by this scheme… even lost his home. I think we’ve got someone else we need to contact here”. Then, apparently, my friend did not receive any further communications from the BBC. Similarly, my friend had another experience of this when being invited to sit down in the studio of a well know and now nationalised ‘talk radio’ media organisation. My friend has said that he ‘spilled his guts’ out to them in the studio. I they time and time again expressed how appalled they were by his experiences.. and knew that other parties were at fault here. But, what happened next. Apparently, though the media organisation reporter had emailed “I have spoken to the senior director… who want me to go ahead with the story”, very soon my friend received very little of an objective approach from the reporter. Nothing has happened since.

    So, understandably, forgive me if I feel somewhat pessimistic about any such proposal that will have nothing to improve the BOLDNESS that we need in Journalism to confront and tackle such stories that hinder the lives of ‘ordinary’ people. In particular, those who are vulnerable and those who are ambitious and continuously failed by a government policy and WEAK MP representations that remain untested for their achievements.

    Did I mention that my friends ‘story’ – as appalling as it is.. and the additional failings by media organisations, including news paper journalists – the scheme that failed him was a relationship between a government policy and banks. It is the latter entity ‘banks’ that I feel has become the influence for many journalists to step back and decide not to do a story – even though so much evidence exists of such failings to the social mobility of those who stem from a vulnerable background, but who remain ambitious and determined to achieve such goals. My friend went way beyond ‘getting on his bike… and looking for work’, and it is the media with its ‘conflicts of interests’ and lack of boldness that has become as much a failure to ‘ordinary’ hardworking people, as MP and politicians have.

    Am I therefore right to say “they certainly are ALL in this together”.

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