The Future of Mediation Journalism. Member Spotlight: Cara Sabatini

Based in Toronto, Canada, Cara Sabatini works at the intersection of journalism and mediation. Working for Canada’s National NewsMedia Council, she hears and helps to resolve complaints about journalistic standards in the news media. She explains that addressing bias is an important part of her work, and outlines the surprising similarities between journalism and mediation. 

Journalism and Mediation

Cara is originally from the United States, but she moved to Canada during her university years to study at the University of Toronto. While there, she became involved in journalism, serving as the editor of the independent student newspaper. Following her graduation, she remained in Toronto and worked as a freelance journalist for some time before beginning to work with the National NewsMedia Council, a voluntary, self-regulatory body for journalism ethics in Canada. The NewsMedia Council hears complaints from the public about journalistic standards and ethics. Beyond upholding standards, she says the organization aims to “strengthen communication between the press and public and finds the work especially relevant at a time when opinions seem so polarized, and I think, when credible information can have a real impact on people’s health, listening and actually hearing each other is especially important now.” Originally, she worked as an administrator and researcher at the organization and later became involved in dispute resolution. After serving in this role for a couple of years, she completed an alternative dispute resolution program at York University, where she learned more about interest-based mediation and obtained tools to help get to the root of issues and find common ground. These tools, she says, were beneficial in both her professional and personal lives. After completing this program, Cara became a member of MBBI as a way to learn from others with different experiences of conflict and conflict resolution, all of whom converged on their interest in mediation. 

Coming to a Resolution

A significant part of her work involves hearing people’s concerns and informing members of the public about journalistic standards and widely accepted practices. Not every dispute can be resolved through education or mediation. However, Cara explains that the organization’s complaints process emphasizes finding resolution over finding fault. Mediation, even if it does not yield a resolution to the dispute, can be “an opportunity to look at something a little differently,” which Cara believes “has value in and of itself.” Regardless of the outcome, the process can serve as a forum for listening and learning.

Putting Bias Aside

Cara explains that one of the most challenging aspects of her dispute resolution work is addressing bias and perceptions of bias. Fortunately, journalists and mediators are faced with this challenge all the time and have the tools to recognize and address bias effectively. For journalists, these tools come from the standards and ethics that define their work. In dispute resolution, addressing and setting aside personal opinions is not only important for the neutral third party, but also for the other parties to the complaint so that they may begin to work towards some mutual understanding. Everyone comes from a particular perspective, she says, “but if you can work with your own perspective and have an open mind and listen to what other parties are saying, I think that’s really the goal. Contributing to a forum where people can listen to each other, and learn from each other, is both challenging and rewarding.

The Future of Mediation Journalism

Interestingly, Cara finds journalism and mediation to have a number of aspects in common. She finds that both fields focus heavily on conflict, despite often treating it differently. Journalism, like mediation, looks at multiple sides of a story and tries to get to the heart of an issue, all while remaining impartial. Cara thinks that they have the potential to inform one another, as they both work towards finding truth through “hearing the other side” and asking important questions. Cara thinks that “there’s more potential for mediation and journalism to intersect in some ways. In fact, there are already some areas of journalism that go beyond reporting conflict to reporting and sometimes contributing to, conflict resolution. One example is solutions journalism, which often goes beyond covering opposing views on a particular issue to covering proposed solutions to that issue. Another example is peace journalism, which often seeks out the root causes of conflict. While these types of journalism are not without their challenges or criticisms, they provide another approach to covering conflict and conflict resolution. In this way, elements of journalism and mediation may continue to overlap, potentially providing more opportunities for those with entrenched views to see another side.

Article by Tess Hargarten, MBBI Writer