Integral Journalism in the Disinformation Age

Stefan Schultz Aesthetic, Cognitive, Conversations, Editor's Picks, Ethical, Politics, Values, Video, World Affairs, Worldviews 2 Comments

Stefan Schultz is a journalist for Der Spiegel magazine since 2007, and a student of integral theory since 2018. In this fun and far-ranging discussion, I talk to Stefan about his own integral approach to journalism, taking a careful look at the primary journalistic methods and motivations we see at each major stage of development. We then go on to suggest what a more integral form of journalism might look like, while also exploring a number of related topics — the role of art and aesthetics in journalism, the distinction between orthodox and heterodox sources of information, the collapse of legitimacy in our media institutions, and much more.

I was very excited to have this discussion with Stefan, and to learn more about his approach and practice as an integral journalist. There are few things I can think of that the world needs more right now.

—Corey deVos

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We live in an age of extreme fragmentation, where our informational terrains have become more broken and balkanized than ever before. Whether it’s ideological propaganda coming from any number of narrow partisan outlets, corporate propaganda coming through the mainstream media, blatant state propaganda coming from our governments, or the bottom-up aperspectival madness coming from social media — we are flooded on all sides by deliberately-partial truths, carefully tailored for each of us by unseen algorithms that reinforce our biases and keep us clicking. As a result we’ve seen a critical breakdown of legitimacy and trust in our media institutions, our collective sense-making, and our overall sense of shared reality.

And of course, Integral is very comfortable working with partial truths, pulling them together into a more coherent understanding of reality. We often say things like “everyone is right” — but there is a difference between “partial truths” that we definitely want to integrate, and “deliberately partial truths” — another name for propaganda, and something we want to be very cautious about integrating or else we risk infecting our own operating systems with socially-engineered malware.

When the information we have grown to depend upon for our own sense-making has become so broken and fragmented, so do our minds. And when a constant firehose of false narratives are internalized and become a core part of our own identity, it can be very difficult to begin healing the divisions between us. With any hope, this conversation (and others like it) can help begin to heal our hearts, and defrag our heads.

Here we take a close look at the breakdown of media legitimacy, using Ken Wilber’s “Four Faces of Truth”truth, truthfulness, justness, and functional fit — in order to guide the discussion.

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Here we discuss some of the common methods, motivations, and characteristics of Amber-stage journalism — a worldview that is traditionalist and mythic in nature, and almost always held as absolute. Culturally, amber worldviews can be seen in fundamentalism (my God is right no matter what); extreme patriotism (my country is right no matter what); and ethnocentrism (my people are right no matter what).

Stefan’s summary:

Local-patriotic reports, appreciation of community members. Satisfying expectations of peer groups rather than striving for objectivity – ergo rather uncritical of peer group’s errors and offenses. Articles of state media, repeating the dogmas of authoritarian regimes – and reviling the regime’s adversaries. Black-and-white stories. Fake news. Highly schematic formats (e.g., finance market reports that mainly report numbers and percentages, strictly descriptive sport game synopses). Writing for one’s superiors and community.

Main Goal: Strengthen peer group.
Target group: Members of own community or regime.
World view: Ethnocentric.
Conference culture: Bosses distribute work.
Language clues: Positivistic. Cliché-ridden, overused phrases. Impersonal writing style.
Bylines: One to few names or no byline at all.
Media with such a gravity center: RT, CCTV, local newspapers as portrayed in “After Life” (The Tambury Gazette)

To learn more about these stages of development, be sure to check out this fantastic resource: Learn Integral by Watching Movies (And Playing Video Games!)

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Humanity is entering the Transformation Age, a new era of human civilization, with Integral Consciousness rising at its leading edge. Our members don’t use Integral Life as just another media subscription they use weekly or discard. Instead, most stay with us for years, using Integral Life to learn Integral Philosophy and build an integral mind slowly, methodically and when they need it. We’re here to help you shape the future that’s emerging no matter where your life takes you.

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Now we take a look at early Orange (Expert) and mature Orange (Achiever) forms of journalistic practice. In an orange worldview, the individual begins to move away from the amber conformity that reifies the views of one’s religion, nation, or tribe. Culturally, the orange worldview realizes that “truth is not delivered; it is discovered,” spurring the great advances of science and formal rationality.

Stefan’s summary:

Early Orange (Expert)

Detailed and well-informed reports. High expertise and factfullness. Extremely critical, especially about clearly demarcated problems; often perceiving criticism as the main or even the only purpose of quality journalism. One-sided commentary, articles with firm ideological bias, leaving out arguments contradicting one’s spin or mentioning them only to rabulistically destroy them. Quick to provoke controversies to gain clicks and copy sales without caring too much whether the controversies are distorted, unbalanced or blown out of proportion. Scoops of interpretation. Campaign Journalism.

Main Goal: Opinion leadership.
Target group: Experts and likeminded audience.
World view: Sociocentric.
Conference culture: Debate.
Language clues: Hard judgements, crushing criticism, righteousness. Simple causal linearities. Reports often lack structure and priorisation.
Byline: One author often researches and writes alone (or takes all the credit even if colleagues helped him out). Names of fixers rarely mentioned at all.
Media with such a gravity center: Die Welt, Greenpeace Magazine, boulevard media such as “Bild” or “Sun” (somewhere between blue and early orange)

Late Orange (Achiever)

Highly analytical reports that dialectically weigh different views to produce a well-considered synthesis – but a bit overconfident to be very close to the absolute truth. Inclusion of more perspectives, yet mainly mainstream views within the “Overtone window”. Focus on right quadrants (“flatland journalism”). Still highly critical but starting to understand the value of constructive journalism. Beginning to address systemic problems – but rarely questioning a system’s attractors or general operation logic. Mentioning emotions, but shying away from deeper empathy or even dismissing it as “unjournalistic”.

Keen on scoops and being the first to report breaking news. Adjusting topics and language to target groups, often different styles for different paper sections. Strongly stressing credibility. Long-term source and audience management rather than mayfly scandals. Bringing down dodgy powerful people at its best – but manipulative and problem obsessed (“problem media”) at its worst.

Main Goal: Success.
Target group: Society’s elite and intellectuals. Various sub target groups via line extensions.
World view: Globocentric.
Conference culture: Dialogue.
Language clues: Cognitively nuanced. Either-or expressions. Elevated language register. Often well structured. Long story formats. Strong negative focus. Over-confident writing style. Placative descriptions of emotions. Gendering, but mainly as a sales strategy.
Byline: Numerous names, as many colleagues contribute pieces of information (sometimes only to push themselves into the story). Fixers’ contributions often mentioned underneath articles, but not in the byline.
Media with such a gravity center: SPIEGEL, Time Magazine, Economist.

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Humanity is entering the Transformation Age, a new era of human civilization, with Integral Consciousness rising at its leading edge. Our members don’t use Integral Life as just another media subscription they use weekly or discard. Instead, most stay with us for years, using Integral Life to learn Integral Philosophy and build an integral mind slowly, methodically and when they need it. We’re here to help you shape the future that’s emerging no matter where your life takes you.

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Next we take a careful look at Green forms and practices of journalism. Green worldviews are marked by pluralism, or the ability to see that there are multiple ways of seeing reality. If orange sees universal truths (“All men are created equal”), green sees multiple universal truths — different universals for different cultures. Green ethics continue, and radically broaden, the movement to embrace all people.

In its unhealthy form, green worldviews can lead to extreme relativism, where all beliefs are seen as relative and equally true, which can in turn lead to the nihilism, narcissism, irony, and meaninglessness exhibited by many of today’s intellectuals, academics, and trend-setters.

Stefan’s summary

Empathic writing. Deeper exploration of cultural biases and contradictory viewpoints. Focus on, sometimes overweighing of neglected viewpoints and narratives (a Chinese KP functional) outside the “Overtone window”. Growing sensitivity for structural discriminations, including in journalistic language itself. Questioning whole systems while struggling to suggest better ones. Humoristic commentaries that deconstruct norms.
Focus on left quadrants, i.e. often more anecdotical than empirical (“swampland journalism”). High subjectivity (“Gonzo journalism”), reporters more frequently show up as first-person narrators. Often still blind to own performative contradictions. Tapping into the full potential of constructive journalism. Visionary at its best – but wishy-washy, drowning in perspectives and “post factual” at its worst.

Main Goal: Equality.
Target group: Intellectuals, system critics.
World view: Ecocentric.
Conference culture: Discourse.
Language clues: Strong relativism. Both-and-sentences. Cyclic causalities. More ambiguity and unresolved contradictions. Self referentiality. Intertextual references. Gendering out of conviction.
Byline: Columnists that are their own brand. Small but deeply collaborative author collectives, often mentioning the whole collective even if not all of them contributed to a story. Fixers directly featured in bylines.
Media with such a gravity center: Spiegel.de (in part) New York Times (in part), Republik (in part), Salon

To learn more about these stages of development, be sure to check out this fantastic resource: Learn Integral by Watching Movies (And Playing Video Games!)

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Become a supporting member to watch the full conversation

Humanity is entering the Transformation Age, a new era of human civilization, with Integral Consciousness rising at its leading edge. Our members don’t use Integral Life as just another media subscription they use weekly or discard. Instead, most stay with us for years, using Integral Life to learn Integral Philosophy and build an integral mind slowly, methodically and when they need it. We’re here to help you shape the future that’s emerging no matter where your life takes you.

Get Full Access For $1 (30 days)* Or explore all membership plans → * Trial price for the first 30 days, then $20/month. Cancel or switch plans in 2 minutes at any time.

Der Spiegel is well known for its provocative and sometimes controversial cover art, using powerful imagery to convey a particular moral or justice-related message. Here Stefan and Corey explore the close relationship between aesthetics and journalism, and how art can simultaneously help humanize a story and convey deeper meanings, while also creating enough critical distance for the reader to fully absorb uncomfortable truths without feeling emotionally overwhelmed. An integral approach to journalism would consciously balance beauty, truth and goodness (or “justness”, as Ken calls it above), as discussed here.

Become a member to watch

Become a supporting member to watch the full conversation

Humanity is entering the Transformation Age, a new era of human civilization, with Integral Consciousness rising at its leading edge. Our members don’t use Integral Life as just another media subscription they use weekly or discard. Instead, most stay with us for years, using Integral Life to learn Integral Philosophy and build an integral mind slowly, methodically and when they need it. We’re here to help you shape the future that’s emerging no matter where your life takes you.

Get Full Access For $1 (30 days)* Or explore all membership plans → * Trial price for the first 30 days, then $20/month. Cancel or switch plans in 2 minutes at any time.

Finally we end with Stefan’s five proposals for a more Integral approach to journalism — based on integral principles of non-exclusion (“everyone is right”), enfoldment (“some are more right than others”), and enactment (“If you want to know this, do that”). What are the most significant challenges preventing a genuinely integral journalism from emerging? Watch to find out!

Stefan’s summary:

Main Goal: Evolution and transformation of individuals and collectives.
Target group: Leading edge thinkers. Generally, everyone if well facilitated.
World view: Ecocentric.
Conference culture: Cocreation of global network expanding well beyond the media bubble.
Language clues: Complex yet crystal-clear language. Neologisms. Both-and and either-or sentences, use of tetralemma. Descriptions of polarities.
Bylines: Sometimes: Final credits like in a movie.
Media with such a gravity center: Evolve? Integral Life?

We hope you enjoyed this discussion! Let us know what you think in the comments below, and also be sure to let us know if you have any questions for future episodes.



More Perspectives

The Four Faces of Truth: The Validity of Integral Knowledge

Ken Wilber

In an era when our collective notion of “truth” is being balkanized, weaponized, and smashed to smithereens, it’s important to remind ourselves how we go about discerning truth in the first place. In this introductory chapter from The Eye of Spirit, Ken Wilber explores the four primary methods we use to acquire and verify our knowledge, allowing us to escape our current “post-truth” quagmire by bridging the ever-widening divide between conflicting views, values, and verities.



Inhabit: Your Humility

Corey deVos and Ryan Oelke

Corey and Ryan discuss the importance of cultivating and inhabiting a “confident humility” with relation to our own physical bodies, mental processes, and spiritual health. We also have a fun segment at the end designed to put your own humility to the test, by looking at 10 common integral caricatures — stereotypes that many of us fall into at one point or another during our Integral lives.



Inhabit: Your Trust

Corey deVos and Ryan Oelke

Ryan and Corey take a deep dive into the wicked problem of social trust, looking at this meta-crisis through each of the four quadrants while suggesting some key practices and perspectives within each quadrant that can help us restore our trust in each other, in our institutions, in ourselves, and in the grand evolutionary unfolding itself.


Stefan Schultz

About Stefan Schultz

Stefan Schultz is a journalist at Der Spiegel magazine. He is a former correspondent in San Francisco, New York and Beijing, and has done reporting and analyses from all over the world. He is a business editor with priorities on energy transition, digitalization, and China. Stefan is the author of several books, and a lecturer in multimedia storytelling. He is winner of the Ernst Schneider Prize and the Georg Holtzbrinck Prize. Stefan has been an integral student and practitioner since 2018, and lives in Germany with his wife and two sons.

Stefan studied media culture, politics and British literature in Hamburg and Lisbon (M.A.), and has done freelance work at "Hamburger Abendblatt", "Prinz", and the Portuguese daily newspaper "24 Horas". Development editor and cross-media representative for the print and TV edition of "Deutschland International".

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. Good stuff! Really good. Plus, I learned (by looking it up) what a “fixer” is in journalism. Did not know that.

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