For nearly two years, Community Advocates (Joe Hicks and I) produced Kitchen Table Conversations for KCET (the then lead PBS station in LA) and its Life & Times broadcast hosted by Val Zavala. We produced nearly fifty segments in which advocates for opposing positions on tough issues would debate each other around my kitchen table.
The topics ranged from immigration to racial profiling from a border fence to a "dying middle class;" although the programs aired in 2006 and 2007 the issues seem as current today as then.
The experts ranged from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dan Neil to celebrated author Reza Aslan to UCLA law Professor Richard Sander, LA Times reporter Henry Weinstein to activist Najee Ali. Nearly ninety experts, all civil, articulate and well informed.
Our aim was to offer viewers an opportunity to hear experts explore a difficult issue in more than the usual soundbites offered on commercial tv during fast-paced and increasingly visually oriented newscasts. Our hope that viewers would appreciate the thoughtful discussions.
Apparently, they did.
This week a partner of Community Advocates on the public radio side of the media, Larry Mantle of Airtalk, interviewed our KCET partner, the treasured Val Zavala, on her retirement after thirty years on air at KCET. During the opening minutes of the dialogue, the following exchange occurred,
Larry M: I have so many different highlights of things you've done over the years. Your Kitchen Table Conversations---different perspectives, left to right, really got into local issues. You hear that all the time on national stuff but to hear that on local issues; people who respected each other, who weren't yelling at each other---that's something we try to do here on Airtalk. I find that very valuable.
Val Z: That was a wonderful chapter. That was David Lehrer of Community Advocates and Joe Hicks, God bless his soul, who passed now. We literally shot it in David's kitchen and we brought people from opposite sides and put them down and the idea was that people are honest when they are hanging out in a kitchen and so if we can create that atmosphere we can create a little bit more open and honest dialogue between different sides of various issues.
Community Advocates tried something innovative in fostering honest, engaging and vibrant debates for the public on complicated issues...and it worked. If after ten years, two of the leading broadcast journalists in Los Angeles cite those programs as "valuable...a wonderful chapter...a more open and honest dialogue"---then we succeeded.