The Mirror and Express newspapers have teamed up, despite their “polarised” political views, for a campaign to bring “the nation back together” amid the divisions brought about by the Brexit vote.
Britain Talks aims to get members of the public to step outside their bubbles and speak to people with political views that differ from their own.
Readers are prompted to answer a survey, embedded within online stories, that asks them to respond “yes” or “no” to a handful of political statements, starting with: “Britain is better off outside Europe.”
They will then be asked a bit more about themselves and matched up with someone who answered differently, with the chance to meet them on the weekend of 23 June, the third anniversary of the EU Referendum.
The campaign, which was six months in the making, is made possible by the fact that Mirror owner Reach bought the Express last year and has an extensive network of regional daily and weekly titles.
The Mirror said today: “The Mirror and Express are very different newspapers, with different readers and diverging views over Brexit and who should lead our country. We’re poles apart on a whole host of issues. So, if we can do it – so can you.”
Press Gazette’s Brexitometer, which tracked national press front pages ahead of the 2016 Brexit vote, found the right-leaning Daily Express was the “most slavishly pro-Leave newspaper”, while the left-leaning Daily Mirror was “less strident” but backed the Remain campaign.
More recently the Daily Express has backed Theresa May’s Brexit deal, while the Mirror has voiced support for a Norway-style deal.
Senior editorial staff at the Mirror had the idea for the campaign after seeing the My Country Talks project pioneered in Germany by news website Zeit Online, which saw 500 pairs meet up for one-on-one political discussions in 2017.
Mirror Online executive editor Ann Gripper first spotted the German project, which tied in with discussions between Mirror editor Alison Philips and the title’s Real Britain columnist Ros Wynne-Jones about “what was the way through” the current polarisation of society.
Wynne-Jones told Press Gazette: “We just felt that… every time you open up your Twitter account, or anything else, that everyone’s just screaming and shouting and not listening, and also feeling that when you want to persuade people you don’t persuade them by continuing to keep shouting at them.
“People put up bigger and bigger, steeper and steeper walls and go further into our silos that are so fixed by algorithms.”
The team decided to extend out from the Mirror and use Reach’s network of national and regional titles to reach people across political and social divides, with around 24 regional papers currently on board.
This includes the Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, Newcastle Chronicle, Wales Online, Cornwall Live, Get Surrey, and Bristol Live.
Wynne-Jones, whose Wigan Pier Project for the Mirror was highly commended at the British Journalism Awards in December, said: “The problem with just the Mirror doing it is that it would be like-minded people speaking to each other.
“Although there are divisions at the Mirror over Brexit, we’re a 50/50 paper on Brexit really, largely people come from a Labour or centrist perspective on politics.
“So we thought we’re in a unique position since Reach bought the Express to try and do something across two really critically polarised titles.
“Then we just thought bringing the regions in could be really interesting because people are often more trusting of regional titles, which tend to be less polarised because they have to talk to all of their constituents.”
The questionnaire will appear alongside a range of online stories, not just about Brexit and politics but also entertainment and football, as Reach wants people who are not just politics-obsessed readers to get involved.
Mirror, Express and regional columnists are going to be asked to meet up and hold discussions of their own, which Wynne-Jones said would be difficult because “pundits are used to being in a very specific battle-hardened space”.
The Mirror and Express have already both published a video of a young Corbyn supporter who voted Remain meeting a 72-year-old Brexiteer from a different part of the country.
Wynne-Jones said that although the pair did not end up agreeing, they did “discover that the other person wasn’t just all the things you hear – they’re not stupid, they’re not horrible, they’re not a nasty person”.
“They’re just somebody who has a really different life experience that has led them to a different set of politics,” she said.
Over the next 12 weeks more videos will be released, including a vegan meeting a dairy farmer, a Syrian refugee and a fisherman, and two football rivals meeting up.
Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls