How To Discuss Polarizing Topics

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(By Jeff McHugh) Audiences in the U.S. today are more divided than ever. Many media hosts struggle with how to discuss certain controversial stories, and wonder if they should discuss them at all.

Some radio shows avoid the polarizing topics of the day. Seven-out-of-10 people in the U.S. today have news fatigue, and many listeners are coming to those shows to escape the negativity.

But there will come a day when a touchy topic is too big to ignore. The next time you consider reacting to a polarizing story like Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet or another mass shooting in the U.S., here are guidelines to consider.

1 How can you avoid making the audience mad? Answer: You can’t. Every compelling host gets occasional complaints. It’s OK. Authentic hosts are more memorable and make a stronger connection with listeners in the long run.

2 Consider a “controversy corral.” Think of touchy topics like angry bulls. Ride ‘em for a short time, and get off. Consider fencing in polarized topics to one segment like a newscast where you add commentary.

3 Go short on opinion. Go long on stories. Summarize your beliefs in one or two sentences and move on. But if you have an experience to share that relates to the discussion – your experience or the experience of another person – use up to a full segment to tell it well.

4 Your co-hosts determine your limits. If you take one side of an issue and your co-host takes the other side, listeners will appreciate your interactions as long as the audience knows that you like and respect each other. If the disagreement turns ugly, or if everyone on your show is in agreement, limit airtime on those topics.

5 Hate the game, don’t hate the player. Avoid saying that people who are different than you are bad. People of different political parties, people on different sides of political issues, different sexual orientations and genders, people of different religions, nationalities etc. Reserve scorn for individuals whose behavior harms and/or discriminates against others.

Jeff McHugh is known for developing remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drive. He brings an uncommon mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company.

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Jeff McHugh
Jeff McHugh is known for developing remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drive. He brings an uncommon mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company.

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