“We don’t need constructive journalism, we need real news”.
A statement I saw on Twitter after the topic was trending in Belgium on social media last week. A statement that was also supported by a politician who said on the website of a newspaper that ‘the only thing we need is objective journalism and not journalists hiding what’s going on in the real world’.
But is constructive journalism only about ‘good news stories’ and subjective reporting?
Let’s go into that for a moment.
Haagerup brought on the idea of constructive journalism after he was analysing his own broadcast at DR: he saw too much news stories that didn’t really represent the world we are living in. Or for example people criticise each other without any context. So he changed the course his company was sailing and introduced ‘Constructive Journalism’.
This extract is from his book promo that he wrote about it later on:
Conflicts, drama, crooks and victims. That’s news. This is our world. Or is isn’t it?
Constructive News is both a wake up call to a media world struggling for a future and an inspirational handbook on the next mega trend in journalism. A good story doesn’t have to be a bad story…
Community Driven Journalism
Catherine Gyldensted is journalist at DR.
In an interview with ivoh.org she is talking about her view on constructive journalism:
“In an ideal world where news and journalism are actually fair and balanced without a negativity bias, we wouldn’t need a new label. We would just be talking about “journalism.” But constructive journalism (CoJo) has gained ground as an umbrella term here in Scandinavia and has different pillars under it:
1. A pillar that draws from solid positive psychology research and creates new methods and frameworks for quality journalism. Examples:
- “Kill your victim.” Stop seeing your case interviewees as default victims of something. Maybe they are not. Or maybe it is the reporters’ questions that create a victim-like situation.
- Mediating political debate formats. The rules of the game are altered here: Politicians are challenged to find common ground and are held accountable on a commitment to work together. The aim is to benefit communities and society.
- Focusing on journalism that evokes awe and meaning, while still representing solid reporting. These emotions are highly engaging, and they’re markers of content that goes viral.
2. Solutions-focused reporting. In the U.S., you call it Solutions Journalism and are very good at it. Report on solutions. Find, investigate, and report on the positive outliers.
3. Problem-solving journalism. With this type of journalism, media makers take an even more activist approach — and act on the problems themselves, together with the community.
Slomo TV on a pink cloud
In my opinion, constructive journalism should not be a doctrine that media companies or journalists must worship, but let’s see it as a guidance to keep in mind from time to time.
Or use it as an angle or focus for a story that can improve the way we tell these stories, generate new ones and/or create a meaningful added value for journalism. It is certainly not an unbalanced or subjective form of reporting or hidden activism in mass media.
It is about putting news into perspective without losing the critical touch we always have to hold dear as a journalist.
But the idea behind constructive journalism is hijacked by people who want to make a caricature out of it. Like constructive journalism is only about seeing the world in slow motion, supported by sentimental music in a pink clouded frame.
Constructive journalism is about context or solution based journalism.
News you can use.
It is not about hiding what’s going on in the world. But explaining it and seeing the bigger picture.
Constructive news is also not about news without conflict. Every well told story needs an internal or external conflict. But by using the constructive journalism focus as an angle in your story, we can show for example how people or societies overcome daily issues. How people manage to control crisis situations or just look at topics from a different -not negative- perspective.
It is looking beyond hit-and-run journalism.
The Dark Side
At the book launch of the English version of ‘Constructive News’ DR Chairman Michael Christiansen explained why the public service network continues its focus on constructive news.: “Nothing is more important for democracy than how media, and especially public broadcasters, present the world. Constructive news is the right way to balance the news, as our job is to throw light on key issues, not to spread darkness and fear.”
Since DR introduced constructive journalism, viewership increased and approval ratings went up.
Arianne Huffington puts it this way: ‘If we in the media only show the dark side, we’re failing at our jobs’
But, isn’t that just journalism?