Solutions journalism is on the rise - and as news avoidance becomes a primary problem for the publishing industry, it's really no surprise. Constructive and service journalism are more positive alternatives. But what are they? And, how do you introduce them into your newsroom?

There are quite a few indications that people worldwide are leaving news websites behind. In the 2023 prestigious Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute, more than half of publishers reported declining attention and 72% say they were concerned about news avoidance.

You can also safely deduce from reader reactions (both online and at birthday parties) that people find it annoying to be constantly confronted with all sorts of misery. Of course, current events make it hard to remain upbeat. The long shadow of Covid, the war in Ukraine and climate change, all loom large and create a heavy mood among readers, viewers, and listeners.

I’ve been actively avoiding the news. [...] The news started to get under my skin. After my morning reading, I felt so drained that I couldn’t write — or do anything creative. I’d listen to “Morning Edition” and feel lethargic, unmotivated, and the day had barely begun.

Amanda Ripley columnist @ The Washington Post

Journalists mainly focus on the negative, the deviant, what goes wrong - the flaws. This is addressed by journalist Cathrine Gyldensted in a TED talk from some time ago. She points out that journalists are conditioned to always dive into the mistakes and describes the impact: "We see growing mistrust in politics, journalism, institutions, and governments." She mentions Brexit and radicalism among activists, among other things.

What is solutions journalism?

Editorial teams are already shifting towards solutions journalism. This could be referred to as the umbrella concept, under which constructive journalism and service journalism fall. The focus here is - as the name suggests - not on the flaws, but on solutions. This can inspire or help visitors. There’s a great example from journalist, Cathrine Gyldensted, who used this approach in a report she did of a homeless woman from Washington. In this report she allowed the woman to speak openly, without negative direction. The results were extraordinary. Listeners were impressed and reacted en masse - which doesn't happen often. The reason? The woman started talking about what she learned as a homeless person and how people showed her generosity. Gyldenstad realised her ‘normal’ way of reporting went through a distorted lens.

What is constructive journalism?

Basically, constructive journalism is about finding solutions to the problems you come across. The Constructive Institute describes it as “a type of journalism that focuses on progress and positive developments rather than solely on problems, conflicts, and negative events”. This style of journalism seeks to provide a fair, accurate, and contextualised picture and aims to inform and empower audiences.

In practice, it explores grey areas and nuances, exposes problems, and facilitates debate. In the eyes of German broadcaster DW, the goal is to help people understand complex issues and see possibilities for change.

When should you do constructive journalism?

At smartocto, we use the user needs for news model to determine the angle of stories. Constructive journalism fits the 'inspire me' user need. At its core, the 'inspire me' user need is all about constructive journalism. Mind you, it's not about glossing over or sugarcoating a problem. Describe the problem and be honest about it, sure, but make sure you illustrate how there is still some goodness in it too. This works particularly well with a first-person account or a protagonist sharing their tips on how to solve something.

Also, when a topic is especially bleak, it's probably good to highlight some positive aspects of it. If the news is about a specific person achieving something, a background piece or interview could be fitting. Check the comments on your articles; are people really sad or disappointed? It may be a good opportunity to show some positivity in a follow-up piece.

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What questions help you to do more constructive journalism?

  • Who is this news about? Is there anything they have overcome? Can you inspire them?
  • If the news is really bad, is there something you can create to put the event in perspective or a solution that’s worth devoting column inches to?
  • Are there any proven solutions and evidence of this?
  • What role can the visitor play in all this? Can you inspire them to contribute?

Constructive journalism is societal, not personal.

The last question is somewhat tricky, however. It leans a little bit toward service journalism. So, before we explain what service journalism is, let's first establish the biggest difference between the two: constructive journalism is societal, not personal. In service journalism the focus is always on what the reader needs to do themselves. With constructive journalism, it’s more about what directions a society could go - with new policy for example.

The most heard criticism of this type of journalism is that it seems too much like activism and that objectivity is at risk. About this, Cathrine Gyldensted says:

When it comes to journalism, I don’t believe in objectivity. I believe in fair and honest reporting. But objectivity means that you don’t influence anything. I think we influence by choosing what we cover, who we talk to, what questions we ask and what the angle of your story is. Those are all subjective choices.

Cathrine Gyldensted Journalist

Great examples of constructive journalism:

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What is service journalism?

Service stories are practical. In service journalism, the starting point for the journalist is not the subject, but the reader, Marleen Luijt explains. She’s chief editor of the service journalism newsroom at, one of the biggest news sites of The Netherlands.

Service journalism translates the news towards the readers: what’s in it for them? What does this mean for the readers? How are they going to notice this in their lifes or wallets? Simply said, it’s the news you can use.

Marleen Luijt chief editor service journalism @

Your visitors are searching for information that helps them act on a personal level. That’s why service journalism needs to encourage the audience to do something. Take readers by the hand, mark the steps, and find a clear solution to their problems. Help your audience in their day-to-day lives. That is service journalism.

Just to make clear: you’re not only saying what people could do, but also how they could do it. They are the ultimate ‘how to’ stories.

Why should you do service journalism?

Over the last two decades, the internet has exploded with an enormous amount of information. Social media, blogs and marketing efforts have jumped into the gap that traditional service sectors have left behind. Companies and governments have, at least in the Western world, shifted towards more individual responsibility.

Journalism has an important role to overcome the trusted information issue. Media can guide, give people direction in their daily lives, prepare them for the news ahead and give practical advice that activates their audience. Addressing the individual needs of visitors can lead to growing relevance, especially when you can actually help them make better-informed decisions. Quality practical information contributes in building trust and will ultimately improve the authority of your brand.

These stories, when done well, have the potential to become 'evergreen' pieces on your site: a valuable source of information for weeks, months or even years to come, building SEO authority over time and attracting more new visitors to your platform. Be of service to them.

When should you do service journalism?

If there’s a practical problem, you might choose to create a story to help your visitors. It all starts with a question - as we all know from good journalism. Sometimes that question gives away that helping your audience is the way to go. How can you save money? What are nice city break destinations? Where’s the best place to park my car at that festival I’m going to? Which political party deserves my vote?

The answers to those questions go beyond explaining the options. So it’s not enough to say: you can save money by economising on energy. No, your audience wants to know: how? ‘Insulate your roof’. No! How? ‘Take these five steps.’ Yes!

What questions help you to do more service journalism?

  • How might we help visitors connect with others?
  • How can we help visitors be better equipped to affect change?
  • What information gap can we fill with usable, practical tips and suggestions?
  • What practical topics are connected to our brand authority?

Great examples of service journalism:

By the way, although there are differences, an article of course can have elements of both constructive journalism and service journalism. The article you’ve just read is a great example: we explained how media can overcome the problem of news avoidance. At the same time we gave clear clues on what you can do to make this solution-based journalism a go in your own newsroom.