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?