THE EXPRESS GUIDE TO CONSTRUCTIVE JOURNALISM
by Giselle Green, head of Constructive Voices
What is constructive journalism?
Constructive journalism is a solutions-focused approach to news in which reporters don’t just concentrate on problems but also examine solutions. Rather than merely investigating what’s going wrong in the world, they explore what’s going right – and why. Constructive journalism isn’t about ignoring negative news or covering fluffy, feel-good stories. It’s rigorous reporting about responses to social problems showing what people are doing to tackle important issues.
Who’s doing it?
A growing number of major news organisations across the world practise constructive journalism, including the BBC, Guardian, New York Times and Economist. Many other US and European media such as the Seattle Times, Boston Globe, TV2 and DR News in Denmark, SVT in Sweden and Tages-Anzeiger in Switzerland, do so too. Among online media, the Huffington Post led the way inspired by its founder Arianna Huffington and was followed by outlets such asUpworthy,ATTN,de Correspondent and Spiegel Online.
The first publication dedicated to constructive journalism was Positive News. It’s been joined by, among others,Spark News,Perspective Daily, Inkline, South Africa: The Good News, Reporters d’Espoirs, Yes! and Noticias Positivas.
Some of the main players driving constructive/solutions journalism are:
David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg, co-authors of the New York Times' Fixes columnand co-founders of the Solutions Journalism Network
Ulrik Haagerup, who’s just launched the Constructive Institute in Denmark, and is the author of Constructive News and former executive director of Danish Broadcaster DR where he introduced constructive journalism
Cathrine Gyldensted, the constructive journalism pioneer who coined the term (with Karen McIntyre) and draws on positive psychology to inform her approach, and has just founded (with others) Open Eyes, a new journalism institute in Amsterdam after two years as director of Constructive Journalism at Windesheim University in Holland
Sean Dagan Wood, editor-in-chief of the quarterly and online magazine Positive News, which showcases constructive journalism in addition to positive news stories; and co-founder, with Danielle Batist, of the Constructive Journalism Project which offers training to journalists and students
Emily Kasriel, head of editorial partnerships at BBC World Service Group and leading solutions-focused journalism at the BBC
Academics/researchers interested in constructive journalism include:
Karen McIntyre, author of the world's first PhD dissertation on constructive journalism
Jodie Jackson who completed a master’s thesis on solutions-focused journalism, Publishing the Positive and produced this accompanying video
Professor Denise Baden of Southampton University who’s done research into the impact of negative news on our wellbeing
Michelle Gielan, CBS News anchor turned positive psychology researcher and advocate of transformational journalism providing actionable solutions.
Why do we need it?
Evidence shows the public are turned off by negative news, which can make them disengaged, demotivated and depressed – and are presented with a skewed view of the world.
Other studies have indicated that audiences feel better informed and more optimistic after reading solutions stories, more likely to seek out news outlets that provide constructive coverage and are far more likely to share stories that stir positive feelings.
A survey by the BBC World Service showed that young people are particularly keen on solutions-focused news.
One study has even claimed that readers are more likely to purchase a product if its ad is juxtaposed with a positive news story than a negative one.
Advocates also argue that constructive journalism presents a more accurate reflection of the world by telling the whole story, that it can increase trust in journalism because people see themselves more honestly reflected in the news, and that it makes it more likely that people will get involved in responses to problems. They also say it increases accountability of those in power and has more impact in bringing about change.
Constructive or solutions journalism - what’s in a name?
Constructive journalism is an umbrella term for journalism that includes the investigation of solutions to problems. This could range from being the primary focus of a report to being just one element in a report. You can think of it as spectrum stretching from full-fat solutions journalism to solutions-lite stories. Solutions-focused journalism is the term used by the BBC.
Positive journalism is not the same as constructive journalism. It is less serious or rigorous and often tells stories of heroes and individual events which don’t have high significance to society – but that’s not to say these stories don’t have a useful role. Sometimes the distinction can be blurred. Positively Scottish and the Better India for example straddle positive and constructive journalism. While Images and Voices of Hope uses ‘restorative narratives’ that focus on recovery, restoration and resilience in the aftermath, or midst of, difficult times.
Resources and reading
There’s a wealth of videos and articles behind the clickable links included in this guide, but we would like to highlight the following resources:
The Solutions Journalism Network has online learning resources and a story tracker , a searchable database of solutions reports. It’s also made a cool whiteboard video and animation explaining solutions journalism.
What Now for News? A general overview of the constructive journalism scene by Giselle Green in the Huffington Post.
What is Constructive Journalism? A guide from the Constructive Institute
FAQs about Constructive Journalism via the Constructive Journalism Project
Constructive journalism explained by Perspective Daily
Three reasons why constructive journalism could improve your reporting
When reportage turns to cynicism by David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg, New York Times
BBC World Hacks – a BBC programme looking at how we can solve the world's problems
Constructive News by Ulrik Haagerup
From Mirrors to Movers by Cathrine Gyldensted
More about Constructive Voices
Constructive Voices is a media project launched in 2016 by NCVO to encourage more constructive stories in the media, primarily but not exclusively about charities and social enterprises.
champions constructive journalism amongst editors, journalists and journalism students
collects, and shares with journalists, contacts and case studies of how charities, social enterprises and innovating organisations are tackling problems and coming up with solutions
acts as a hub for journalists interested in constructive journalism and in finding constructive case studies
Sir Martyn Lewis, former BBC and ITN news reader, who argued back in the 1990s against the negative bias of news, was behind the formation of Constructive Voices which was developed, and is now run, by former BBC journalist Giselle Green.