As Danish newspaper Information publishes a special ‘constructive’ edition, Cathrine Gyldensted considers the future of positive journalism
On 17 September 2014 something out of the ordinary happened. A newspaper well known for its critical – maybe even overly critical – attitude came out with an entirely positive edition.
Danish daily Information had given their staff of prize-winning reporters a novel challenge: cover the stories you usually cover, but do it with a positive or constructive angle.
The result was interesting. The headlines on the cover read: One place in Syria democracy is growing, China sees Green Tech race, Battery driven cars on the rise, and Ghetto areas get influx of new resourceful residents.
“People are looking for other ways of reporting what is going on in the world. Still factual, still rigorous, still critical, but with a constructive focus.”
Around this time I had – to some extent – given up on trying to change the most old and rigid newsrooms in conventional media and focused more on innovative and new media outlets, where habits and mindsets are not so set in stone; where you would find people who were already looking for new ways and methods to do journalism. The most interesting example can be found in Amsterdam. Here, based in a former stable-turned-media-house, is De Correspondent, a one-year-old online journalism platform, where journalists are conversation leaders and the subscribers are called members, and are considered expert contributors.
De Correspondent co-create the content together with their members. Their journalists cover what they deem important, but they invite their members to join the party and have a constructive and resourceful attitude towards them.
They do not ask members for their opinion, but ask them to share their ‘experience and knowledge’. They don’t have ‘comments’, but prefer ‘contributions’. In De Correspondent’s own words, this may seem like a minor detail, but as they say: “The first step to great reader contributions is an articulation of your expectations.”
They also produce a special feature called ‘Oproep’ (‘Call-up’) where correspondents can explicitly state what they would like to know from their readers. The call shows up underneath the article and steers the contributions in the direction the correspondent finds journalistically most relevant.
De Correspondent has correspondents who cover traditional beats, but they also have a correspondent that covers progress, and a correspondent that seeks out constructive angles to big stories.
Finally, this media outlet works with a mandate from the Dutch people themselves. De Correspondent rose to popularity by asking people if they wanted to support a new way of reporting news. The response was fast and strong, one million euros was donated in just over a week and one year later the online journalism platform is growing steadily.
What does this tell us? I think it’s fair to conclude that people are looking for other ways of reporting what is going on in the world. Still factual, still rigorous, still critical, but also – when relevant – with a constructive focus and including audiences as co-creators of modern news journalism.
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At Danish paper Information, in the heart of Copenhagen, the editor-in-chief and his team are currently assessing the feedback they got from their subscribers after their special edition in mid-September. Overwhelmingly, their audience responded positively. One wrote that he had spent more time reading the newspaper that day, than on any other day. Others said that they would renew their subscriptions if this became a staple ethos of the paper. Others still said that they had read stories that day that were really news to them. Naturally, a few criticised the experiment, with some airing fears that a constructive outlook on all news would distort stories like the battle against ISIS, and such like.
The paper will not do more special editions, but are now working on implementing constructive elements in their everyday reporting, when they deem it relevant.
Encouragingly, in the US, The Washington Post is currently experimenting with an online section called The Optimist.
The mindset has changed. Journalism is becoming more complete. Some are doing it because they ideologically think it´s the right thing for journalism to do, others because constructive journalism is popular and generates revenue. I don’t really care what the driving force is, as long as it’s happening. And it is.