Constructive journalism inspires next generation of journalists

A series of workshops has introduced hundreds of journalism students to solution-focused reporting, with the aim of changing the media landscape for the better

The Constructive Journalism Project, an organisation set up to promote solutions-focused reporting, has completed a year-long programme of training sessions at colleges and universities across the UK.

As well as its ongoing courses for professional journalists and editors, the past 12 months has seen the Constructive Journalism Project deliver workshops to more than 300 students at universities in England, Scotland and Wales.

“It’s been very exciting to see the overwhelming interest from students and universities wanting to take a more constructive approach,” said Constructive Journalism Project co-founder and tutor Danielle Batist. “As we grow the project, we look forward to working with many more young journalists, so that they can start asking different questions from the offset.”

The idea of constructive journalism is to carry out rigorous reporting with a constructive mindset, giving greater focus to how challenges are being overcome. While upholding the key functions and ethics of journalism, by finding constructive angles rather than simply outlining the problems that exist in the world the approach aims to empower audiences and contribute to a fuller picture of reality.

“As soon as we start looking beyond the problem, a whole range of story leads emerge,” said Batist. “During the workshops, we help students turn those ideas into solid pitches and give feedback on who to sell it to and how.”

One journalism student at Glasgow Caledonian University said the course “rejuvenated my desire to do this job”, while a journalist who attended a session at Der Speigel’s Reporter Forum in Hamburg said: “I’m tired of writing and filming bad news and people who, when you look closely, have nothing new to say: ‘the world is evil, everything is getting worse, and we can’t do anything about it’. Constructive journalism can change this!”

As soon as we start looking beyond the problem, a whole range of story leads emerge

The programme was run in collaboration with the University of Southampton. Alongside an introduction to constructive journalism techniques, the workshops shared findings of research conducted last year by Denise Baden, an associate professor at the University, on the impact of negativity and positivity in the news.

Baden’s studies involved exposing people to negative news stories on subjects such as war and poverty, and then assessing their emotional response and levels of motivation to take action. She then repeated the process with positive stories such as peace talks and the instances of bumblebee populations making a recovery. The results were clear.

“My findings were as I expected: people felt worse and were less inclined to take action after interacting with negative stories. But what astonished me was the extent to which this was the case,” she explains. “I expected people to feel worse after seeing negative news – but I didn’t expect them to feel that much worse. In the case of female respondents, the drop in mood was around 40 per cent, which is very big.”

Baden’s research resulted in a partnership between the University of Southampton and the Constructive Journalism Project to deliver the workshops to news organisations and educational institutions. The scheme was funded by a £10,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Accounts, which is dedicated to funding knowledge exchange activities. The aim of the programme was to offer a different approach to a new generation of journalists and ultimately influence the way media outlets shape their stories to better serve the public.

Seán Dagan Wood, co-founder of the Constructive Journalism Project and editor-in-chief of Positive News, is optimistic about the future of constructive and solutions-focused media.

“We’ve been successful in raising the profile of constructive journalism over the past year and showing young journalists that there are other options outside of the existing culture of mainstream media,” he said.

“What we’ve been doing so far is introductory courses, so there’s still a lot we plan to do in terms of defining more tools and techniques for constructive journalism and how it’s put into action. We hope to continue to collaborate with other organisations to develop and promote the field, and to run more courses and events over the coming months.”

The next Constructive Journalism Project workshop for freelance journalists, editors and media professionals will take place in London on Friday 15 July. Book your place or find out more here.