Event calls for cultural shift in news media

Journalists and members of the public came together in London on Wednesday to debate the need for more good news in the media. Kathleen Cassidy reviews the event

A landmark meeting of citizens, journalists and advocates of positive news took place at the British Museum on Wednesday, reflecting an increasing demand for a more realistic balance of good and bad news.

The Good News for the Media event, on 19 September 2012, drew more than 100 guests and included a panel of speakers featuring former BBC news presenter Martyn Lewis, Positive News editor Seán Dagan Wood, and founder of the Transformational Media Summit, Jeremy Wickremer.

The event was hosted by Jodie Jackson, founder of What A Good Week – a website dedicated to collecting and sharing inspiring news stories. Opening the event she said: “I hear of so many people switching off from the news altogether because it’s so negative. I almost became one of them myself but decided instead to search for the positive things that are going on in the world, to get more of a balance.”

Martyn Lewis spoke of how the ongoing Leveson Inquiry presented opportunities for examining and reshaping the culture, practices and ethics of our media. He suggested that in many stories, reporters could feasibly include a few lines about the work being done to tackle the issues they are writing about.

Such solutions-driven journalism would not only lift the mood of the nation, as demonstrated by positive media coverage of the Olympics, but would also help to paint a more representative picture of reality, he said.

Lewis was also keen to stress the importance of documenting the “hugely unreported voluntary sector,” which he regards as “the Olympics of real achievement that is taking place every day in our country.”

“Such solutions-driven journalism would not only lift the mood of the nation, but would help to paint a more representative picture of reality”

The former broadcaster shared the stories of a number of grassroots initiatives which have been overlooked by the media, including that of a community radio station run by young volunteers in North Lambeth which saw local street crime levels fall to zero within a month of opening.

It is a “disgrace” that such stories are not shared in the mainstream media, Lewis said, adding: “Solutions should become part of the DNA of daily news coverage.”

Seán Dagan Wood then shared the story of Positive News, which since being founded in 1993 has grown to a national print circulation of 55,000 copies and has launched sister editions of the publication in the US, Argentina, Spain and Hong Kong.

According to research carried out by Positive News during July 2012, on average only 16% of stories in the UK’s daily papers are positive. But the Positive News editor outlined how news organisations are now emerging worldwide, which are taking a solution-focused approach to reporting.

“The idea that only bad news sells is old thinking, which is at odds with both the needs and desires of humanity at this pivotal time of global change,” he said.

Wood also announced that Positive News is working in partnership with media organisations Reporters De’Espoirs and Ideal Media, to build an international alliance of solution-focused media groups and journalists.

Jeremy Wickremer, the founder of the Transformational Media Summit, which takes place in London on 27-28 September, then spoke about the nature of the media, summing up its function in one word: “storytelling.”

Using the example of how a stone age person would run into a cave shouting “quick, a woolly mammoth is coming,” to alert the rest of the tribe, Wickremer argued that the key intentions of storytelling are: truth and relevance, compassion, and serving the community. He stressed the importance of journalists keeping these in mind when writing.

“If our news media is to continue to be relevant and serve the societies they are part of, they will need to look to the media of meaning and solutions,” he said.

As the event drew to a close, the walls of the British Museum echoed with the voices of the Mike King Choir, singing the appropriately upbeat song Ain’t No Stopping Us Now. I left feeling like I had been part of a significant meeting of minds and that the time is ripe for a cultural shift in the types of stories we see in our media.