Media landscape

A showcase for constructive journalism

The world’s first publication dedicated to quality journalism that focuses on progress and possibility will relaunch this week as a magazine. After 22 years at the forefront of reporting positive stories, Positive News’ relaunch takes place as the concept of constructive journalism gathers pace globally.
The new Positive News magazine, which showcases rigorous journalism that focuses on solutions, will be unveiled at an event in east London on 4 February. Previously in newspaper format, the 84-page magazine will be a higher quality publication, bringing together inspiring content and design.
Published quarterly, the first issue in the new format features content such as an on-the-ground report about women promoting human rights in the face of extremism in Pakistan; an exploration of how democracy could become more effective in the digital age; and a range of compelling lifestyle articles.
Several new regular sections will be included, such as the Constructive Conversation, in which two thought leaders are challenged to find common ground; the Solutions Lab, which unearths forward-thinking responses to difficult social issues; and What Happened Next?, which updates stories reported upon previously.
At the magazine’s helm are the Constructive Journalism Project’s co-founders Seán Dagan Wood and Danielle Batist.
Batist, who worked as the relaunch editor, said:
“Our new magazine shows that good journalism can also be about the good things that are happening. We don’t stop at highlighting a problem but use that as a starting point before asking what’s being done about it. We then investigate solutions critically, moving beyond the ‘hero tale’ or ‘happy story’ to uncover what’s going well in the world.”
The relaunch comes after Positive News became the first global media co-operative financed through crowdfunding. Following a 30-day #OwnTheMedia campaign in July 2015, it is now co-owned by 1,526 readers, journalists and supporters from 33 countries. The £263,000 investment raised by the ‘community share offer’, is enabling Positive News to roll out a new business model. The aim is to grow its reach and make the print and digital publication financially sustainable, with the move to a magazine just one part of this.
Positive News editor-in-chief Seán Dagan Wood said:
“The relaunch marks an exciting and important step for our journalism and our community-supported model as we grow our impact. There is a growing demand for intelligent coverage of positive developments, and an opportunity for it in the shifting media landscape. We are humbled by the support of our readers and co-owners, who embraced our vision.
“We wanted to move to a format in print where the quality of the design matches that of the content. Though some news publications are struggling in print, we feel there’s huge value in a carefully curated, quarterly print magazine that offers a uniquely inspiring lens on the world. So, we’ve created something that we hope is a beautiful vessel for beautiful stories.”
The magazine hits the shelves at a time of increasing interest from other media outlets in Positive News’ approach. Attention has been captured by evidence of how positive and constructive stories are engaging audiences.
Since launching in 2014, Positive News’ training arm, the Constructive Journalism Project, has delivered workshops to journalists internationally, as well as to hundreds of journalism students across the UK. Drawing upon research into the psychological impact of news, the workshops cover techniques such as identifying positive angles while remaining critical.
The title will be distributed via a subscription model, as well as being available through selected independent shops, with plans to expand distribution throughout 2016.
A social media campaign will accompany the launch of the magazine, encouraging people to #SwitchTheLightOn to inspiring journalism.
The Positive News website will also be getting a fresh look, while a more substantial rebuild of the site is in planning.

Three lessons we learned

Since we started last year, we have been lucky enough to have worked with hundreds of staff reporters, freelance writers and students to bring more solutions-focused elements into conventional reporting. Here, we share some insights  gained along the way.
1. Most journalists want to contribute to change
To understand the disconnection between journalists’ values and the media they produce, start by asking them two questions: ‘Why did you become a journalist?’ and ‘How do you feel when you watch the news or read the paper?’
In the past year, we put these to several hundred journalists of all ages and nationalities. At every workshop, participants submit their answers on coloured Post-It notes and include specific values they hold dearest in their profession. Through an anonymous count, we identify the commonalities within each group.
‘To hold power to account’ is always up there – and thankfully so. When prompted to explain why journalists find that important, they often say that they want to inform people of wrongdoings. When asked why that in turn is important, they mention the underlying desire to have an impact in society and ultimately, to contribute to positive change.
“The notion that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is no longer the only thing that determines what news is.”
Yet when participants hand over their notes describing their feelings after consuming news themselves, a different set of words come in. Like many average news consumers, journalists mention words like ‘depressed’, ‘sad’, ‘overwhelmed’, ‘hopeless’ and – perhaps most worrying of all – ‘desensitised’.
Working in a news ecosystem that does not reflect their personal and professional values leaves some frustrated and unsatisfied in their jobs. Constructive journalism can help redress the balance, creating a more complete picture of the world while offering a more meaningful role for journalists.
2. Good news can be news too
“Never awake me when you have good news to announce, because with good news nothing presses; but when you have bad news, arouse me immediately, for then there is not an instant to be lost.”— Napoleon Bonaparte, French Emperor, 1769-1821.
Journalism has come a long way since Napoleon’s day. The notion that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is no longer the only thing that determines what news is. A growing number of media organisations worldwide are starting to recognise that ‘if it succeeds, it leads’ too.
Rather than showing only the positive or the negative, constructive journalism strengthens journalism’s commitment to the truth, by helping provide a fuller picture of reality. At the same time, it strengthens journalism’s ethic of minimising harm by reporting in a way that is more conscious of how information might impact individuals and society.
Ultimately, it is not about good versus bad news. Constructive journalism is an approach; it is more about how we report – whatever it is we are reporting on – rather than what we report.
3. Consensus can be tougher than conflict
Watching political debate formats on TV, it is hard to imagine how such journalism could be constructive. The attack and counter-attack blame game attracts viewers, but does not leave us with the feeling that anything can be done about the problem discussed, or that consensus can be reached to actually tackle the issue.
Some journalists fear that constructive questions fail to challenge those in power and lets them off the hook. The reverse is true: through fostering conversation and collaboration, political opposites can prompted to be proactive in providing solutions. In fact, as anyone who has ever been in a heated argument will know, it can be much harder to be empathic towards your opponent, see his or her strengths and look for common ground.
This is as true for powerful elites as it is for anyone. Constructive journalism illuminates how not only those in power but all of us can have the potential to do both harm and good.
‘If it Succeeds, it Leads’: Why the News is Changing for Good

‘If it Succeeds, it Leads’: Why the News is Changing for Good

By  for Huffington Post 
When I was a boy I made my first newspaper. With a pen, ruler and sheet of paper, I marked out some boxes and filled them in with stories about what was going on in my home and the world around me. I then photocopied it and tried to sell it to my parents for 10p a copy (not realising of course that they were paying the production costs).
But as I got older the picture that the news painted of the world never sat right with me. I knew that the stories of war, crime, scandal and tragedy were vitally important. I also came to understand that they weren’t the full picture; that the news magnifies only a fragment of reality. But despite knowing this, the way that the news created a deeper story about the world and about human nature, didn’t feel right.
It was perhaps this intuitive feeling that led me to editing Positive News, a publication that shines a light on innovation, kindness, co-operation and the ways people are working to create solutions to the problems facing society.
Like myself as a boy creating my own newspaper, Positive News is now giving its readers the chance to take ownership of the kind of media they want. It is becomingthe first crowdfunded global media cooperative, owned by its readers, supporters and journalists. By selling ‘community shares’ we are raising a minimum of £200,000 to scale up and respond to the growing demand for our journalism. With 6 days still to go in our #OwnTheMedia campaign, we have reached 90% of our target.
But why do we need positive news stories?
We face colossal and escalating challenges as a global community: climate change and social inequality, to give just two examples. And on the individual level, people are suffering across the spectrum of circumstances in which humanity finds itself.
But at the same time it would be wrong, in our knowledge or imagination, to disown anyone of their achievements, strengths, loves and joys. At the global level, there is also another side to the story.
According to researchers, a thorough analysis of the data shows that apart from a recent spike in conflicts, the long-term trend is that the world is becoming more peaceful. More countries than ever are democracies, and on the whole we’re getting healthier.
Meanwhile, data from the Ipsos Mori social research institute shows that across 14 countries, the public perceive rates of teenage pregnancy, immigration and murder to be much higher than they actually are.
This brings into question the role of the news in shaping our perceptions. The media doesn’t just mirror society, it moves it. What the media focuses on, and how it chooses to report, affects our thoughts, feelings, conversations and perspectives. By consequence, it plays a part in influencing our choices and actions too.
Of course, it is essential to report the problems and dangers we face. And journalism as a watchdog – exposing injustice, exploitation and corruption, and holding power to account – is a function critical to democracy. But journalism’s apparent theory of change, that by relentlessly focusing on what’s going wrong society will be better informed and able to do something about it, is undermined by evidence of how news impacts us.
Emotional and psychological impact of news
Research has shown that negative news can cause stress, world-weariness and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The work of Cathrine Gydlensted at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that it leads to ‘learned helplessness’ and leaves us feeling passive.
But research also suggests that when we bring more positive elements into reporting it can boost our mood and give us a sense of social agency. The University of Southampton has found that positive news stories lead people to feel significantly higher motivation to take actions such as voicing their opinions, donating to charity or protecting the environment.
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson says that positive emotions are what truly lead to progress because they foster creativity and innovation. They broaden our awareness, opening our hearts and minds, and enable us to build new knowledge, skills and resources.
When we experience positive emotions, the hormone oxytocin is released. This chemical is sometimes referred to as the ‘cuddle drug’ or ‘moral molecule’ because it correlates with increased trust, generosity and empathy. It leads us to connect to others, says leading oxytocin researcher Paul J Zack. High stress however, inhibits oxytocin. Negative emotions tend to prompt narrow and immediate, survival-oriented behaviours.
Bad news does sell. This is partly because stories that shock and provoke fear grab us, according to a study published by the Journal of Communication, by triggering our hardwired survival response.
But there is another, less stress-inducing way that we can also grab audience attention. The business school at the University of Pennsylvania has found that articles most likely to go viral are those that evoke strong positive emotions, particularly a sense of awe.
In addition, research from the University of Texas found that people feel more engaged in an article about a problem when it also contains information about a potential solution – and are more likely to share these stories online. With social media increasingly driving traffic for news websites, then perhaps the old saying “if it bleeds, it leads” might one day give way to “if it succeeds, it leads”.
There is a growing number of publications incorporating this approach. For instance, the Huffington Post recently announced its global editorial strategy to give more coverage to ‘what’s working’ – a decision backed by the fact that its positive content was receiving three times as many shares as other pieces.
Constructive journalism
The emerging field of ‘constructive journalism’ offers a way for the media to bring more positive elements into conventional reporting. Learning from other fields such as the behavioural sciences, constructive journalism involves techniques such as using solution-focused angles while remaining critical and still highlighting ‘negative’ facts. For example, a journalist taking a constructive approach would ask interviewees questions that reveal their strengths and resilience, not simply their victimisation.
Initiatives such as the Constructive Journalism Project are now delivering training in constructive journalism – or solutions journalism as it is often called in the US – in journalism schools and newsrooms worldwide.
Audience researchers have known for a long time that people want more good news. What the industry is now realising is that this doesn’t have to mean fluffy stories – waterskiing squirrels and the like – but it can be rigorous and compelling journalism about progress and possibility.
The world is complex and multifaceted, and I don’t pretend I understand it. But as a boy making my newspaper, and now as an editor, I do know the power of storytelling. Positive and constructive approaches offer a way to help strengthen journalism, at a time when more than ever, we need a way of looking at the world that sparks the potential in us all.
Positive News’ community share offer runs until 8 July. Find out more atwww.ownthemedia.org or by searching #OwnTheMedia on Twitter.

Big questions

“Even the toughest of mainstream newsrooms are aware that the old editorial certainties are being questioned”, said Charlie Beckett on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday.
The Positive News write up of the programme ‘Good News Is No News’ summarised it as follows: “A wave of media alternatives focused on presenting a positive, balanced picture of the world are paving the way for a more diverse journalism, while traditional media are questioning old assumptions about what the news should cover.”
The programme featured us and others in the constructive journalism movement, as well as mainstream media editors. Even Daily Mail deputy editor Tony Gallagher admitted that scare stories don’t always reflect reality. “Crime is going down, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at national media because we still cover the same number of crimes, the same number of murderous trials, so there is a danger that we are not reflecting the world.”
Presenter Charlie Beckett concluded on his Polis journalism think thank blog: “This debate goes to the heart of what news is and what it does in an age when technology is transforming the way we understand our world.”
We strongly believe that constructive journalism has an important part to play in these discussions. We know from partner organisations as well as global interest in our courses that the same ‘big questions’ about journalism are being asked around the world right now.
If you want to join us on this pioneering journey, we would love to welcome you to our next constructive journalism course in London on Friday 20 March 2015. You can book one of the remaining places directly here.
Good news is no news… or is it?

Good news is no news… or is it?

If even well-respected BBC Radio 4 wants to talk about constructive journalism, you know things are happening. Especially if it’s on the popular weekend slot. Listen live, this Sunday 8 February at 1.30pm.
We’re excited that we will feature in the piece. Have a listen on Sunday and let us know what you think!
The documentary will be presented by Charlie Beckett, head of journalism think thank Polis. He wrote announcement stories about it for the Polis website and the Guardian media section.

Untitled

On the BBC Radio 4 website, the programme description says: “Former news editor Charlie Beckett explores whether there is an unrelenting negativity in the mainstream news agenda, preoccupied with violent crime, human accident, misfortune and disaster. He asks why alternative, so-called positive or solutions-based, ideas for news are so readily dismissed by journalists, broadcasters and editors.
The programme examines the story so far of the ‘positive news’ movement – a movement that’s growing quickly, especially in the United States. The Washington Post, New York Times and Huffington Post all now have sections explicitly devoted to more positive or constructive stories. Charlie Beckett asks why there’s such a visceral resistance to the arguments for change among many professional journalists and editors.”

The word about constructive journalism is spreading!

We’re excited that a growing number of media organisations want to find out more about constructive journalism.CJP on journalism.co.uk
​Today, leading industry website Journalism.co.uk published an interview with us, outlining details of our latest educational work.
In the story, our co-founder Seán elaborated on our aim to break down the assumption that journalists always have to primarily look for what’s gone wrong:
While holding power to account and highlighting corruption are “essential parts of journalism,” he said a constructive approach means looking at building on these stories and addressing them in a more balanced way, for example showing what’s being done about the problem.