“Do we need to call this ‘Constructive Journalism’? It’s just good journalism,” one student at the back said. All over the room, heads nodded in approval.
Most of the 46 students at the International Journalism Media Summer Academy in Thessaloniki had never heard of the term “Constructive Journalism” before, yet it just made sense to them that when journalists expose a problem, they should try to explore solutions as well. And that reporting on progress and possibility has its place, alongside covering crisis, crimes and tragedy.
I had been invited to the beautiful city of Thessaloniki in Greece, in July, along with colleagues from Croatia, Germany, Russia and Ireland, to present lectures and workshops on ‘New Trends in Media and Journalism: Disinformation, Verification of News and Constructive Journalism in a Changing World’. It was wonderful to see students from Greece, Russia, Croatia Ukraine, Germany, Brazil, Bosnia, The Netherlands, Slovenia, and the US, China and other countries, debate and build connections – and listen to their various perspectives.
When we discussed the coverage of the refugee crisis in their respective countries, most students said that the media mostly stressed the problems posed by migration and the burden it imposes on social services, but others had another take. Greek students, for example, said that while the coverage was alarmist and negative at first, over the years, there were also stories of solidarity and on the contribution made by migrants. This was unexpected as Greece is one of the countries most affected by the influx of migrants and in the midst of a serious economic crisis.
We found examples of constructive stories from a rapidly growing media pool – from the New York Times and the Guardian Upside to the BBC World Hacks, Positive News and De Correspondent.
We explored how to interview the so-called “victims” in a way that doesn’t reduce them to their situation, but shows their resilience and preserves their dignity. And we looked at how we can ask different questions to those in power, the experts and those who hold different views.
The idea that journalists can facilitate engagement between people from different religious and ethnic groups, political views or age, rather than fuelling polarisation and conflict, led to heated discussions. We concluded that it’s not the journalists’ role to advocate a solution or campaign for integration, but to show how communities are coming together across these lines to engage with one another, and how problems that they are facing are being tackled elsewhere.
At the end of the day, the students decided to call this type of journalism “Responsible Journalism.” I kind of like that!
Last month our workshop trainer Veronique Mistiaen travelled to Tunisia to introduce correspondents from Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to constructive journalism. Here, she reflects on a full-on weekend in which participants discussed opportunities for a constructive approach to conflict reporting, political debate and social transformation.
“Wouldn’t constructive stories belittle the problems we are facing?” asked the tall Libyan journalist. “If we write stories with a constructive angle, how can we make sure that they won’t be used as propaganda by the regime?” the thoughtful Egyptian journalist wanted to know.
These were some of the stimulating questions journalists from Libya, Egypt and Tunisia asked during the very first Constructive Journalism Project workshop in the region.
The political and media landscapes in post-revolutionary North Africa are not only very different from those in the UK and EU, where we have been running our workshops – but they are also different in each of these three countries. This led to very interesting, challenging and passionate discussions.
Nineteen journalists participated in a three-day workshop in Tunis on November 25-28 organised by Media in Cooperation in Transition (MICT), a German non-profit organisation that runs media development projects in crisis regions. In addition to working for various media outlets, many journalists also contribute to Correspondents.org, a bilingual digital magazine (Arabic/English) designed by MiCT to cover three countries.
We began the workshop by analysing the various newspapers and media they work for, discussing the balance or imbalance in the news and its impact on the readers and audiences, on major issues such as migration and climate change and on democracy.
Constructive journalism was a new and rather unfamiliar concept to all participants, but they could see the need for a journalism that moves from the crisis rhetoric, trying instead to capture the complexity of social and political life, reconnecting with communities and reinvigorating our profession.
We then explored practical tools the journalists could use in their own reporting in order to produce stories that are more balanced, explore new angles and possibilities and ask different questions to those in power, the experts and those too often referred to as ‘victims’ without much consideration for their well-being, dignity or resilience.
During our last session the journalists pitched constructive-angled story ideas for Correspondents.com. These included stories on a Libyan port city, where the community and police worked together to drive traffickers out; transitional justice in Tunisia; projects to get young people off drugs in deprived areas in Libya and a profile of a young female hero from Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“In our country, more than 90 percent of the news is on war and conflicts – who wins and who loses. Everything else is ignored,” a Libyan journalist said. “Now we can change that.”
“Constructive journalism deconstructs news, reframing reporting to highlight solutions not just problems. Highly recommended for disillusioned hacks (including me)!”, said one of our recent freelance workshop participants.
“It has generated ongoing discussion about the concept of a constructive approach to news stories… We will embed this into our practice”, wrote a journalism college programme leader.
For most people, December is a time of reflection on the year past. For us, it is March, as it is a year this week since we started our first-ever university tour.
In the past twelve months, we have been travelling the UK and beyond to deliver courses in constructive journalism. We worked with the University of Southampton, which was awarded funding by the Impact Acceleration programme at the Economic and Social Research Council to disseminate the findings of research into the impact of the news, conducted by Dr Denise Baden and colleagues.
We taught hundreds of students from Scotland to north Wales and the east coast of England, and went from Germany to Ireland and Italy to work with media professionals in newsrooms, too.
Next month, we’ll wrap up the university tour after more than twenty visits and overwhelmingly positive feedback from both students and professors. We’ll take some time to evaluate the tour and hope to be back with a second round in the next academic year.
Meanwhile, at our headquarters in London, we welcomed dozens of freelancers to not just practice constructive journalism, but make a living from it. The one-day course has been attended by journalists across countries, platforms and age groups, with many currently working on their own constructive journalism ventures in Europe. The next workshop is announced for Friday 15 July and booking is now open to all, on a first-come, first-served basis.
And industry media increasingly know where to find us when covering the constructive journalism movement. Journalism.co.uk recently featured us again in a podcast: ‘Why solutions journalism can help news organisations improve their reporting’, and the World Association of Newspapers zoomed in on our latest constructive journalism magazine experiences. BBC Radio Ulster also paid attention to our work (listen back from 1:25:00) and many bloggers find their way to us too, including under the header ‘What Now For News’ on the Huffington Post.
As the momentum for more constructive news keeps building, we hope you join us in changing the conversation. You can connect with us on Twitter, Facebook or via our newsletter, and of course face-to-face. To find out where we are next, keep an eye on our schedule here.
During our popular one-day interactive workshop, we cover both the academic theory and editorial practicalities of constructive journalism.
The next workshop is on Friday 9 October 2015, from 10am-5pm in The Biscuit Factory in London. Participants have joined us from all around the world, so if you need travel or accommodation assistance, just email us and we’re happy to help.
The workshop is suitable for both independent and staff journalists, as well as those working in related media or communications fields. You will gain tools and techniques to report in a way that empowers your readers, listeners or viewers. You learn exactly how constructive journalism engages people and how you can make it a sustainable practice within your business or organisation. We introduce you to editors looking for constructive storytelling and you’ll hear from experienced freelance journalists who share their top tips for earning an income from constructive journalism.
If you want to use your journalism to really make a positive difference to your audiences and the world, then this workshop is for you.
Spaces are limited to allow for plenty of one-to-one attention. You can reserve your place online here.
After travelling to Perugia, Italy to deliver a session on constructive journalism at the renowned International Journalism Festival, we’re pleased to announced that our next stop will be London. Join us on Friday 12 June for a thorough introduction to this growing domain within journalism globally.
It will be a full day course (and tickets include lunch, refreshments and homemade cake!), packed with theoretical background as well as many practical tools and exercises to pitch and produce constructive journalism. The workshop takes place at London’s centrally located Biscuit Factory (near London Bridge and Bermondsey).
Rin Hamburgh, one of our previous participants, said: “After ten years as a journalist, this workshop has reinvigorated my passion to use my writing to making a difference, and has given me the tools to challenge the negative news agenda in a sustainable way. I would recommend it to anyone, from those just starting out to long standing journalists who want fresh inspiration and a positive challenge.”
Fellow course participant Tess Murphy commented after the course: “I hoped to broaden my knowledge on research and how to tell a good story. The course lived up to this expectation, teaching me how to tell stories that matter, in a way that made far more sense to me than how stories are often told in the general media. The practical aspects were particularly good for me, such as how to pitch a constructive story idea, and where to generate inspiration. I left the workshop feeling like I had been given a second wind, and ready to take a more pro-active approach to doing work that I want to do.”
If you want to join our next workshop on 12th June in London, you can book directly online. Participants join us from all around the world, so if you need any cheap hotel recommendations for nearby places, email us and we’re happy to assist. We also have a few discounted bursary placements available for participants who are unable to pay the fee. Email us at info [at] constructivejournalism.org to apply. Places are limited to allow for plenty of one-to-one attention and tickets are sold on a first come, first served basis.
Our next day course has been scheduled for Friday 20 March 2015 in London. For those who can’t wait to join: we offer a 20% earlybird discount if you book by the end of the month. We’re limiting places to allow for plenty of one-to-one attention.
As we like to use the pay-it-forward philosophy in everything we do, we offer assistance to those who cannot afford our courses. If you are a student, unemployed or on a low income, please contact us to see if we can assist you with a bursary place.
A new year, full of new opportunities for the Constructive Journalism Project. We’ve got exciting plans to help grow the field of constructive journalism in the UK and beyond, and will keep you posted via this page as we go.
We were chuffed with the feedback we received from the pioneers who joined us at the Biscuit Factory. “After ten years as a journalist, this workshop has reinvigorated my passion to use my writing to making a difference, and has given me the tools to challenge the negative news agenda in a sustainable way”, one participant said. We truly hope to be working with many more like-minded journalist in coming months.
Alongside organising workshops, we are in constant contact with organisations and individuals working in the field of constructive journalism around the world. During our last workshop, we had a guest appearance from Keith Hammonds of the Solutions Journalism Network in the US, and BBC Radio 4 even came along to record us. The programme will air next month: we will of course keep you posted!