On the eve of the launch of her new book, Jodie Jackson reflects on the growing audience-driven call for more constructive reporting.
Over the years I spent researching the effects of the news on our mental well-being, many people doubted the ability of individuals and organisations to bring about positive change in the newsroom. They told me: ‘the news is the way it is; you are never going to change it.’
Despite initial skepticism, those who have been following the spread of constructive journalism across the media industry know how quickly it has become mainstreamized in the last five years.
I hope it will appeal to what I call ‘radical optimists’. As playwright George Bernard Shaw so eloquently put it, ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’
I invite you to be unreasonable with me. Refuse to accept that there is only one way that the news should be; refuse to accept that negative news is the only narrative worth telling; refuse to accept that the news ‘is the way that it is’ and instead decide that it should be more balanced in its coverage. And then start making changes and choices that reflect this.
Join Action for Happiness for an inspiring evening with Jodie Jackson to mark the launch of her ground-breaking new book You Are What You Read.
Tuesday 9 April, 19.00 – 20.30h, Conway Hall, London. Tickets here
We all know the saying ‘you are what you eat’ in relation to our bodies – but when it comes to our minds ‘you are what you read’ is equally true. The impact of our mental diet is less visible but just as powerful.
In this empowering talk, Jodie Jackson will explain the impact the news has on our mental health and show us how we can take a more conscious and constructive approach to our media diet. By shifting the way we consume the news, we have the power to boost our mental health, transform our lives and just possibly change the world.
“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!
Can constructive journalism play a role in conflict reporting? It is a question we get asked a lot, and we’re increasingly seeing examples of how it can.
Following our work with Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian journalists, we recently travelled to deliver a constructive journalism workshop to members of the Ethical Charter for Syrian Media. For many of these independent journalists, doing their jobs can put them in danger, so we met at an undisclosed location. Through instantaneous translation, we were able to have very insightful and in-depth discussions about how to apply the principles of constructive journalism to the Syrian reality. Between us, we were able to identify many powerful examples. Since the session took place, we get regular updates from participants about constructive reporting they’ve done. It is hugely encouraging to see how their work is making a difference in re-engaging audiences who had previously switched off.
The session was facilitated by the press freedom charity Free Press Unlimited, who explained the need for constructive reporting in Syria as follows:
“In the early stages of the revolution in Syria, people believed that the situation was going to change quickly and have a positive outcome. It was seen as a new start and people were hopeful. Over time, this attitude has changed. The international audience is less interested in hearing about the ongoing war in Syria and the Syrians are less and less hopeful. We can see how this has affected people.
We have seen through the years how important it is to write about the daily life of people in Syria and not to limit the writing to the war. But how do you meet audience needs and expectations when the violence around you is the daily bread?
War brings unacceptable violence in people’s life, but also humanity. Through this workshop, our media partners learned how constructive journalism is about reporting on both. It is not about ignoring reality, but about providing the full picture of what goes wrong and right. Constructive journalism can contribute to restoring hope, both for journalists reporting on any war or conflict and those reading about it.”
Together with independent media, charity partners and others interested in constructive media in conflict areas, we will continue to work on developing this curriculum further. If you are interested or working in this area, please get in touch to see how we can join forces in this important field.
It’s one of the questions we often get asked during our courses: once you know the ins and outs of a problem, how do you get ideas for where solutions might be? First of all, we believe that as journalists, we don’t invent solutions. We simply research and report on solutions that are out there, either already happening somewhere in the world, or existing in the minds of experts. Importantly, we believe that experts are not just those in ivory towers, but rather the people on the ground who are affected by the problem. After all, it is in their best interest to solve it and more often than not, they have already taken steps to do so, or at the very least have ideas worth hearing.
A good way to get started when researching constructive stories is by letting different questions guide you. Questions like:
•Who is solving what and how?
•Who is thriving, where is there resilience?
•Where is there creativity, passion and innovation?
•Who has grown, or experienced post-traumatic growth?
•Where is there co-operation and collaboration?
•Where are new possibilities being explored?
•Where is the conventional narrative around this issue being disrupted?
It’s the last question that often sets good constructive stories apart – and make you stand out as a journalist pitching the story to an editor or audience. When done well, constructive journalism shows a different side of the coin. It shows that change is possible, and makes people sit up and take notice. The response we aim for is one of: ‘wow, I had no idea.’ If you can trigger that sense of awe, you not only have a captive audience, but your journalism becomes valuable in more ways than one.
We”ll cover more constructive journalism tools and techniques in our next workshop. Join us on 21 October 2016.
“The industry’s focus on bad news is often well intentioned, stemming from an important commitment to being society’s watchdog, However, for the news media as a whole this mentality has gone too far”, said our co-founder Seán Dagan Wood in a Guardian interview recently. He spoke of the “big elephant in the newsroom”: the fact that people are fed up with media negativity.
Through our workshop series at universities and real-world examples at Positive News, we’ve seen the global appetite for constructivejournalism grow explosively in recent years.
Initiatives like the Guardian’s new ‘half full’ series show that mainstream media have woken up to the fact that audiences want constructivejournalism. And the ongoing demand for our courses for freelancers inspires us to keep spreading our experiences, learnings and research with as many people as we can.
Speaking of which: we’ve just announced our next workshop on Friday 21 October 2016 (booking online). We stay in touch with many of our previous participants, who often embark on exciting constructive journeys. Following journalism entrepreneur Calum in Glasgow, who launched Positively Scottish (we wrote about him here), we also heard from Jane in Wales, who was on the workshop last year:
“I attended your course in June last year and found it very inspiring. Since then I have started a blog and published various articles about food. I’m drawing particularly on our Food Values project (…) to see how we can use food to engage with positive values and transform society.”
And Sian, who was on our summer workshop last month, kindly informed us she’d written about the course on her website. She refers to an example clip we discussed of 6-year old children playing news presenters and seemingly naturally making up terrible and tragic events:
“At the beginning of the course, we drew a mind map of ‘how the news makes us feel’. Common key words were powerless, anxious, sad, angry, confused…You get the idea. Constructivejournalism aims to leave the reader inspired, motivated, informed and empowered. As the next generation of journalists, creators and leaders, it’s important to remember that the news, the media and the messages we are sending out are shaping our world view, and ultimately our world. If we keep sending out negative messages, our world view and perspective will be negative. If we can begin to inspire feelings of hope, empowerment and change, maybe the next generation of six year olds will have a kinder world to re-enact.”
One of the things we love most at the Constructive Journalism Project is connecting with changemakers in media all around the world. Our workshops attract a wide range of entrepreneurs, who often use the session to kick-start their own constructive journalism ventures.
Glaswegian Calum Macdonald is one such ‘journopreneur’. After attending our workshop in February this year, he went on to launch Positively Scottish in June. The solutions-focused online magazine runs as a social enterprise. Just one month in, Macdonald reports “good early traffic, decent sign-ups, and no shortage of stories”. Time for a catch up with Calum, to see how he combines his experience as digital editor of the Herald and Times Group in Glasgow with the constructive approach to journalism he now takes.
What inspired you to launch Positively Scottish?
I’ve been a journalist for 30+ years in Scotland and lived through the good times for the media industry. Now mainstream publishers are in deep trouble, my hunch is there’s space to do things differently: by using the traditional tools of robust, independent journalism to find stories about people – but adding a new dimension for an audience that clearly seeks positive, constructive alternatives, especially online. And that creates new work opportunities.
Why do you think there is a need for constructive journalism in Scotland in particular?
The Scottish media’s legendary, core strength in print has always been a local readership, based on cities and towns. In a digital age, a truly pan-Scottish publication can appeal to readers across the country – and the millions of expats – who share the recognisable national values of compassion and a communitarian approach to problems. So telling constructive stories is both a need and an opportunity for us.
How did the course benefit you in launching the platform?
It reinforced my sense of purpose, and helped convince me I wasn’t alone! I’m acutely conscious that what we’re all doing is breaking a very entrenched mould, so mutual support is really beneficial.
How did you go about launching it, particularly in finding the start-up costs and content?
I had very positive (sorry!) feedback from colleagues and friends, and then from trusted third parties and potential editorial partners. Content’s not an issue – we’ve got a team of 15-20 freelances, a great mix of some experienced hands and a group of keen young graduates we can help shape. Funding – I’m in the fortunate position of having an inheritance from my late father, so I’ve set up a legacy fund in his name which will pay for at least one story a day for phase 1, as we try to prove there’s an audience. I wrote more about this on Medium.
Positively Scottish is a social enterprise- why did you decide that and how do you plan sustainability?
Put bluntly, I think the commercial model for all but a few media giants is fundamentally broken. Being a not-for-profit perfectly fits the social values of Positively Scottish – and I suspect makes us more attractive to both readers and editorial partners. Three potential funding streams, assuming we can deliver a signed-up audience and good traffic: editorial partnerships with (mainly) third sector groups who want to share their brand with those readers; voluntary subscriptions; and grant/philanthropic funding.
What are your aspirations for the platform?
To become one of the first online sites in the world which marries positive/constructive/solutions journalism to a national USP. And if we can do that, to share the lessons elsewhere!
As the year draws to a close, we wanted to share some constructive news with you.
Positive News (the publication led by our co-founder Seán) is hiring an Editor. As explained on their website: “This is a unique and exciting opportunity to manage the editorial operations of Positive News, the world’s first publication dedicated to quality journalism that focuses on progress and possibility.”
Do you have what it takes to direct the editorial future of Positive News, and change the news for good? Or do you know someone who’s just made for the job? The closing date for this London-based full-time role is 11 January 2016. Full application details can be found here.
If you’re looking for freelance opportunities in constructive journalism instead, you might be interested in joining an international group of journalists and editors at our next workshop on Friday 5 February 2016.
During the day course, we will show you how constructive journalism engages your audience. More importantly, we help you apply the techniques within your own journalism career or business. 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. You can book here until places run out. We keep groups small to allow for maximum one-to-one support.
We hope to meet many of you in 2016, and we wish you all a very inspiring and constructive New Year.
Interest in our work is spreading internationally. The International Journalists’ Network recently asked our co-founder to share insights into constructive journalism, including some hands-on advice for journalists wanting to practice it. You can read the full story here.
We might not have a fancy tour bus, but we are certainly hitting the road. Starting this Monday, we will be touring around the UK to deliver constructive journalism training at universities and journalism schools.
As the delivery partner, the Constructive Journalism Project is working 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 at the University of Southampton.
If you are an academic or head of journalism department and are interested in having a constructive journalism workshop delivered to your students, please get in touch.
Workshops, talks and events schedule
We’re often on the road travelling to journalism events, conferences, universities and newsrooms across Europe and further afield.
We’ll list some of our appearances here. If you’d like us to speak at your event, please contact us.
Where we are:
9 April 2019 – ‘You Are What You Read’ launch event, Conway Hall, London (tickets here)
July 2018 –Workshop at School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki Greece
Mon 9 – Wed 11 April 2018 – Three-day course at FHWien der WKW, University of Applied Sciences for Management & Communication (Vienna, Austria)
Sunday 14 January 2018 – Workshop for Ethical Charter for Syrian Media (Istanbul, Turkey)
Thursday 30 November 2017 – Workshop at London School of Economics (London, England)
Thursday 26 October 2017 – Talk at Global Constructive Journalism Conference, Aarhus University (Aarhus, Denmark)
Mon 27- Wed 29 April 2017 – Three-day course at FHWien der WKW, University of Applied Sciences for Management & Communication (Vienna, Austria)
Friday 3 February 2017 – Day course for freelancers and staff journalists (London, England)
Thursday 8 December 2016 – Talk at London School of Economics and Political Science (London, England)
Fri 25- Sun 27 November 2016 – Three-day training for Tunisian, Libyan and Egyptian journalists with MiCT (Media in Cooperation and Transition) (Tunis, Tunisia)
Friday 21 October 2016 – Day course for freelancers and staff journalists (London, England)
Friday 22 July 2016 – Keynote at Anifer Journalismustage, FHWien der WKW (Anif, Austria)
Friday 15 July 2016 – Day course for freelancers and staff journalists (London, England)
Wednesday 20 April 2016 – Workshop at ESJ Paris Grand Lille (Lille, France)
Tuesday 19 April 2016 – Workshop at ESJ Paris Grand Lille (Lille, France)
Tuesday 15 March 2016 – Workshop at Hull College (Hull, England)
Tuesday 8 March 2016 – Workshop at London College of Communication (London, England)
Friday 4 March 2016 – Workshop at London School of Economics and Political Science (London, England)
Thursday 3 March 2016 – Workshop at University of Central Lancashire (England)
Friday 12 February 2016 – Workshop at University of East Anglia (Norwich, England)
Friday 5 February 2016 – Day course for freelancers and staff journalists (London, England)
Friday 29 January 2016 – Workshop at University of Leeds (Leeds, England)
Thursday 10 December 2015 – Workshop at Hull College (Hull, England)
Monday 18 November 2015 – Workshop at Roehampton University (London, England)
Friday 6 November 2015 – Workshop at Griffith College (Dublin, Ireland)
Wednesday 4 November 2015 – Workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University (Virginia, USA)
Wednesday 4 November 2015 – Workshop at Regent University (London, England)
Monday 16 November, 2015 – Workshop at Roehampton University (London, England)
Wednesday 4 November 2015 – Workshop at Regent’s University (London, England)
Friday 9 October 2015 – Day course for freelancers and staff journalists (London, England)
Friday 12 June 2015 – Day course for freelancers and staff journalists (London, England)
Friday 5 June 2015 –Talk at Reporter Forum (Hamburg, Germany)
Wednesday 22 April – Workshop at London Metropolitan University (London, England)
Friday 17 April 2015 – Talk at International Journalism Festival (Perugia, Italy)
Monday 13 April 2015 – Workshop at Glyndwr University Wrexham (Wrexham, Wales)
Friday 20 March 2015 – Day course for freelancers and staff journalists (London, England)
Monday 16 March 2015 – Workshop at University of East Anglia (Norwich, England)
Thursday 12 March 2015 – Workshop at University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, Scotland)
Wednesday 11 March 2015 – Workshop at Glasgow Caledonian University (Glasgow, Scotland)
Tuesday 10 March 2015 – Workshop at University of Sheffield (Sheffield, England)
Monday 9 March 2015 – Workshop at University of Sheffield (Sheffield, England)
Thursday 27 November 2014 – Day course for freelancers and staff journalists (London, England)