What now for journalism students?

Why you need to know about constructive journalism

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Giselle GreenJournalists are well used to asking the five Ws when covering a story: Who, What, Where, Why, When? The Dutch journalist Bas Mesters suggested it’s time to add a 6th element – What Now? Investigating the ‘what now?’ part of a story is the central element of constructive journalism, the next big trend in news. Constructive journalism is a more solutions-focused approach to news. Rather than just focusing on problems, reporters include constructive elements (as leading proponent Cathrine Gyldensted puts it) in their coverage.

They actively look for evidence of what’s working, or what could work. This isn’t about ignoring negative stories or searching for happy, fluffy stories. Or about advocacy journalism. It’s about rigorous reporting of serious issues which are framed to show what people are doing to address problems. This gives audience a more accurate picture of reality.Evidence shows the public are turned off by negative news, are more likely to stick with news outlets that provide constructive coverage and share more these types of stories on social media. Given that social media shares are so crucial in driving readers to news websites, this is a powerful incentive for editors to take notice of constructive journalism.Growing numbers of news organisations are incorporating constructive journalism into their approach, including the BBC, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Upworthy, the New York Times, de Correspondentand DR in Denmark under leading proponent Ulrik Haagerup. The quarterly magazine Positive News  (also online) is dedicated entirely to showcasing constructive journalism.

A new initiative called Constructive Voices has recently launched in this country, which I am delighted to be running. Its aim is two-fold: to champion constructive journalism, encouraging journalists and editors to embrace it; and to create a resource for journalists offering case studies showing how charities and social enterprises are tackling social problems in a range of topic areas such as fostering positive mental health, tackling homelessness and creating a sustainable future.

The project is being run under the auspices of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations because NCVO believes constructive journalism is of value to society and in order to flag up the positive impact of the voluntary sector.

Over 250 charities, social enterprises and journalists have already signed up, enabling us to link up stories with appropriate journalists. Some will be powerful stories in their own right, some can be pegged to a news development. Journalists can sign up via this webpage.

We were delighted our project received the backing of Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, himself a keen advocate of constructive journalism.

We’ve just started a collaboration with the Department of Journalism at London’s City University.  We enabled journalism students to practise their interviewing skills on people from charities who’d signed up to Constructive Voices.

This worked well on a practical level for both the charities, who needed interview practice, and the student journalists, who were also able to develop useful personal links with local organisations who could be the source of future stories.  We are very keen to establish similar relationships with journalism colleges and departments around the country.  Do get in touch with constructivevoices@ncvo.org.uk if you’re interested in linking up.

We’re also working with the Constructive Journalism Project which trains current and future journalists in how to incorporate constructive journalism into their work. They’ve already delivered workshops to hundreds of journalism students across the country. Department heads who aren’t yet aware of the project, or of constructive journalism, might like to consider checking them out.

All journalists want to be as well-equipped as they can possibly be. Constructive journalism can help them. Journalists of the future have a special responsibility to serve the audiences of the future. A survey by the BBC World Service showed that young people are particularly keen on solutions-focused news.  And for journalists’ own well-being, constructive journalism is without doubt an approach that should be top of their own personal agenda.


If you would like to contribute to the EJN’s Inside Ethics Blog, please contact tom.law@ethicaljournalism.org