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Constructive journalism and its roots

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Since constructive journalism is an emerging domain, not much is written about it. During my preliminary research, I found two books published about the subject, both by journalists from Denmark where it started growing roots: Constructive News (2014) by Ulrik Haagerup and From Mirrors to Movers by Cathrine Gyldensted. Haagerup is the Executive Director of Danish Broadcasting, Denmark’s oldest and largest broadcaster. Gyldensted is also a journalist from Danish Broadcasting with a master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology. With her master’s thesis titled, “Innovating journalism through the use of positive psychology”, she originated the idea of connecting journalism and psychology as having a strong potential for innovation.

Why so negative?

Both books and Gyldensted’s thesis brought into light the ability of news media to provide negative emotional impact to those who consume it. Haagerup’s first chapter is aptly titled, “Why are you so negative?” telling of his experiences at social circles where, when he starts talking to people about his profession, they ask him why media people always tell negative stories. He ends up defending his bread and butter of course, telling people back that, well, journalists are just doing their jobs. If negative stories dominate the news, it is because there is more negativity dominating every day. But after some self-reflection, he ended up asking himself: “Is the world really like that? What on earth are we doing?”

He proceeded: “Is our journalistic glass always half empty or half full? Do our routines and habits and our view of the world lead us to paint an overly negative picture of the world, because the criteria we use to select items of ‘news’ from the information torrent lead us to focus instinctively on things that aren’t working: the people who lose out, the people who are to blame, and the drama that surrounds them?”

Accountability both ways

Gyldensted shared Haagerup’s reflection. In her years of investigative journalism, she also ended up asking herself the same questions. In her thesis, she wrote: “I began to doubt whether my work made a positive difference for society, people, and communities. It seemed to me that I was mostly inducing negative affect and consequently actively corroded society. When we hold others accountable, we should hold ourselves accountable too. When we pride ourselves in being anti-authoritarian towards authority, we should exercise that anti-authority on ourselves and thus question our own rules, habits and self-perception on a regular basis weeding out habitual thinking and foster new ideas. First step then is critically revisiting our own foundational principles, journalisms ethics code, its historical roots and empirically investigate how we in the news media hold up to honouring the code.”

What now?

Haagerup’s book was full of data that showed how much negative news is published compared to constructive news and how constructive news has changed the Danish media landscape. Gyldensted, in her book, showed more examples of constructive journalism in other countries, such as The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Gyldensted also shared how journalists can apply constructive journalism in their work by changing their line of questioning. Instead of asking only for the who, what, when, where, why and how, Gyldensted added another W to the set: “what now?”

She further wrote: “We live in a world with a lot of far-reaching and complex problems and crises. Journalism should reflect that but also facilitate the discussion on possible solutions, challenges and visions. Facilitate the debate on solutions.”

If it is true that journalists can facilitate the debate on solutions, can it also help move the discussion on European migration to the way which we all seek: finding a solution?

References:
* Gyldensted, C. (2011). Innovating News Journalism Through Positive Psychology. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/mapp_capstone/20/
* Gyldensted, C. (2015). From Mirrors to Movers: Five Elements of Positive Psychology in Constructive Journalism. GGroup Publishing.
* Haagerup, U. (2014). Constructive News. Zurich: InnoVatio Publishing AG.

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