Constructive Journalism

There is a discussion about whether there is a negativity bias in traditional news reporting and its effects on direct consumers of such information as well as on wider society. Domains such as ‘peace journalism’, ‘conflict-sensitive journalism’, ‘solutions journalism’, ‘positive journalism’, and ‘constructive journalism’ have emerged over recent years and decades. All these domains aim to reframe a conflict-based narrative (protagonist/antagonist; victim/hero/villain) to one that provides more context and scrutiny of individual and group efforts in dealing with the topic of the story.

Constructive journalism is premised on a value that media shapes society (i.e. media is not neutral), and as such, story selection and manner of presentation matters. Another tenet of constructive journalism is a motivation to include reflection by both the interviewee(s) and readers — to go beyond a linear attempt at explaining what and why of something in the past towards a consideration of how a situation might change. The hypothesis is that positive change can be facilitated by the style of interviewing and reporting.

One theoretical framework for this positivity is based on psychotherapeutic questioning techniques. Called ‘interventive interviewing’, therapist Karl Tomm divides questions into four types based on two intersecting dimensions that make up four quadrants. This framework can be interpreted into journalism as dichotomies between past-orientation and future-orientation, and between reductionist, deterministic approaches and holistic, systemic approaches:

Danish journalist, Cathrine Gyldensted, reported that conventional journalists tend to be past-oriented and leave out future-oriented questions. In one example, in a four-hour press conference with a former Danish prime minister, the press asked 59% ‘Detective’ questions (‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’) and only 3% asked ‘Future Scientist’ questions (“What do you think A believes in that situation?”, “What action should be taken in order to do B?”). The argument is that journalists miss out on asking questions “that explore new perspectives, solutions and visions, and on triggering actions based on those perspectives”. The incentive for this more extensive typology of questioning is for a journalist to encourage mediation in debates and facilitate constructive collaboration among participants.

As described by the Constructive Journalism Project, constructive journalism is rigorous and critical and upholds journalism’s core functions and ethics, “but with a constructive rather than a negative mindset”:

“It can hold power to account in an additional way by fostering conversation, collaboration, consensus building and challenging power to be proactive in providing solutions. It also illuminates how not only those in power are having, or can have, an impact.”

“Constructive journalism strengthens journalism’s commitment to the truth, by helping provide a fuller picture of reality, and 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.”

Research on constructive journalism can be found online here and here.