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The positive future of journalism

Our co-founder Seán Dagan Wood explains how constructive journalism can benefit us all.

Q&A with positive news researcher Jodie Jackson

jodie-jackson-headshot
Frustrated with the way mainstream media ignores much of the progress being made in the world, researcher Jodie Jackson embarked on a master’s in positive psychology. Her thesis, titled Publishing the Positive, uncovers the power of positive news. She tells Danielle Batist what she has learned.
Why did you choose to research positive news?
I was interested in researching the psychological impact of the news because of personal experience. I found that my opinions and beliefs were becoming cynical, distrusting and perhaps even paranoid at times, largely due to the relentless focus on problems and the continuous depiction of humanity at its worst.
I was interested in positive psychology and ideas around self-efficacy: a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation. I realised that negative news was negatively affecting my self-efficacy and I wondered if I could change that.
I began seeking out ‘solutions journalism’ to provide a balance. What began as emotional relief became something quite inspiring. I felt able and motivated to engage with the stories I was reading. Because of my own strong emotional reaction to the news, I wanted to research this further to understand how common this was and pave the way for a collective experience rather than just a personal one.
What surprised you most about your findings?
The aspect that surprised me most was the relationship between people’s motivations for reading solutions-focused news and the consequences of doing so. What I found was that positive news can lead to optimism and those who are optimistic, in turn tend to seek out more positive content.
Some readers say they consume positive news because it fits with their personal values and reinforces the way in which they see the world. Those who consider themselves hopeful, optimistic and believe in their ability and motivation to effect change, will seek out material that is line with their outlook on life. Other readers say that positive news changes the way they see the world and generates feelings of optimism, hope, self-efficacy and a restored faith in humanity.
The suggestion that the categories identified can be both a motivation and a consequence was really significant to me. It supports the idea that increasing consumption of positive news content can create a positive feedback loop.
This is the comparative opposite of the well-documented anxiety feedback loop, that suggests that reading predominantly negative news can lead to anxiety and that those in a state of anxiety may seek out negative news. (This is based on research by Mogg, Mathews and Eysenck carried out in 1992).
This theory is supported by research suggesting that individuals with high optimism or self-efficacy pay more attention to positive stimuli and those with low levels of self-efficacy or low levels of optimism pay more attention to threat-related stimuli. It is exciting to see that the consumption of positive or solutions-focused news can turn this feedback loop into a positive one.
What role could positive news play in the current landscape of divisive politics?
Looking at the world through the lens of the media, we’d not be mad to think it a terrible place and the people in it no better – regardless of our politics. We need the news to help us understand our differences, not sensationalise them for the sake of clickbait.
On a personal level, I’ve consciously chosen to widen my lens when seeking stories about the world. I have been inspired by reports about progress and possibility that create a balanced perspective of the world. I have seen how great people make great people, how wisdom inspires, how compassion heals and how love and respect dissipate hate and ignorance. It is encouraging to see that the research findings support what many audience members instinctively know.
What would you like to see happen next?
I hope my research will help to spark a shift in ordinary people – the ‘consumers’ of news. Media publishers and editors are hugely influenced by consumer demand. This is where I think the real power of my research lies: it speaks to news audiences, not necessarily to industry professionals.
I believe one reason for the continued acceleration of the negativity bias in the news is a lack of accountability. Media outlets can be powerful instruments in helping to correct wrongdoing, investigating problems and exposing them to the public. But while they are formidable forces in holding others to account, they are not always very good at turning the lens on themselves. We have to ask ourselves: who holds the media accountable? I believe we, the consumers, do.
By grasping the psychological impact that news streams have on us, we can move from being merely consumers to becoming conscious consumers. If we create a shift in demand, it could in turn create a shift in supply.
Jodie Jackson is a research associate for the Constructive Journalism Project. She has a master’s degree in positive psychology from the University of East London, where she was awarded a distinction for her thesis, titled Publishing the Positive. Jackson has delivered talks on the psychological impact of the news to journalism students in the UK and at industry conferences internationally.
Disclaimer: The sample for Jackson’s study was made up of readers and journalists of Positive News. The research was conducted independently by her.

 

Positive news stories bring people together, study finds

Consuming positive news can lead to an increased acceptance of others, a feeling of community and motivation to contribute to social change, new research shows
Titled ‘Publishing the Positive’, the research demonstrates that at a time of divisive politics, positive news stories have the potential to unite, inspire and empower groups of people in society.
Positive psychology researcher Jodie Jackson, who conducted the study at the University of East London, said: “Participants expressed that an excess of negative news led them to see the negative in other people, and feel isolated from society. However, the opposite was experienced when participants read positive news, which created a sense of admiration for other people and ‘restored [their] faith in humanity’.”On an individual level, news stories that focused on solutions were shown to improve wellbeing. They can also boost self-efficacy; a person’s belief in their ability to make a difference.
Another finding was that positive news stories lead to an increase in hope and optimism. This in turn made news consumers more likely to notice positivity and become more solutions-oriented, creating a ‘positive feedback loop’.
Participants in the study reported higher levels of what is known as ‘active coping’: being able to approach and engage with a problem rather than avoiding it. In a media landscape where many audiences avoid news because of an excess of negativity, caused by what Jackson refers to as a “negativity bias”, genuine positive news can engage audiences and empower them to respond to problems.
The sample was made up of readers and journalists of Positive News, a media organisation dedicated to journalism about progress and possibility. Publishing online, and in print as a magazine, Positive News is the longest-established brand of its kind. The organisation is set up as pioneering media co-operative, owned by readers globally.
The research suggests a distinction between the term ‘positive news’ – a reference to the content of what is reported – and the term ‘constructive journalism’, which refers to the way a topic is approached and reported by the journalist.
The research coincides with growing momentum for the constructive journalism movement. Following decades of alternative media beating the drum for a more solutions-oriented journalism, high profile mainstream outlets, including the Guardian and BBC in the UK, and Spiegel Online in Germany, are among those embracing constructive journalism principles.
Jackson states that reporting positive news does not mean journalists ignoring negative news. Rather, it simply requires them to no longer ignore positive elements and, where feasible, to include them within the wider narrative of a story.
“Positive and negative news stories should not compete, but co-exist,” said Jackson. “We need to notice achievements alongside failings in order to understand the world more accurately.”
Disclaimer: Seán Dagan Wood , co-founder of the Constructive Journalism Project, is also Editor-in-Chief of Positive News. This research was conducted independently by Jodie Jackson, with no interference from Positive News or the Constructive Journalism Project, other than to provide open access to its networks of readers and journalists.

Covering solutions: how do you know what works?

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 glass half full approach

“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 constructive journalism 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 constructive journalism. 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. Constructive journalism 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.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Former workshop participant starts ‘Positively Scottish’

Former workshop participant starts ‘Positively Scottish’

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.
Calum McDonald
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!
For disillusioned hacks… and anyone else believing in better news

For disillusioned hacks… and anyone else believing in better news

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.

A showcase for constructive journalism

The world’s first publication dedicated to quality journalism that focuses on progress and possibility will relaunch this week as a magazine. After 22 years at the forefront of reporting positive stories, Positive News’ relaunch takes place as the concept of constructive journalism gathers pace globally.
The new Positive News magazine, which showcases rigorous journalism that focuses on solutions, will be unveiled at an event in east London on 4 February. Previously in newspaper format, the 84-page magazine will be a higher quality publication, bringing together inspiring content and design.
Published quarterly, the first issue in the new format features content such as an on-the-ground report about women promoting human rights in the face of extremism in Pakistan; an exploration of how democracy could become more effective in the digital age; and a range of compelling lifestyle articles.
Several new regular sections will be included, such as the Constructive Conversation, in which two thought leaders are challenged to find common ground; the Solutions Lab, which unearths forward-thinking responses to difficult social issues; and What Happened Next?, which updates stories reported upon previously.
At the magazine’s helm are the Constructive Journalism Project’s co-founders Seán Dagan Wood and Danielle Batist.
Batist, who worked as the relaunch editor, said:
“Our new magazine shows that good journalism can also be about the good things that are happening. We don’t stop at highlighting a problem but use that as a starting point before asking what’s being done about it. We then investigate solutions critically, moving beyond the ‘hero tale’ or ‘happy story’ to uncover what’s going well in the world.”
The relaunch comes after Positive News became the first global media co-operative financed through crowdfunding. Following a 30-day #OwnTheMedia campaign in July 2015, it is now co-owned by 1,526 readers, journalists and supporters from 33 countries. The £263,000 investment raised by the ‘community share offer’, is enabling Positive News to roll out a new business model. The aim is to grow its reach and make the print and digital publication financially sustainable, with the move to a magazine just one part of this.
Positive News editor-in-chief Seán Dagan Wood said:
“The relaunch marks an exciting and important step for our journalism and our community-supported model as we grow our impact. There is a growing demand for intelligent coverage of positive developments, and an opportunity for it in the shifting media landscape. We are humbled by the support of our readers and co-owners, who embraced our vision.
“We wanted to move to a format in print where the quality of the design matches that of the content. Though some news publications are struggling in print, we feel there’s huge value in a carefully curated, quarterly print magazine that offers a uniquely inspiring lens on the world. So, we’ve created something that we hope is a beautiful vessel for beautiful stories.”
The magazine hits the shelves at a time of increasing interest from other media outlets in Positive News’ approach. Attention has been captured by evidence of how positive and constructive stories are engaging audiences.
Since launching in 2014, Positive News’ training arm, the Constructive Journalism Project, has delivered workshops to journalists internationally, as well as to hundreds of journalism students across the UK. Drawing upon research into the psychological impact of news, the workshops cover techniques such as identifying positive angles while remaining critical.
The title will be distributed via a subscription model, as well as being available through selected independent shops, with plans to expand distribution throughout 2016.
A social media campaign will accompany the launch of the magazine, encouraging people to #SwitchTheLightOn to inspiring journalism.
The Positive News website will also be getting a fresh look, while a more substantial rebuild of the site is in planning.

Constructive job opportunities for 2016

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.

Three lessons we learned

Since we started last year, we have been lucky enough to have worked with hundreds of staff reporters, freelance writers and students to bring more solutions-focused elements into conventional reporting. Here, we share some insights  gained along the way.
1. Most journalists want to contribute to change
To understand the disconnection between journalists’ values and the media they produce, start by asking them two questions: ‘Why did you become a journalist?’ and ‘How do you feel when you watch the news or read the paper?’
In the past year, we put these to several hundred journalists of all ages and nationalities. At every workshop, participants submit their answers on coloured Post-It notes and include specific values they hold dearest in their profession. Through an anonymous count, we identify the commonalities within each group.
‘To hold power to account’ is always up there – and thankfully so. When prompted to explain why journalists find that important, they often say that they want to inform people of wrongdoings. When asked why that in turn is important, they mention the underlying desire to have an impact in society and ultimately, to contribute to positive change.
“The notion that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is no longer the only thing that determines what news is.”
Yet when participants hand over their notes describing their feelings after consuming news themselves, a different set of words come in. Like many average news consumers, journalists mention words like ‘depressed’, ‘sad’, ‘overwhelmed’, ‘hopeless’ and – perhaps most worrying of all – ‘desensitised’.
Working in a news ecosystem that does not reflect their personal and professional values leaves some frustrated and unsatisfied in their jobs. Constructive journalism can help redress the balance, creating a more complete picture of the world while offering a more meaningful role for journalists.
2. Good news can be news too
“Never awake me when you have good news to announce, because with good news nothing presses; but when you have bad news, arouse me immediately, for then there is not an instant to be lost.”— Napoleon Bonaparte, French Emperor, 1769-1821.
Journalism has come a long way since Napoleon’s day. The notion that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is no longer the only thing that determines what news is. A growing number of media organisations worldwide are starting to recognise that ‘if it succeeds, it leads’ too.
Rather than showing only the positive or the negative, constructive journalism strengthens journalism’s commitment to the truth, by helping provide a fuller picture of reality. At the same time, 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.
Ultimately, it is not about good versus bad news. Constructive journalism is an approach; it is more about how we report – whatever it is we are reporting on – rather than what we report.
3. Consensus can be tougher than conflict
Watching political debate formats on TV, it is hard to imagine how such journalism could be constructive. The attack and counter-attack blame game attracts viewers, but does not leave us with the feeling that anything can be done about the problem discussed, or that consensus can be reached to actually tackle the issue.
Some journalists fear that constructive questions fail to challenge those in power and lets them off the hook. The reverse is true: through fostering conversation and collaboration, political opposites can prompted to be proactive in providing solutions. In fact, as anyone who has ever been in a heated argument will know, it can be much harder to be empathic towards your opponent, see his or her strengths and look for common ground.
This is as true for powerful elites as it is for anyone. Constructive journalism illuminates how not only those in power but all of us can have the potential to do both harm and good.

Join our next Constructive Journalism introduction course on 9 October

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.

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Friday 3 February 2017, London. Full day course: introduction to constructive journalism.

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