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The positive future of journalism

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

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. 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.
‘If it Succeeds, it Leads’: Why the News is Changing for Good

‘If it Succeeds, it Leads’: Why the News is Changing for Good

By  for Huffington Post 
When I was a boy I made my first newspaper. With a pen, ruler and sheet of paper, I marked out some boxes and filled them in with stories about what was going on in my home and the world around me. I then photocopied it and tried to sell it to my parents for 10p a copy (not realising of course that they were paying the production costs).
But as I got older the picture that the news painted of the world never sat right with me. I knew that the stories of war, crime, scandal and tragedy were vitally important. I also came to understand that they weren’t the full picture; that the news magnifies only a fragment of reality. But despite knowing this, the way that the news created a deeper story about the world and about human nature, didn’t feel right.
It was perhaps this intuitive feeling that led me to editing Positive News, a publication that shines a light on innovation, kindness, co-operation and the ways people are working to create solutions to the problems facing society.
Like myself as a boy creating my own newspaper, Positive News is now giving its readers the chance to take ownership of the kind of media they want. It is becomingthe first crowdfunded global media cooperative, owned by its readers, supporters and journalists. By selling ‘community shares’ we are raising a minimum of £200,000 to scale up and respond to the growing demand for our journalism. With 6 days still to go in our #OwnTheMedia campaign, we have reached 90% of our target.
But why do we need positive news stories?
We face colossal and escalating challenges as a global community: climate change and social inequality, to give just two examples. And on the individual level, people are suffering across the spectrum of circumstances in which humanity finds itself.
But at the same time it would be wrong, in our knowledge or imagination, to disown anyone of their achievements, strengths, loves and joys. At the global level, there is also another side to the story.
According to researchers, a thorough analysis of the data shows that apart from a recent spike in conflicts, the long-term trend is that the world is becoming more peaceful. More countries than ever are democracies, and on the whole we’re getting healthier.
Meanwhile, data from the Ipsos Mori social research institute shows that across 14 countries, the public perceive rates of teenage pregnancy, immigration and murder to be much higher than they actually are.
This brings into question the role of the news in shaping our perceptions. The media doesn’t just mirror society, it moves it. What the media focuses on, and how it chooses to report, affects our thoughts, feelings, conversations and perspectives. By consequence, it plays a part in influencing our choices and actions too.
Of course, it is essential to report the problems and dangers we face. And journalism as a watchdog – exposing injustice, exploitation and corruption, and holding power to account – is a function critical to democracy. But journalism’s apparent theory of change, that by relentlessly focusing on what’s going wrong society will be better informed and able to do something about it, is undermined by evidence of how news impacts us.
Emotional and psychological impact of news
Research has shown that negative news can cause stress, world-weariness and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The work of Cathrine Gydlensted at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that it leads to ‘learned helplessness’ and leaves us feeling passive.
But research also suggests that when we bring more positive elements into reporting it can boost our mood and give us a sense of social agency. The University of Southampton has found that positive news stories lead people to feel significantly higher motivation to take actions such as voicing their opinions, donating to charity or protecting the environment.
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson says that positive emotions are what truly lead to progress because they foster creativity and innovation. They broaden our awareness, opening our hearts and minds, and enable us to build new knowledge, skills and resources.
When we experience positive emotions, the hormone oxytocin is released. This chemical is sometimes referred to as the ‘cuddle drug’ or ‘moral molecule’ because it correlates with increased trust, generosity and empathy. It leads us to connect to others, says leading oxytocin researcher Paul J Zack. High stress however, inhibits oxytocin. Negative emotions tend to prompt narrow and immediate, survival-oriented behaviours.
Bad news does sell. This is partly because stories that shock and provoke fear grab us, according to a study published by the Journal of Communication, by triggering our hardwired survival response.
But there is another, less stress-inducing way that we can also grab audience attention. The business school at the University of Pennsylvania has found that articles most likely to go viral are those that evoke strong positive emotions, particularly a sense of awe.
In addition, research from the University of Texas found that people feel more engaged in an article about a problem when it also contains information about a potential solution – and are more likely to share these stories online. With social media increasingly driving traffic for news websites, then perhaps the old saying “if it bleeds, it leads” might one day give way to “if it succeeds, it leads”.
There is a growing number of publications incorporating this approach. For instance, the Huffington Post recently announced its global editorial strategy to give more coverage to ‘what’s working’ – a decision backed by the fact that its positive content was receiving three times as many shares as other pieces.
Constructive journalism
The emerging field of ‘constructive journalism’ offers a way for the media to bring more positive elements into conventional reporting. Learning from other fields such as the behavioural sciences, constructive journalism involves techniques such as using solution-focused angles while remaining critical and still highlighting ‘negative’ facts. For example, a journalist taking a constructive approach would ask interviewees questions that reveal their strengths and resilience, not simply their victimisation.
Initiatives such as the Constructive Journalism Project are now delivering training in constructive journalism – or solutions journalism as it is often called in the US – in journalism schools and newsrooms worldwide.
Audience researchers have known for a long time that people want more good news. What the industry is now realising is that this doesn’t have to mean fluffy stories – waterskiing squirrels and the like – but it can be rigorous and compelling journalism about progress and possibility.
The world is complex and multifaceted, and I don’t pretend I understand it. But as a boy making my newspaper, and now as an editor, I do know the power of storytelling. Positive and constructive approaches offer a way to help strengthen journalism, at a time when more than ever, we need a way of looking at the world that sparks the potential in us all.
Positive News’ community share offer runs until 8 July. Find out more or by searching #OwnTheMedia on Twitter.
Tips for practicing constructive journalism

Tips for practicing constructive journalism

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.


Next workshop

Friday 21 October 2016, London. Full day course: introduction to constructive journalism.

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