We have all been taught to cover the five Ws (and one H) when writing a story. But very rarely do we think about the seventh important question: 'what can we do about the problem?'
There is growing evidence that constructive journalism helps fight news avoidance, allowing the media to counter the constant stream of negativity and help improve audiences' mental health. One session at the Global Media Forum (14 December 2020) looked at how journalists can use this aproach to reconnect with their readers.
"Being critical is one thing, but negativity is contagious"
Constructive journalism is a method that encourages journalists to report on problems as well as examine solutions to offer the full picture. After all, talking only about what went wrong is telling half the story.
This approach has several advatages: it helps news organisations start rebuild audiences' trust that has been broken by sensationalism and misinformation. Also, letting your readers know that someone is trying to solve a problem helps them feel more optimistic and empowered, rather than resigned and helpless.
Looking for the "fuzzy grey"
Michelle Müntefering, the Minister of State at the German Federal Office who gave a keynote at the start of the panel discussion, said that the coronavirus pandemic has reinforced the already growing dissatisfaction with the media.
The fear of the "invisible virus" serves as a "fertile ground for conspiracy theories." When faced with uncertainty, people crave simple, black and white information. Yet, we should be looking for the "fuzzy grey", nuanced analysis and embrace the unknowns.
Gerd Maria May, the founder of the consulting firm Room of Solutions, agreed, adding that constructive journalism is "about looking at the whole picture of the world." She recommended using the STEP model (solution, trust, engagement, perspective) when reporting on stories to cover wider context. This critical approach can help move "journalism closer to the people."
Beware of a positive echo chamber
However, this does not mean that journalists should not report on the negative issues and events, quite the contrary.
Rishad Patel, the co-founder of Splice Media, said that it was not necessary to report on the solutions, particularly when those are too young and there is not enough data. In this case, it is responsible to first address the problems.
"We need to make sure that the solutions we are offering are actually real solutions," he says. It is only through presenting credible data that audiences will trust media outlets and sometimes these cannot be examined straight away.
One of the risks of this approach is that we may end up reporting on a solution as the right answer to a particular problem. To minimise it, we need to keep in mind that we are reporting facts and not giving personal advice.
Nina Fasciaux, a journalist and Europe manager for the Solutions Journalism Network, said that journalists "should not flirt with any type of activism" and be critical in their approach by reporting on a range of solutions.
"You can report on the limits, the challenges and the risks to make sure you are not advocating for one solution rather than another."
All panellists said that constructive journalism can be, and should be, adopted globally. It is one of the very few innovations that will not cost your newsroom the earth and can have a big impact.
A good place to start is the Solutions Journalism Network's Solutions Story Tracker, a database of 10,000 examples of rigorous reporting on what is going right in the world.
Adopting a different mindset costs nothing. By cultivating a constructive journalistic approach to our stories, we can inspire more people to "switch on the news, rather than switch off."
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