How constructive journalism, solutions journalism & restorative narratives are changing the media landscape
A handful of organizations are working to create a more thoughtful discussion around the media’s coverage and the effect it has on people. The Centre for Constructive Journalism, the Solutions Journalism Network and Images & Voices of Hope (ivoh) are among the organizations that are helping media makers move away the “if it bleeds, it leads mentality” and toward something more constructive.
In a journalism.co.uk podcast published last week, Catalina Albeanu talked with Cathrine Gyldensted, co-founder of the Centre for Constructive Journalism; David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network; and Mallary Tenore, managing director of ivoh.
Gyldensted said “we urgently need innovation” — not so much in terms of journalistic platforms, but in terms of journalistic content.
“What kinds of questions do we ask people? Do we create victims out of our interviewees, or do we ask questions that look for resources, or solutions, or inspiration after conflict or setbacks in life?” Gyldensted said.
“Instead of creating victims, I think we should be aware of what kinds of questions we ask people. It could also be political debates on television … where a conflict gets bigger because of the way that journalism works. For instance, if we have two opposing politicians, we have a tendency to foster more conflict by focusing on where people are disagreeing instead of trying to also focus on where they can agree and trying to get them to work together for society’s [betterment]. I call that a more mediated, constructive, political debate format.”
There’s a growing body of research showing that constructive journalism is popular among news consumers. Bornstein, who writes for The New York Times’ “Fixes” column, said the columns consistently do well.
“What we have seen is that our ‘Fixes’ columns make the Most Emailed list most of the time, which is very unusual, considering that we write about things like malaria and homelessness and AIDS and foster care. We’re on the Most Emailed list most of the time, and often, right up near the top,” Bornstein said.
“This really sends a signal to editors that wow, people are really interested in how people are grappling with these very serious and pervasive social problems. Our sense from ‘Fixes’ is that solutions journalism is actually something that people want. But it’s not because they want light, fluffy stuff or good news. They actually want information that helps them to understand the world and how to actually do better against these problems.”
Tenore discussed ivoh’s recent work with Restorative Narratives — a genre of stories that show how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover in the aftermath, or midst of, difficult times. Not every story lends itself to becoming a Restorative Narrative, she said.
“These are stories that are really looking at how a person or community is starting to rebuild. … It can be easy or tempting to want to pretend or make it seem like a person or community has overcome something when in fact they haven’t,” Tenore said. “That’s why, oftentimes, Restorative Narratives need to be sustained inquiries.”
The journalism industry is changing, Tenore said, and with that change comes opportunities for new genres and journalistic ventures.
“I think that right now, we’re at a turning point in the media industry where we are seeing this new emergence of different types of stories, which is really exciting. For awhile there were so many cutbacks in the media industry, and while those are still taking place, there are a lot of new ventures popping up. Many those new ventures are looking at how communities can really be strengthened by the media,” Tenore said. “With constructive journalism, with solutions journalism, with restorative narratives — these are all emerging types of storytelling that people really seem to gravitate toward.”
Tenore, Gyldensted and Bornstein went on to explain how to incorporate constructive journalism into the news cycle, and why it matters. You can listen to the full podcast here.