This panel discussion focused on the research field surrounding constructive journalism. Four outstanding scholars present their digging into the theory of constructive journalism as well as results form previous research, work in progress and research plans for the futrure. Among the speakers are the first PhD. graduate on Constructive Journalism and the first professor of Constructive Journalism in the world.
Liesbeth Hermans (Professor of Constructive Journalism, Windesheim)
Karen McIntyre (Assistant Professor & Researcher, Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
Maarten Corten (Media blogger, Gent, Belgium)
David Bornstein (Solutions Journalism Network, USA)
Nico Drok (Professor of Media & Civil Society, Windesheim)
Stimulating participation in and through journalism
Liesbeth Hermans is the world’s first Professor of Constructive Journalism. In this session she promised to reflect upon her research agenda for the next couple of years. She started off with a highlight of important constructive elements in journalism: stimulating participation in and through journalism (1), solution-oriented framing of news (2), a more diverse and inclusive context (3) and looking beyond negative news angles but remaining critical (and not cynical) (4). Next to that she presents some of the first findings on her research in Constructive Journalism.
This research pertains three important domains: the profession, the product and the public. Her research on the role orientations of journalists points out that roles linked to constructive elements are deemed important by journalists but that often they are less able to use these elements in their daily practice. Research on the content of local/regional newspapers carried out by students of Windesheim showed that some 24% of the articles contained ‘some constructive elements’ but on closer qualitative inspection often lacked social relevance, a constructive title or diverse and inclusive perspectives. Also in the public she has detected some interest in more solution oriented and engaging reporting. The research agenda she envisions is focused on the effects that constructive elements in journalism can have on the societal as well as the individual level.
Presentation Liesbeth Hermans
A new type of journalist: the Contextualist
Karen McIntyre was introduced by moderator Nico Drok as the first PhD researcher on the subject of Constructive Journalism. She was also the one who, together with Cathrine Gyldensted coined the term Constructive Journalism, and is been publishing on the subject in outstanding scientific journals. She presented her ongoing research in the support of journalists for constructive journalism (to be published in ‘Journalism’). Using a survey method she asked U.S. journalists about the shift from conventional journalism to a more contextual type of journalism.
Her results show that journalists are hardly familiar with concepts like solutions journalism, restorative journalism and constructive journalism but, when explained, stated they used the tactics inherent in these forms of journalism and expressed favourable attitudes towards them. Then using an analysis of the roles that journalists value the most she was able to identify a new type of journalist: the Contextualist.
Presentation Karen McIntyre
‘Constructive Journalism has an image problem’
As a former researcher, Maarten Corten is the co author of ‘Nieuwsvaardig’ (2011) and coeditor of ‘Crosscontinental Views on Journalistic Skills’ (2014). He blogs in his spare time about journalism and media. In a blog post Maarten Corten addressed some key concerns with constructive journalism, when implemented poorly. But, also put forward progressive thinking on the potential of the domain and the force in keeping power accountable in novel and more constructive ways. We wanted to address criticism and invite strong thinkers to be with us at the conference.
Maarten started off with the statement that “Constructive Journalism has an image problem”. One important cause of this problem stems from the perceived role of ‘positivity’ in the eye of the critics. In a sharp theoretical analysis he discussed “the role of positivity in positioning and researching constructive journalism”. His analysis started with the predisposition that journalism has a (cognitive) impact on people’s image of the world and on the feeling (affective) that this image ignites. Secondly he pointed out that scientific research has shown that this impact is often (surely not always) negative. Thirdly the goal of constructive journalism is to have a positive impact on our image of the world, that is to prevent a ‘mean’ an foster a ‘balanced’ image of the world. People who are not aware of this predisposition and the research findings think that the goal of constructive journalism is ‘positivity’. What follows from this analysis is that positivity is not a goal, but an evidence based mean in constructive journalism; that it is an acknowledgement of reality and not a denial of it, and that constructive journalism is not so much a yearn for impact (see for instance svdj.nl) but an acknowledgement of journalistic impact. In line with the programme outlined by Liesbeth Hermans and the work of Karen McIntyre, Corten calls for a combination of content analysis, media effect studies (using insights from positive psychology) and an investigation of the journalistic profession.
Presentation Maarten Corten
‘Learned helplessness is a byproduct of news’
David Bornstein is a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which seeks to legitimize and spread the practice of solutions journalism: rigorous reporting that examines responses to social problems. He has been a newspaper and magazine reporter for 25 years and currently co authors the “Fixes” column in The New York Times.
David introduced the ‘Solutions Journalism Network’ and listed the impressive amount of partners that have already joined the network. He also pointed out that solutions might already be part of the practice of journalism but often only as an afterthought. The closing paragraph of an article, instead of the start and the closure of every journalistic story. In the trainings he has given a large number of journalists he also often encountered the inconvenience that a lot of journalists feel when asked to think about solutions to social problems.
One of the services the network provides is the solutions ‘story tracker’: a database containing examples of successful solutions oriented stories from around the globe. He concluded with listing the research that has been done on the effects of solution oriented reporting in which he focusses on: agency/self efficacy, audience engagement, tone of public discourse and audience expansion. This research showed amongst others a more reader satisfaction and activation of readers exposed to a ‘solution story’ than readers exposed to a non-solution story.
After each presentation a number of involved questions were asked and to conclude the session the speakers went into a lively debate with each other and the audience. Perhaps the most challenging question came from professor Jo Bardoel wondered how new this approach really was after participatory journalism in the 60’s and civic journalism in the 90’s. The speakers answered that there are surely parallels and that the main differences might be the changing demands of the audience, the technologic revolution and the worsened market situation for journalistic media.