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Constructive Journalism Tested

This is an exclusive peek into the Danish test center for constructive journalism at the regional tv-station TV 2 Fyn based in Funen, Denmark. Here staffers share failures and successes as they strive to make their community better through constructive journalism.

Jakob Risbro

Jakob Risbro is Editor of Society and Politics at TV 2 Funen. Jakob has covered politics and society for many years. Jakob is a Constructive Journalism Fellow at Constructive Institute where his project is to examine how a news organisation can develop and implement constructive journalism. He currently serves as member of the Cavling Committee.

Blog: Past and Future in Silicon Valley

Written by Jakob Risbro,
Editor, TV 2 Fyn, Fellow, Constructive Institute

On a trip to Silicon Valley, you could see the past and future by visiting traditional media and tech giants. Maybe we can learn something from each other.

“It sometimes felt like we had travelled in a time machine.”

– Jakob Risbro, Editor, TV 2 Fyn

Along with other fellows of CI I went on a study trip to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. We went by plane, but it sometimes felt like we had travelled in a time machine as we saw the future but also looked back into the past.

Sitting in the heart of Facebook’s headquarters is impressive. Everywhere you can spot the white f’s on a blue background. And it’s true; there are even stalls with everything from mints to toothbrushes that’s up for grabs. The tech giant which has spun over a third of the world’s population into its fine-meshed web, is one of the most successful companies in the world. Facebook has changed people’s everyday lives. Social media has played a role in the development of the world in many ways. Facebook was used in the context of the Arab Spring when democracy advocates wanted to spread their messages and engage people. But Facebook has also been used when mad men or terrorists to spread disgusting propaganda. And yes, there was also the scandal with Cambridge Analytica, where users’ personal data from Facebook was abused.

Changing business

In addition to changing people’s behavior Facebook and other tech companies have also changed the reality of media houses around the world. Due to Facebook, Google and the other digital media giants the ad market has virtually disappeared for traditional media challenging the business model many newspapers, radio and TV broadcasters relied on financially to produce independent journalism. And that is just the beginning. Or at least, so it seems.

A social news-driven media with that kind of global reach has not been seen before.

– Jakob Risbro, Editor, TV 2 Fyn

As Facebook tests its new news service on about three million US users another media landscape has yet to show itself. The plan is to launch it globally in 2020 to its nearly 3bn users. A social news-driven media with that kind of global reach has not been seen before and neither thus the consequences of its reign.

At the very least a global news service requires a very skilled editor when selecting which stories to publish. One could even assume that the role as gate keeper in this scenario will shift hands placing the editorial power at Facebook HQ. Thus, a suitable set of ethics similar to those woven into the practice of journalism including the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability is needed. And that is a set of ethics that the social media industry hasn’t been governing too seriously until now.

Back in time

During our study trip, we also visited the San Francisco Chronicle. Despite their position as the absolute dominant newspaper in the area they too have experienced a dramatic decline in circulation and ad sales as well as having to lay off hundreds of employees. Yet another shift in the news business triggered by global media institutions as Google and Facebook taking over the ad market.

The visit to San Francisco Chronicle was like stepping into a scene of the ’70s movie “All the President’s Men.” The editorial room was a traditional open office space divided by partitions where each reporter had their own little square of journalistic territory. Despite the scene reminding you of a movie set, the visit also showed that in the brown rooms and the deep, soft leather chairs for the editorial meetings, journalistic ideals were at the forefront with a clever editor-in-chief who understands the code of ethics for journalism and knows how to edit the newspaper from those standards. It is exactly what a new news media needs in an editor-in-chief.

If the new news media learn from the old there is hope.

– Jakob Risbro, Editor, TV 2 Fyn

In traditional media, we can undoubtedly learn something from the tech giants and small agile start-ups that are developing and offering new services and with great precision see gaps in the market where there is money and willingness to pay. Facebook and Google are constantly innovating services that make us dependent. They connect people and are indispensable when we need to navigate from A to B or find the contacts of the local plumber. As traditional media we have to be much better at knowing what “users” demand and how to stay relevant by connecting the citizens.

Hope for Facebook’s changes

When the first edition of Facebook’s news service launches to its nearly 3bn users, I hope the editors have learned from the old medias’ stadards. The old media that in spite of financial challenges know good storytelling and have been practicing journalism for centuries. I hope that Facebook’s news service will embrace the old medias’ ideals of being independent of political and commercial interests. I hope the service will meet the highest standards of ethics and code of conduct for good journalism. And that when they do journalistic stories, they do it with both eyes open. Not driven by clicks but by quality as all good journalism should be.

If the new news media learn from the old there is hope that users of these new media will be able to take part in democracy. And as one begins to learn the virtues of journalism, the editors should also look to the values of constructive journalism that take responsibility for the development of society and point to solutions. It is now time for Facebook to learn from us.

About the Project

Constructive Journalism Tested at TV 2 Fyn.
In 2019 TV 2 Fyn gave themselves a challenge. They set out to become most constructive media as well as the largest test center for constructive journalism in Denmark. To trace the change they decided to log their experiences in a blog format offering important insights on how to become constructive.

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