Status as of June 2023
Constructive journalism aims to counteract news avoidance and protect news consumers from negative effects of the news on their mood and mental health. It seeks to empower readers, foster trust in journalism and encourage public dialogue, thus contributing to democracy. Constructive journalism adds additional layers – such as solutions and nuance – to critical quality journalism.
Anecdotal evidence and theoretical arguments made it clear this approach had promise. Scientific research on the effects of constructive journalism has steadily increased in recent years, enabling us to measure whether or not constructive journalism can actually achieve its goals. We conducted a comprehensive review of 17 high-quality academic studies.
Here’s what we found
Note: We always refer to the effects of constructive journalism compared to conventional journalism.
1. Constructive journalism enhances the mood of news consumers: Extensive evidence shows that consuming constructive journalism positively affects the mood of news consumers.
2. Constructive journalism empowers news consumers: Research consistently shows that constructive journalism empowers news consumers by fostering a sense of belief in their own capabilities.
3. Constructive journalism is not perceived as lower-quality “fluff” journalism: There is no evidence to support the notion that people perceive constructive journalism as lower-quality “fluff” journalism.
4. Constructive journalism is a motivator: Studies indicate that constructive journalism motivates news consumers to take actions that benefit society.
5. Constructive journalism encourages greater engagement with the news: Studies tend to indicate that constructive journalism motivates readers to engage more with the news organization, the author and the topic.
6. Limited effects on online engagement: Research suggests that while constructive journalism increases the chances of news consumers “liking” articles online, it seems to have no impact on sharing and commenting.
7. Limited evidence on effects on actual behavior: There are insufficient studies to draw definitive conclusions about the effects of constructive journalism on actual behavior.
8. Mixed results on trust: Studies on the effects of constructive journalism on trust yield mixed results. However, there are strong arguments indicating that a long-term shift toward a more constructive news culture would likely enhance audience trust.
9. Limited evidence on effects on knowledge: The evidence on the effects of constructive journalism on knowledge remains scarce and mixed, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions in this area.
10. Potential to attract attention and improve advertising outcomes: Research hints at the potential of constructive journalism to attract attention and improve advertising outcomes, but the empirical base is currently too small to make definitive conclusions.
Mood refers to the emotional state that people experience after consuming a news report. Some studies also speak of “affect” or “emotional outcomes“ or look at positive and negative emotions separately. For the sake of this review, we grouped these concepts under the term “mood.”
Of the 14 studies examining the effects of constructive journalism on mood, 13 found that constructive journalism leads to more positive and/or less negative emotions among the audience1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13. One study14 found no effects – neither positive nor negative – of constructive journalism on the readers’ mood.
Overall, we conclude there is extensive evidence showing that constructive journalism has positive effects on the mood of news consumers.
Critics of constructive journalism frequently claim that it is “fluff” reporting, prompting researchers to study audiences’ perceptions of journalistic quality.
Studies under this headline either examined readers’ assessment of journalistic quality explicitly or asked for the degree to which readers perceive articles as consistent with the core functions of journalism.
One study11 found positive effects of constructive journalism on perceived journalistic quality, while two other studies1,5 found no effects.
Overall, we conclude that there is no evidence for the claim that constructive journalism is perceived as lower quality journalism by the audience.
Online engagement can be considered a specific form of behavior. It refers to the propensity of news consumers to like, share and comment on articles online. Among the nine studies that examined effects on online engagement, eight asked participants about their intentions to engage online and one examined actual online engagement. We decided to group these measures under “online engagement,” as there are too few studies that examined actual online engagement to make a meaningful distinction.
Four studies2,8,9,11 found positive effects of constructive journalism on liking, while two5,6 found no effects. For sharing, two studies3,7 found positive effects and six2,4,5,6,9,11 found no effects. Lastly, for commenting, one study11 found positive effects, while three2,6,7 found no effects.
Overall, we conclude that constructive journalism increases the chances that news consumers will like stories online, whereas there seems to be no real effect when it comes to sharing and commenting.
Studies have examined several forms of trust: News consumers’ trust in single journalistic pieces, their trust in journalism as a whole, the credibility they ascribe to news organizations or their propensity to suspect hidden advertising in articles. Being aware of these inconsistencies and conceptual differences, we group these measures under the term “trust” for the sake of this review.
Two studies9,17 found positive effects of constructive journalism on trust, one study13 found no effects and two studies7,10 found negative effects.
Researchers who found negative effects of constructive pieces on consumers’ trust levels argue, however10, that the long-term emphasis on negative news in legitimate media outlets means that consumers are used to the negativity – and therefore skeptical about news that deviate from this pattern. This argument would be supported by another study6, which found that readers become more critical about the negativity of conventional news after consuming constructive news over the course of two weeks.
Overall, we conclude: Findings on the effects of constructive journalism on trust are mixed, but there are good reasons to assume that a long-term change toward a more constructive news culture would result in higher trust levels of audiences.
Given conventional wisdom is that “if it bleeds, it leads,” some people are afraid constructive journalism won’t attract as much attention as conventional journalism.
The only study8 looking at the effects on attention found that people who read a constructive headline are equally motivated to click and read the full article as people who read a conventional headline.
Overall, the empirical basis of just one study is too small to draw conclusions, even if initial findings seem promising.
Many people feel powerless when they read or watch conventional news, aligning with a concept academics describe as low “self-efficacy.” In the context of solutions-oriented journalism, self-efficacy refers to a person’s assessment of their capability to take actions that contribute to the solution of a problem. Some studies also speak of “perceived behavioral control,” which is a concept similar to self-efficacy. For the sake of this review, we grouped these concepts into one category.
Of the five studies examining the effects of constructive journalism on self-efficacy, four3,9,14,15 found positive effects, while one16 found no effects.
Overall, we conclude that there are almost exclusively positive effects of constructive journalism on self-efficacy.
Behavioral intentions refer to the motivation of people to take certain actions. Asking study participants about their behavioral intentions is popular, as it is an easy way to make assumptions about the impacts of a journalistic piece on people’s actual behavior without having to measure actual behavior.
Given existing studies look at fairly different behavioral intentions, comparing the results directly to each other is somewhat difficult. In order to make a comparison more meaningful, we decided to divide the behavioral intentions into two big categories: pro-social intentions and intentions to engage with the topic/news.
Pro-social intentions refer to all kinds of actions that benefit society, such as donating to a social cause or being more environmentally friendly (e.g., changing one’s consumption patterns). In contrast, intentions to engage with the topic/news include intentions to talk about the topic with others or to read more by the same newspaper, among others.
Five studies1,3,14,15,16 found that constructive journalism increases news consumers’ motivation to take pro-social actions. Three studies3,4,5 found no effects.
Overall, we conclude that constructive journalism is likely to motivate its consumers to take pro-social actions, and, in the worst case, has no effects on the intention to take pro-social actions at all.
Four studies1,3,4,7 found that constructive journalism increases news consumers’ motivation to engage more with the topic/news. Six studies3,4,5,6,9,11 found no effects.
Overall, we conclude that constructive journalism is likely to motivate its consumers to further engage with the topic/news, and, in the worst case, has no effects at all.
Only three studies examined the effects of constructive journalism on the actual behavior of news consumers. They examined effects on the news consumers’ likelihood to sign a petition and donate money to a social cause. One study15 found positive effects, while two4,5 found no effects at all.
Overall, there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about the effects of constructive journalism on actual behavior.
Studies examined both the objective knowledge that consumers have on a topic after reading an article (“factual knowledge”) and how much consumers subjectively feel informed after reading an article (“perceived knowledge”). Some studies also examined effects on “understanding” or “comprehension,” essentially meaning factual knowledge. For the sake of this review, we grouped these measures under the term “knowledge.”
One study13 found that constructive journalism has positive effects on the knowledge of news consumers, while three studies4,7,12 found no effects and one study12 found – depending on the news topic – negative effects.
Overall, findings are too mixed to draw conclusions on constructive journalism’s effects on knowledge.
There is only one study3 looking at the effects of constructive journalism on readers’ attitudes toward advertisements that are shown alongside news articles.
Findings are exclusively positive: Readers of constructive articles have more positive attitudes toward these ads, and they are more likely to recommend the brand and to buy something from the brand. Producing constructive news might therefore increase potential revenues and advertising traffic.
Overall, the empirical basis of just one study is too small to draw conclusions, even if initial findings seem promising.
How we did it
To make sure to only include comparable high-quality studies, we established strict selection criteria. Studies had to:
What our own research says
Our own reports, as well as those by the Solutions Journalism Network, back up and supplement these academic findings. We found six of these industry reports – two from the Constructive Institute, and four from SJN – that met the same rigorous standards around transparent methodologies and results as the academic studies. The only difference is that they were not peer-reviewed, although several of these reports are also widely cited in peer-reviewed academic literature.
What we found: The industry reports find exclusively positive effects on mood18,19,20,21 and empowerment19,20,21. One report18 found that readers of constructive articles are more likely to say “the world needs more articles like this” than readers of conventional articles, supporting the conclusion that audiences view constructive journalism in a positive light.
When it comes to attention, two reports18,22 found that people who read a constructive headline are more or equally motivated to read the full article compared with people who read a conventional headline. One report23 found that constructive headlines actually yield more clicks than conventional ones. And one report20 found that readers of constructive articles spend more time on the article page, although they leave the news website more frequently. These findings reinforce the initial results of academic studies, suggesting that constructive journalism receives at least as much attention as conventional journalism.
When it comes to pro-social intentions, one report19 found positive effects, while two18,20 found no effects. Concerning the audience’s intention to engage with the topic/news, one report19 found positive effects, two18,20 found no effects and one20 found negative effects. For sharing, one report found positive effects19, two18,20 found no effects and one20 found negative effects. The only report20 to look at online commenting found no effects. And regarding knowledge, one report19 found positive effects and one20 found no effects.
Included studies and reports
1Baden, Denise; McIntyre, Karen; Homberg, Fabian (2019): The Impact of Constructive News on Affective and Behavioural Responses. In Journalism Studies 20 (13), pp. 1940–1959. https://doi.org/10.1080/1461670X.2018.1545599
2Hermans, Liesbeth; Prins, Tineke (2022): Interest matters: The effects of constructive news reporting on Millennials’ emotions and engagement. In Journalism 23 (5), pp. 1064–1081. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884920944741
3Li, Minjie (2021): The Synergistic Effects of Solutions Journalism and Corporate Social Responsibility Advertising. In Digital Journalism 9 (3), pp. 336–363. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2020.1840407
4McIntyre, Karen; Sobel, Meghan (2017): Motivating news audiences: Shock them or provide them with solutions? In Communication & Society 30 (1), pp. 39–56. https://doi.org/10.15581/003.30.1.39-56
5McIntyre, Karen (2019): Solutions Journalism. The effects of including solution information in news stories about social problems. In Journalism Practice 13 (1), pp. 16–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2017.1409647
6McIntyre, Karen (2020): “Tell Me Something Good”: Testing the Longitudinal Effects of Constructive News Using the Google Assistant. In Electronic News 14 (1), pp. 37–54. https://doi.org/10.1177/1931243120910446
7Meier, Klaus (2018): How Does the Audience Respond to Constructive Journalism? In Journalism Practice 12 (6), pp. 764–780. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2018.1470472
8Overgaard, Christian Staal Bruun (2021a): Constructive Journalism in the Face of a Crisis: The Effects of Social Media News Updates About COVID-19. In Journalism Studies 22 (14), pp. 1875–1893. https://doi.org/10.1080/1461670X.2021.1971107
9Overgaard, Christian Staal Bruun (2021b): Mitigating the consequences of negative news: How constructive journalism enhances self-efficacy and news credibility. In Journalism. https://doi.org/10.1177/14648849211062738
10Rusch, Roman; Simon, Erk; Otto, Kim; Flintz, Detlef (2022): The Impact of Constructive Television Journalism on the Audience: Results from an Online Study. In Journalism Practice 16 (10), pp. 2221–2241. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2021.1901599
11Schäfer, Svenja; Greber, Hannah; Sülflow, Michael; Lecheler, Sophie (2022): A Matter of Perspective: An Experimental Study on Potentials of Constructive Journalism for Communicating a Crisis. In Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1177/10776990221095751
12Swijtink, Nadia; Prins, Tineke; Hermans, Liesbeth; Hietbrink, Niek (2022): An informed audience: The effects of constructive television news on emotions and knowledge. In Journalism. https://doi.org/10.1177/14648849221109333
13van Antwerpen, Natasha; Searston, Rachel A.; Turnbull, Deborah; Hermans, Liesbeth; Kovacevic, Petra (2022): The effects of constructive journalism techniques on mood, comprehension, and trust. In Journalism. https://doi.org/10.1177/14648849221105778
14Thier, Kathryn; Lin, Tong (2022): How Solutions Journalism Shapes Support for Collective Climate Change Adaptation. In Environmental Communication 16 (8), pp. 1027–1045. https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2022.2143842
15Kogen, Lauren; Dilliplane, Susanna (2019): How Media Portrayals of Suffering Influence Willingness to Help. In Journal of Media Psychology 31 (2), pp. 92–102. https://doi.org/10.1027/1864-1105/a000232
16Steinigeweg, Julia (2021): Soziale Verantwortung statt Resignation. In Publizistik 66 (3-4), pp. 489–511. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11616-021-00681-0
17Thier, Kathryn; Abdenour, Jesse; Walth, Brent; Dahmen, Nicole Smith (2021): A narrative solution: The relationship between solutions journalism, narrative transportation, and news trust. In Journalism 22 (10), pp. 2511–2530. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884919876369
18Constructive Institute (2020): News Experiences and Opinions in Denmark 2020. Available online at https://constructiveinstitute.org/app/uploads/2020/06/News-Experiences-and-Opinions-in-Denmark-20201.pdf
19Curry, Alexander L.; Hammonds, Keith H. (2014): The Power of Solutions Journalism. Available online at https://mediaengagement.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ENP_SJN-report.pdf
20Curry, Alex; Stroud, Natalie Jomini; McGregor, Shannon (2016): Solutions journalism and news engagement. Available online at https://mediaengagement.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ENP-Solutions-Journalism-News-Engagement.pdf
21Gielan, Michelle; Furl, Brent; Jackson, Jodie (2017): Solution-focused News Increases Optimism, Empowerment and Connectedness to Community. Available online at http://michellegielan.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Solution-focused-News.pdf
22Constructive Institute (2022): Participation in the public debate. A comparative study on attitudes to news and journalism. Available online at https://constructiveinstitute.org/app/uploads/2022/06/Participation-in-the-public-debate-report.pdf
23Curry, Alex; Stroud, Natalie Jomini (2016): Writing solutions headlines. Available online at https://mediaengagement.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Engaging-News-Project-Writing-Solutions-Headlines.pdf