Constructive Journalism Conference:

June 22nd, 2022

Video takeaways from the event

Constructive Fellows
We are proud to present to you the talented constructive journalism fellows of 2021, constructive journalism fellows of 2020 and constructive journalism alumni of 2019 and 2018.
The Constructive Fellows

We are very excited to present to you our constructive journalism fellows of 2021-2022.


Anja Thordal
BIO

Anja Thordal is an experienced journalist at DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. She has been working as a radio and television host from the day she graduated from the Danish School of Media and Journalism.
For the last 12 years she has been working in Aarhus on DR P4 (Østjylland) the largest radio channel in Denmark. Anja has a special interest in what it takes to bring people together.

Fellowship Project

During her fellowship Anja focused on the housing and living conditions in geographically peripheral areas in Denmark with a special focus on the eastern part of Jutland. Her goal was to try to identify what could make people live the life they dream of. What is good life to people living outside the big cities? And can a regional radio station give them a voice?

Kenneth Lund
BIO

Kenneth Lund has been working at Politiken since 2009, the last seven years as opinion editor and journalist at the opinion desk. Previously, he was a political reporter at Christiansborg (2012-2014) and online opinion editor at Politiken.dk (2009-2012). Kenneth has a master’s degree in Journalism and a BA in Philosophy from Roskilde University.

Fellowship project

During his fellowship at Constructive Institute, Kenneth examined the rapidly changing job market and the challenges it poses to ‘Generation Z’ in terms of e.g. precarious jobs, increasing automation and lack of meaningful work. At the same time, he looked for new ways of engaging more young people in the debate about tomorrow’s work force.

Click to read Kenneth Lund's fellowship essay

80, on a scale from 0 to 100

This constructive interview took place on the 13th of June 2022. The interviewer, Kenneth Lund, is a journalist at Politiken and a fellow at Constructive Institute 2021/22. The interviewee, Ewen MacAskill, is a Scottish Pulitzer Prize-awarded journalist who worked for The Guardian for 22 years. From January to June 2022, they both joined the Listen Louder-project at Constructive Institute. The project listed new journalistic formats and tools that might improve the public conversation and reduce polarization. 

Ewen MacAskill, thank you for being here.

»It’s alright«.

I’ve been asked to write a personal essay for the institute’s annual report, but Orla Borg, Ulrik Haagerup and the staff at Constructive Institute have told us, repeatedly, that journalists shouldn’t express their personal views, shouldn’t be subjective. Do you see the dilemma?

»Totally. I’m a reporter and I always try to take my own opinion and bias out of it. I’m always uncomfortable writing comments«.

Actually, I was hoping you would be the commentator here. You are a Pulitzer Prize winner, you have followed Constructive Institute for six months, and I believe we share the same thoughts on journalism …  

»So, you want me to say what you think and let me take the blame? Well, that’s what reporters do, ha-ha«.

Exactly. According to Orla and Ulrik, constructive journalism should always begin with defining ‘the problem’. In your eyes, what’s the biggest problem with constructive journalism? 

»I think the biggest problem is the name. In Britain, and certainly America as well, doing ‘constructive journalism’, ‘solution-based journalism’ or ‘peace journalism’ is like having the plague. Most journalists don’t like it. It’s not considered to be proper journalism. Of course, I’m sympathetic to the idea of constructive journalism. That’s why I’m here. I believe we should point at solutions as well as problems, I just recoil from the name«. 

Why do you hate the name?

»The problems started back in the 1990s. There was a BBC presenter, Martyn Lewis, who said that there was way too much negative news, and we needed more positive news. Almost all journalists at that time were up in arms and said, ‘This is ridiculous, this guy is not a real journalist, he’s just reading from an autocue. Of course, news is about war and famine. What does he want? Stories about a cat stuck in a tree, rescued by firemen?’. Martyn Lewis put off a whole generation of British journalists«.

»Also, journalists shouldn’t cross the line into advocacy. When I hear the word ‘constructive’ I think of advocacy, of activism. Reporting from a fixed standpoint. That’s why I’m instinctively opposed to the word ‘constructive’«.

It sounds a bit old-school. Do you believe that journalists are able to report the news objectively?

»I don’t believe in objectivity no, but we should try staying neutral. Remain fair. I’m not saying that journalists should only write ‘he said, she said’ after a standard news story formula. Journalists should still be passionate and show the readers that we care. At The Guardian we call it writing with an attitude. But we can never cross the line into activism«.

Now let’s focus on solutions. We’ll delete the word ‘constructive’. What would be a better name?

»Institute for Better Journalism. I would be more comfortable with that. We are here to rethink journalism. What’s bad, what needs to improve«. 

Constructive journalism is also about catching the nuances. Where would you put constructive journalism on a scale between 0 and 100 where 0 is ‘sheer bullshit’ and 100 is ‘God’s gift to mankind’?

»Around 80«. 

Not bad. But what should change – apart from the name – for it to get a higher grade?

»I think the advocates should do more to emphasize the importance of investigative reporting. Here, the emphasis is mostly on solutions but to me the absolute core of journalism is investigative journalism, exposing hypocrisy, corruption, and misdeeds, and holding power to account. I know Orla and Ulrik agree with me on this, but they should put more stress on it«.

Not a big whisky drinker 

Constructive journalism is also about engaging the audience. Now, I’ve got a question from a reader, Kurt Strand from Copenhagen. He writes: ‘Dear Ewen. I was just wondering: do you think we should drink more whisky in Denmark? Best wishes from Kurt’. What’s your answer to that?

»I’m not a big whisky drinker. I used to drink whisky with my father when I was at home and I enjoyed it, I like the smell. But I can go from one year to the next without drinking whisky. Because I’m Scottish, people are always giving me presents of bottles of whisky, but I don’t drink it. So, my answer to Kurt is ‘no’«.

Maybe, Kurt should practice asking questions …

»I drink Guinness. People at The Guardian know that. Before I left for Hong Kong to check out the Edward Snowden story, one of the Guardian editors said I would need a codeword for our phone calls. She said: ‘If the story stands up, just say the Guinness is good’. I also like trying local beers when we are at bars here in Aarhus. But I prefer Guinness«. 

Before we finish, I want to ask you about the Listen Louder project here at Constructive Institute. What are you most proud of – the Listen Louder booklet or your Pulitzer Prize awarded Edward Snowden coverage?

»To me, the Snowden story is just one story among the others. There are many stories that I’m proud of. About the Israel-Palestinian conflict, about Obama becoming president. The Listen Louder project is different. It’s a collaborative project, more than half a dozen have been involved in it. And that’s what I like about it. That’s the strength of the project. We’ve all added different ideas – even ideas I initially didn’t understand. But that’s the beauty of it. I’m proud of it«.

Thank you for helping me with this essay, Ewen.

»No problem«.

Bio

Ewen MacAskill has been a journalist for almost 50 years now and has worked all around the world in various publications. For half of his career, Ewen worked on The Guardian starting as the chief political correspondent covering British politics. Later he became the diplomatic editor and travelled around the world covering various conflicts. After this, Ewen then became the Washington DC bureau chief and later the defence intelligence correspondent. Most famously, Ewen covered the Edward Snowden affair.

Kenneth Lund has been working at Politiken since 2009, the last seven years as opinion editor and journalist at the opinion desk. Previously, he was a political reporter at Christiansborg (2012-2014) and online opinion editor at Politiken.dk (2009-2012). As a fellow at Constructive Institute, Kenneth has looked for new ways of engaging more young people in the public debate. 

Read more about Listen Louder at: www.constructiveinstitute.org

Jesper Larsen
BIO

Jesper Larsen is a Danish journalist and correspondent, editor and editor-in-chief with wide experience, not only from media but also from central administration as Head of Media, Press and Communications.
Jesper has been part of the management in two of the largest Danish media houses, one privately owned, Berlingske, as foreign editor and one owned by the state, Danish Broadcasting Corporation, DR, as an editor of current affairs and debate. He has also worked as anchor on DR2 Debatten and Deadline, has been an EU correspondent in Brussels and political editor at Christiansborg, the Danish parliament. Jesper was educated at The Danish School of Media and Journalism and Jyllands-Posten, where he also started his career as a political reporter.

Fellowship Project

As a Fellow at Constructive Institute, Jesper worked on describing the past half century’s social housing policy in Denmark, focusing on if and how Danish media contribute to maintaining the picture of inhabitants in vulnerable housing areas and so called ghettoes, with high unemployment and low income and a large number of people with a different ethniticity that Danish. The goal was to find a bearable and journalistically constructive way forward.

Simone Terndrup
BIO

Simone Terndrup is a journalist and a storyteller who has been working at TV 2 Nyhederne since 2015. At her job she produces news stories for the 18, 19 and 21.30 o’clock news broadcasts. She covers a wide range of different areas but over the years she has focused mostly on stories related to health and the constructive concepts of TV 2. Simone is a graduate of the Danish School of Media and Journalism and has studied at Missouri School of Journalism, USA.

Fellowship project

As a fellow Simone will investigate how media coverage of the elderly care sector is affecting the perception and the recruiting of care workers. She will also look into the fact that the elderly population is growing rapidly and what impact that will have on the health prioritizing of the future.

Jeppe Kyhne Knudsen
BIO

Jeppe Kyhne Knudsen has been working as a science journalist at DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation for the past four years. He mostly writes for the website dr.dk, but occasionally produces radio for P1 as well as explainers for DRs science channel on YouTube. He has a BA in history from the University of Aalborg and a MA in analytical journalism from University of Aarhus.

Fellowship project

During his fellowship at Constructive Institute Jeppe will examine how we journalists can cover important breakthroughs in the world of genetics without evoking fear or unfounded optimism of the new technologies.

Click to read Jeppe Kyhne's fellowship essay

The Fellowship of the CI

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings a fellowship is formed. The fellows are different from each other and each has their special set of skills. They set out on an epic journey to destroy the ring of power and bring an end to Sauron’s reign. And it’s not easy. Many miles are traversed, before they dripping in blood, sweat and tears finally destroy the ring. Upon returning home they are not the same anymore. Life can’t go back to the way it was – they simply have changed.
Just like Frodo, being a fellow at Constructive Institute has been an epic journey. Okay, we did not fight an evil spirit, but we did come to learn how to fight the inherent problems of journalism. We did not destroy a ring, but I think we destroyed a way of thinking and replaced it with a better and more nuanced one. And we did not fight orcs, but some of the critics of constructive journalism came pretty close to it.

I chose to become a fellow, because I feel something needs to change in journalism. In a world where the media is constantly fighting for the attention of the audience too many harmful and unnuanced stories are being produced. Too many stories that are obsolete the next day. And why? Sometimes I feel that journalism is on autopilot. That we do, what we’ve always done while the world changes rapidly around us. We never stop to reflect upon our own practice. The fellowship has been my opportunity to do just that. It has been a chance to think long and hard about what we do as journalists and why. And just like Frodo I return home a different person.

I’m not sure I’m the person I thought I would become. I’m not sure I learned what I thought I would learn. But I’m pretty sure that what I’ve learned has made me a better journalist.
My idea was to find a way to cover new medical technology in a more nuanced way. Did I achieve that? Well, in some sense I did. I did not invent any new journalistic formats. I did not develop any special tools, but I started writing a book about one of the most discussed medical technologies of our time – namely CRISPR. Maybe it is a defeatist view, but I do think that some topics are so complex that they deserve not only a short story in the media, but a whole book to cover all the nuances. Does that mean that CRISPR can’t be covered in the media? Of course not. Writing a long format has made me realize just how many nuances that can be put to the CRISPR coverage. That is a helpful learning I think, and I will make it easier for me in the future to prioritize which nuances to keep and which to throw away. To simply get the full picture, which I would never be able to do, if working a regular journalistic story.

Even though I haven’t invented any new tools myself, I return to journalism with a toolbox stuffed with new ideas. I have done constructive journalism before, but now I’m more aware of when I’m doing it – and how to tweak it to make it even better. I’ll leave the doors of the institute with a heavy belt full of the best tools in the business.

But perhaps the most rewarding thing about my year at CI has been being a part of a group of talented fellows. Daily being challenged, inspired and pushed to think and do differently than I normally would. That is so valuable and what I will remember the most. The fellowship has pushed me to actually write a book – a lifelong dream of mine. Furthermore I’m more than ever before aware of what motivates me when doing journalism. And not least I’ve remapped my ethical boundaries.

When Frodo returns to The Shire in The Lord of the Rings he’s disillusioned. Even though the green rolling hills, the small gardens and the smoke from the chimney dancing in the air looks the same, it doesn’t feel the same. He tries, but he doesn’t fit in anymore. Eventually he decides to go on a ship with Gandalf to another world. And I feel the same as Frodo. When returning I’m not the same anymore. The desks, computer screen and colleagues may look the same, and maybe I can make it work. I’ll see. Or I’ll take the ship to another and more constructive port.

Kristoffer Frøkjær
BIO

For more than 20 years Kristoffer Frøkjær has strived to bring the latest knowledge from science and research to a Danish audience in writing, on television and radio – e.g. as editor and radiohost for 10 years at the Danish Broadcast Corporation. Furthermore, he has participated in the creation of the scientific webmedia Videnskab.dk, lectured about science and media on The University of Copenhagen, and written several books in the field of popular science, e.g. “Eske Willerslev – brings life to the dead” (Gyldendal, 2015). Lately he has participated as an editor and idea developer in the realization of the onlinemedia Sciencereport.dk, regarding with the world of science. He graduated as cand. scient. in biology with a minor in film- and media science from The University of Copenhagen.

Fellowship project

During his fellowship he will examine how constructive journalism and scientific research and facts, when it comes to the climate issue, can be brought together to facilitate better informed decision making among citizens.

Kurt Strand
BIO

Kurt Strand has anchored and produced radio and television broadcasts for more than 35 years. He has been working with news and current affairs in several formats at DR, Danish Broadcasting Corporation 1985-2010. Since then, he has been working as an independent journalist, anchoring formats on media criticism as “Presselogen” TV2 News and “Mennesker og medier” DR-P1. Also, he has conducted courses and coaching sessions on interviewing skills. Kurt is a graduate from the Danish School of Media and Journalism 1980.

Fellowship project

During his Constructive Institute fellowship Kurt will research new ways for public debates; less focus on conflicts and trench digging, more focus on dialogues and solutions.

Click to read Kurt's fellowship essay

More ambitions than just “thank you for joining”

”Sorry for asking, but what do you have there?”.

The question was asked by a twenty-something young student in a rhetoric class at Aarhus University on a grey November day 2021. She pointed at my A4 sized notebook and had probably noticed that I was the only one in the room using handwriting combined with small drawings, arrows, and connected dots. Not taking notes instantly and tapping on a computer was obviously a strange thing, and the fellow student was asking because she was curious to know about my way of remembering the lecture and what was discussed.

I had a seat in the classroom because being a fellow at Constructive Institute also includes going to the university ‘gift shop’ to pick courses to attend from amongst the hundreds of academic subjects. Being (an almost) 66-year-old man at the beginning of my fellowship that in itself was very privileged. Not just for the often-complicated theoretical inputs, but also due to the meetings and discussions with bright students from different fields.

Two now completed notebooks of 125+ pages prove the outcome of courses attended. So do academic books on rhetoric, narratives, and conflict solving. And, not to forget, stacks of printed pdf files with yellow underlining markings and notes in mostly narrow margins. 

My courses were chosen to fit my Constructive Institute project. In short, it was about finding new ways and concepts for public debates. Being a journalist for more than 40 years, I had begun to realize how unambitious most debates in the media business are. I found that trench digging very often was the only outcome instead of trying to find at least just a small stretch of a common ground. On top of this, the tone in the public debate had evolved into something which excludes dialogue and understanding. The explosion of social media has significantly changed the public space, it promotes hate speech and is in some ways undermining some of the core values in a democratic society.

Could I, as a one-man band playing only few strings, change this? Of course not. But my aim was to contribute and help traditional media to play a more active role as moderators in public discussion. Offering good examples for debating, but also by being more active on their own social media profiles and online comments . By taking more responsibility for the way we all talk and perhaps most important, by inviting and including local communities in the public conversation.

Fortunately, I met a lot of open doors. Several media businesses are working hard to try and renew debate formats, but still, they are searching for functioning concepts that can be implemented as usable journalistic tools. For that reason, this was the focus during the second part of my fellowship, working together with not only a fellow fellow from the Danish newspaper “Politiken”, but also bright journalists from the Norwegian public service broadcaster “NRK”, the British “Guardian” and the German “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. 

Together we gathered good concepts and tools. It is not a complete list, but an inspiring beginning. A 60-page book was presented and distributed at a constructive journalism conference in Bonn, Germany, June 2022. And at the same time a webpage, hosted by the Constructive Institute in Aarhus, was opened with an invitation to journalists, editors, and others working in the business to contribute with their ideas and examples on how to change the traditional way of doing public debates.

A month earlier, I was invited to talk and present some of the findings at a journalism school teachers conference in Aarhus. Until now, late June 2022, I have done a handful of talks for other journalists and editors, three were held for fellow students at university courses, and one was for people working with debates. On top of this, I held talks at public meetings organized by a local church, a community club, and a peoples high school.

Later this year I will follow up with courses, training and talks for journalists and editors. A book diagnosing the public debate, explains how conflicts deepen, and how alternative concepts and new tools can make a change is expected to be published spring 2023.

I too often used a sentence to finalize debates during my 35+ years anchoring tv- and radio formats – “I can tell, you will not get any closer to at least some kind of agreement… but thank you for joining us tonight” –hopefully this will never be repeated. At least not by me, and not by colleagues in the business who step by step work to raise the bar for more ambitious public moderation. 

 

Bettina Szücs
BIO

Bettina Szücs has been employed at TV2/Nyhedernes national desk for the past five years. Here she has worked with a large number of TV2’s major agenda-setting stories. In January 2021, she won the TV-award for the best news story of the year, for a feature in a series about loneliness in Denmark.
Bettina has had a long career in broadcast journalism. She is an experienced TV reporter and has worked both with news and magasin programs for many years. In addition, she has worked just about 10 years as an editor at TV2/Nyhederne and TV2/NEWS.

Fellowship project

During the fellowship Bettina Szücs will study and develop her understanding of the nature of the challenge to our mental health and examine how constructive journalism can help ensure a more nuanced coverage of this issue.

Bjarke Calvin
BIO

Bjarke Calvin is an entrepreneur and journalist developing media startups. He is currently involved in two projects centered around digital health: Duckling, a publishing platform for visual storytelling, and TimerKid, a wifi-box and app that helps families balance screen time. In the past, Bjarke worked as executive editor with Magnum Photos in New York City and as a journalist at Dagbladet Børsen. He is an alumni fellow of MIT and a frequent speaker at conferences and universities worldwide, such as MIT, Harvard, TEDx, and SXSW. He is also author of the book “The Digital Storyteller (Den Digitale Fortæller).

Fellowship project

Bjarke Calvin will examine how the use of personal data in places like social media and online games impact our digital health, and explore solutions that make our digital lives healthier.

Kamilla Gamborg Isaksen
BIO

Kamilla Gamborg Isaksen works as a reporter at the youth desk “Bemærk” of the regional tv station TV 2 Fyn. She has been a part of “Bemærk” since it was created in the summer of 2018. Kamilla has a background working with children’s television and youth-radio for the national Danish Broadcasting Corporation. Prior to her current job, she spent a year in Auckland, New Zealand, studying and working with social media in a marketing perspective. Besides her professional experience, she has a big personal interest in new medias and their impact on journalism.

Fellowship project

During her Fellowship at Constructive Institute she consequently wishes to investigate and develop how news medias can use constructive journalism on different social media platforms in the future, particularly with a focus on reaching and engaging young people.

Click to read Kamilla Gamborg Isaksen's fellowship essay

How seven years went by in ten months 

When I had my very first day on boarding school many years ago, we all got a t-shirt saying; “one year at boarding school is like seven years without”. At my very last day I cried and understood exactly the meaning of those cheesy words. Boarding schools and peoples’ high schools shapes you for live in such a short period of time that it’s simply overwhelming.

My ten months as fellow at Constructive Institute can be described just as that. These opportunities are rarely giving to you as an adult and therefore I have also lived this year with an extra amount of gratefulness. The combination of a broad, professional program and talented people who are sharing your mission but have completely different experiences and skills to add to the discussions is what creates the magic. 

Deadlines and standard expectations are erased for a year, but your brain does not stop working because of it. You realize, in some situations it works better. The process adds just enough naivety to allow yourself to dream, you can do better than you did yesterday. 

To me that meant building an app for high school students together with one of my co-fellows, Bjarke Calvin. I’m not sure how the two of us would have met outside this fellowship with absolutely no shared friends, a 20-years age difference, him living in Copenhagen and me in Odense. But Bjarke and I share the exact same mission, creating a new type of social media that will engage young people in storytelling using the values and very best tools from journalism. The goal is creating a safer, creative space that’s driven by enlightened instead of algorithms feeding polarization. We call it ‘Yournalist – the school paper of the future’ and it’s made by us but mostly by the students we have met during this year.

When I return from my fellowship, TV2 Funen have agreed to do a pilot project together with us and one of the most innovative high schools at Funen to test the potential of Yournalist and the idea of taking journalism into the schools. I really couldn’t ask for more from a fellowship, and it feels right moving in this direction on behalf of the young generation.

Getting where we are already with this project and where I am with my mindset would normally have taking years. Perhaps seven years as it said on the t-shirt I still have in my closet. But it took ten months and a bunch of brilliant people. And even though I’m just as critical as I were before the fellowship (I’m still a journalist, you know), I feel much braver and more optimistic for what the future brings for our business and our audience.


Constructive Journalism Fellows

2020-2021

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Constructive Journalism Fellows

2019-2020

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Constructive Journalism Fellows

2018-2019

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Constructive Journalism Fellows

2017-2018

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Role Models

Learn more about the Constructive Journalism Fellowship

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