Why is constructive journalism important not only for journalism of tomorrow but also for the future of democracy. Constructive Institute is an independent center in the heart of what is now becoming a global movement.
WHY WE NEED TO RETHINK JOURNALISM
THOUGHTS BY CONSTRUCTIVE INSTITUTE
Any sales person, interest group or politician knows, perception is reality.
People make decisions when they vote, shop or make any decision in their personal or professional lives based not on what the facts are, but on what they perceive to be the facts. Where do we get that from? We all get our perceptions from what we can see with our own eyes and from what we hear from others around us, the rest is media.
“Editorial choices about what news should focus on…have huge impact on the way other people see themselves, each other and the world they live in.”
More than probably any other profession journalism is a filter between reality and the public perception of reality. Editorial choices about what news should focus on, what reporters ask, how their stories are angled and what to publish and not to tell all have a huge impact on the way other people see themselves, each other and the world they live in.
A war of attention in the digital age
The war of the public attention has increased in the digital age in many newsrooms for the last 20 years. And the strategy in too many of them has been to just turn up the volume button with more breaking news alerts, more stories, sharper headlines, more drama, more conflict. Doing all this on more platforms, all with less and less money and fewer and fewer people. It doesn’t sound like something McKinsey would call a “winning strategy” in any other business, does it? Well, it’s not in the news industry either.
The internet and the disruption have had seismic impacts on the news industry. Not only have business models for journalism been shaken and competition for the attention of news audiences exacerbated but news has also sped up, increased in volume and become increasingly sensationalist.
The results have been people in their millions turning their back from traditional news – and so have the advertisers who for more than a century have been the main funders of independent journalism. News avoidance has become a growing trend, as especially woman and new generations avoid the “noise” of a news cycle that is overwhelming, always on and always on-hand through digital devices. In Reuters Digital News report 2020 from over 30 countries 32% of respondents said they actively avoid the news. Nearly 60% of these said it was because it had a negative effect on their mood, others described feeling powerless to change events.
“News avoidance has become a growing trend, as especially woman and new generations avoid the “noise” of a news cycle that is overwhelming.”
Political polarization has also encouraged the growth of partisan agendas online, which together with clickbait and various forms of misinformation is helping to further undermine trust in media – raising new questions about how to deliver balanced and fair reporting in the digital age. Business as usual is no longer an option for news organizations.
A new term for journalism
That’s why we came up with the term constructive journalism – because positive, happy, fluffy non-critical, North Korean version of reporting it is not. It builds on all the old journalistic values about fairness, fact-fulness and serving people “the best obtainable version of the truth”.
It was Watergate-reporter Carl Bernstein that coined the term “the best obtainable version of the truth” and it was during the 1960’s and 1970’s the term “investigative reporting” emerged. To many it sounded strange because wasn’t all reporting investigative? No, it was not, far too much of it was printing of press releases and handing politicians the microphone and the message. It was not enough to talk about the need for “better” or more “quality” journalism but now the news industry had a new vocabulary. News organisations could start investing in tools for “investigative” reporting: New ways of organizing in reporting units; new ways of interviewing people with power, who wanted to hide the truth; new ways of researching using documents and data; and new ways of publishing in series and documentaries applying storytelling techniques from fiction and movies.
Constructive journalism applies a new vocabulary, so both news people and the people we serve can have a better conversation, both about what is missing in traditional reporting and also how we can do it better with new questions, new focus, new roles, new concepts and new tools.
“Constructive journalism applies a new vocabulary, so both news people and the people we serve can have a better conversation.”
Constructive journalism is neither an alternative to being the watchdog, nor a quick fix for a profession in desperate search for a future and a purpose. At Constructive Institute we do not have all the answers but we do believe in curious and critical questions and that applies to the role of journalism itself. We are certain that we now need this conversation because in the words of Bulgarian writer Maria Popova “Hope without thinking is naïve – but critical thinking without hope is cynical”.
We want to change the global news culture because we fear that journalism is partly to blame for the trust meltdown in media and democracy. But mostly because we are certain that journalism needs to be part of the solution too.
“We all see the logic, that if journalism is broken, so is democracy. We claim that trusted information ought to be a human right and is a common good. We believe that the main mission of constructive journalism is not primarily to save journalism from itself or to help a struggling media business. It is to reinstall trust in the idea that shared facts, shared knowledge and shared discussions are the pillars on which our societies balance.”
– Ulrik Haagerup, Founder & CEO of Constructive Institute