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Always look on the W

Increasingly, journalists and their readers and viewers are calling for a more positive angle on the news, says Rachel Broady

hen Liverpool Echo editor Alastair Machray made the bold move of printing a blank front page and asked readers what they wanted the resounding response was “be more positive”. The #TellAli campaign led the local chief

constable to respond: “I genuinely think the Echo believes that by being miserable so and sos you will sell more papers.” Meanwhile the boss of a local regeneration company said: “I am asking for a more balanced approach, and for the Echo to tell more positive stories so we get the whole picture about all the development, growth and new jobs we have seen in the city in recent years.” Readers said: “I love my Echo but when I’ve finished reading

it, I want to slit my wrists” and “negative encourages negative. Positive encourages positive. So concentrate on positives rather than negatives”. It became clear to Machray that something had to

change and the Echo said: “we accept this feedback and we will amend our mind-set accordingly”. In welcoming calls for positivity, he touched on an aspect of “constructive journalism” – a developing genre that could soon be at a newsdesk near you. Called constructive or positive journalism in the UK and solution-based in the US, it is becoming big news, not just among academics but with working journalists. Its intent is to report positively instead of focusing on negative and conflict-based stories. Producing positive news varies – from a determination to

make readers smile or to change the world, from creating cheerful clickbait to creating a proactive community. London-based Positive News – which describes itself as

the world’s first solution-focused newspaper, reporting on people and initiatives that are creating a just, sustainable and fulfilling world – grew from Link Up, a local newsletter which became a national magazine, founded by Shauna Crockett- Burrows in the early 80s. Changing its name to Positive News in 1993 it now has a quarterly circulation of 50,000 as well as a strong online following. It also has editions in Argentina, Hong Kong and Spain and, here in the UK, is now owned by readers and journalists after it successfully ran a crowdfunding campaign this year to become the world’s first global media co-operative, raising £263,000 in 40 days and creating a new business model. It is this sort of engagement with both stories and

communities and seeking change that true constructive journalism aims to foster, while challenging traditional

18 | theJournalist

approaches to reporting and looking to the positive impact journalism can make. Amending mind-sets is at the heart of this developing genre which hopes to transform how we approach journalism – including choosing sources and interview questions – and even how we’re approached as journalists. Seán Dagan Wood, editor-in-chief at Positive News, rejects the traditional “if it bleeds it leads” approach and instead says, “if it succeeds it leads”. He said: “Trust in the media is low and that’s a shame because journalism is our most valuable, democratic asset. I think constructive journalism can be an opportunity to rebuild trust because, for us, it’s about serving the community and journalism working in the interests of that community – a community who now own us. “Most journalists don’t go into the industry wanting

to shame people or to create scandals. There is so much skill in the industry and talent and potential and that’s a shame because journalism focusing on tragedy, scandal, sensationalism and violence doesn’t just affect the audience but the journalists too.” Sean also leads the Constructive Journalism Project which

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works to “equip journalists, media organisations and students with the knowledge and skills to practice constructive journalism”. Such focused training might be necessary in a competitive, commercial and, some might say professionally cynical, industry. Research at the University of Southampton, interviewing more than 2,000 reporters and editors, found that most considered negative news to be ‘real news’. Some psychologists argue that we are hard-wired to react to bad news. But a Canadian study last year covering 116 reporters from international news groups, found that journalists working on graphic news for long periods can suffer anxiety and depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. The media is increasingly questioning this news focus with

I love my Echo but when I’ve finished reading it, I want to slit my wrists

more national newspaper sites – including the Daily Mirror’s “feel-good news” – creating sections dedicated to positive news with specialist staff employed to produce it. Sean said: “The media has known for a long time that

people want more positive stories, the problem is its not knowing how to do that so it turned into “and finally” stories or have become clickbait of water-skiing squirrels. There has been a huge soar in demand for positive news but we’ve not always got the quality. We don’t try to create a feeling, make people smile, instead we provide accurate information to help people make informed choices, using journalistic integrity and standards but looking for the positive angles and developing techniques to engage differently.” The Trinity Mirror decision to change its ‘mind-set’ could suggest there is commercial sense in being positive and that this journalism could move beyond community press. It is, one could argue, straightforward journalism unsullied

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