History of constructive journalism, comparison with other journalism forms

A brief timeline of the constructive journalism movement: 

  • 1959: “Good News Bulletin” appears in New York
  • 1988: terms “civic journalism” and “public journalism” gain currency 
  • 2007: Danish journalist Ulrik Haagerup coins the term “constructive news”
  • 2003: French NGO Reporters d’Espoirs created to promote solutions-based news
  • 2007: Danish media groups begin experimenting with constructive approaches 
  • 2013: Solutions Journalism Network founded 
  • 2017: Constructive Institute founded

Source: Karen McIntyre, Catherine Gyldensted and Joshua Smith

Constructive journalism shares features with other forms of journalism such as peace and conflict-sensitive journalism, and picks up elements from other types as well. Constructive journalism is a broad umbrella for a practice that is conscious about its impact and wants to use it in a responsible way. 

  • Service Journalism provides useful and practical advice on how to live well. It offers advice and solutions – “news you can use” that ranges from the serious to the superficial. 
  • Development Journalism refers to two different types of journalism:
  1. Focuses on developing nations and ways to improve conditions there. Journalists take a more activist role, even offering proposed solutions and suggesting ways to implement. 
  2. Involves government influence and can be a tool for local education but also used to suppress information and restrict journalists. 
  • Community Journalism operates traditionally in small geographic markets and emphasizes local news and information, some of which larger media would not cover.
  • Restorative Narrative provides stories of resilience and recovery within communities in the wake of traumatic events or longstanding problems. It aims to inspire audiences and give hope. 
  • Solutions Journalism is rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. It explores evidence of a response’s effectiveness and examines its sustainability. Solutions journalism encourages the use of interview techniques that get at underlying motives and interests.
  • Peace Journalism reveals background information on conflicts, places events in a wider context, casts light on all sides and explores peace initiatives and ideas. 
  • Conflict-Sensitive Journalism involves in-depth, fair, accurate and responsible reporting on conflicts without further increasing tensions. It aims to include voices of all those affected by conflict, not just combatants. It does not engage in advocacy but is constructive and peace-oriented.
  • Civic journalism (or public journalism) prioritizes non-elite sources and addresses people as participants in public affairs, rather than as victims or spectators. It aims to improve public debate and engage the community to act on its problems. 
  • Positive Journalism focuses on good news and inspiring stories. This form often has less rigor than investigative or traditional journalism and stories are often about heroes and individual, uplifting events.

Impact of constructive journalism

There is still a limited amount of research on the effects of constructive journalism stories on audiences, although there is some, mostly from the US and Europe. The results of these studies have been encouraging. 

The Keys to Powerful Solutions Journalism – University of Texas, Austin
The Center for Media Engagement set out in a 2019 study to determine how components of solutions journalism affect the way readers evaluate stories. It found that articles that included all components of solutions journalism had the following effects on readers: 

  • Improved readers’ perception of article quality.
  • Made readers more likely to “like” a similar article on Facebook.
  • Increased readers’ interest in and knowledge about the issue.
  • Boosted readers’ positivity.
  • Led readers to believe there were ways to effectively address the issue.

More info: www.mediaengagement.org/powerful-solutions-journalism

Transforming Engagement – SmithGeiger (US)

A 2021 study by the consulting and research firm SmithGeiger found that solutions storytelling offers key benefits for journalists and news consumers across platforms and demographics. Solutions journalism outperformed the traditional approach on three criteria:

  • More audience appeal: Solutions stories were more interesting, trustworthy, deep and uplifting, and less upsetting.
  • Better ratings: Solutions stories were a reason to watch TV news more often and seek out the stations that told these stories.
  • Greater impact: Solutions stories changed people’s understanding of issues and inspired them to get involved. They talked to friends and family about these stories.

More info: 

Constructive Journalism Pays Off – Grimme-Akademie (Germany) 
This 2021 study by a German media research institute looked at how constructive journalism could support German media in a time of rapid transformation. Key findings include:

  • Users consume constructive journalism longer and seem more willing to spend money on it.
  • Solution-oriented reporting is becoming increasingly important during global crises.
  • Young people and minorities are especially eager to see journalism that embraces diverse perspectives.

More info: www.constructiveinstitute.org/why-constructive-journalism-pays-off