reflections 300 constructive

Constructive journalism is about transformation. Constructive journalism meets challenges. It tackles problems and offers solutions.
Constructive journalism is about journalism delivering on social responsibility and positive thinking to change society for the better.
On the media side, constructive journalism throws the gauntlet to established approaches to content such as the (not)everlasting „if it bleeds it leads“ rule. It is about new ways of structuring content. And it is about bringing a new culture in the newsroom.

As Domagoj Novokmet, at the time of HRT, put it „Be constructive, giving opportunity to present possible solutions. Promote public discussion, promoting analysis... smart people, who could really make a change would in the future possibly be one of the strongest tools for public media“.

Constructive journalism has been on the agenda of CIRCOM Regional’s Annual Conferences since 2016. Back then, at the Annual Conference in Plovdiv , we looked into programmes which delivered on alternative views and positive changes in societies. People being drivers of change, reaching out to contributors from audiences, exploring the opportunities of data journalism, focus on disabled people and the flow of migrants in Europe - these „pieces“ relayed in the bigger picture of the new concept of Constructive Journalism.

RTBF’s “Alors, on change!” was an example of cooperation with local TV stations in serving the public by putting in the spotlight people who are involved in transition and have the energy and the will to change things. Felice Gasperoni, who presented this 30-minutes monthly magazine, said that the authors wanted by positive examples to offer „constructive alternative to all the negative news“ and inspire social action and change.


As journalists we often say „What’s today’s story? What are we going to do today?“ but we seldom ask the people „What’s your story?“ - For Carolina Källestål and Tove Hansson of SVT, this was the starting point for two of the SVT’s most successful projects based on crowdsourcing in news gathering and news production . Empowering audiences to provide data from all across the country brought about shaping a news agenda that touched upon variety of social groups. Furthermore, it contributed to producing content that reflects problems in-depth and on national scale. It was a successful example how user generated content, UGC, and PGC, professionally generated content by the newsroom staff went hand in hand to fulfill the PSM remit on local, regional and national level. Robin Linderborg explained the technology behind the projects. Just as crowdsourcing, Data Journalism is another resource, for Constructive Journalism purposes. So Robin Linderborg and Antony Dore of BBC made exactly this point – „Constructive Data Journalism – a Road to the Future“ . To walk this road a newsroom would need experts such as statisticians and coders. Most of all, a newsroom would need to modify its workflow and news distribution practices. The BBC Regions Data Team was small but efficient unit in distributing local news and packaging them for nationwide audience.
Two more case studies added to the overall picture. BNT presented the campaign Electronic Eyes in support of blind people. Our colleagues Maaike van den Bosch and Richel Bernsen shared the Netherlands experience using constructive journalism in reporting refugees and migration .

Two years after Plovdiv we returned to the topic of Constructive Journalism – this time on a more conceptual level. During the Annual Conference in Novi Sad, Serbia, "Constructive Journalism in Constructive newsroom“ session offered more scientific point of view making sense of accumulated practice and creative experiences. By that time the trend of losing trust in journalism and falling audiences was obvious and television media were out looking for clues. In this context Cynara Vetch, Project Lead at the Constructive Institute in Denmark, presented constructive journalism as specific type of mainly news content, which existed on equal level with breaking news/hard news and investigative journalism.
But! While breaking news/hard news dealt with the extremes in everyday life and investigative journalism was about what went wrong in the past, constructive journalism indulged in the „grey zone“ in our lives, the invisible, meaning not explicitly exhibited, „small“ events that in fact implicated our everyday being. Cynara Vetch cited three approaches. One was that constructive journalism looked for existing solutions and made them part of the story. Second, focus on nuance - tell stories which are not „extremes“. The third was that journalists would act as facilitators rather that a policeman or a judge. A key activity would be to educate professionals to understand the philosophy of constructive journalism and apply it in practice alongside with existing editorial policies. Also important is to offer newsrooms tools for solutions and scalable replicable formats for adaptive usage.
Anne Lagercrantz, Director of News and Current Affairs of the Swedish television, also involved in the digital transformation of SVT, was convinced that this type of journalism is viable. It put the news in the centre and tried to approach it from several perspectives. It does not substitute covering real problems, it is more about „the progress“.
At the Annual Conference in Novi Sad, in 2019, we were already sensing an existential problem – audiences were switching off. Michael Lally, a journalist who rose through the ranks in television media of Ireland and a long time active figure in the CIRCOM Regional family (Michael is former CR President), laid it out simply „Using Constructive Journalism, build on the principles of public service media (PSM) to switch on the switched off ... or else – the bell will toll for us“. That`s where we were in 2019!

The COVID crisis and provided unexpected and unusual pause. The pandemia was a time to further develop the constructive journalism practices. It was a time of reflection on it as well. Gradually constructive journalism was implemented in full in some newsrooms and it had been on the way to becoming integral part of the newsroom culture.

At the Annual Conference in Donostia-San Sebastian, in Spain in 2023, SVT presented their Constructive News concept and the next stage of putting it into practice. By June 2023 the Swedish public service media had already made constructive, solutions-based journalism as a central part of its strategy. Again, the reference point for change was rising trend of news avoidance .

Our colleagues from Sweden turned to constructive journalism to turn the tide and bring back viewers. "The difference now is that we are adding another perspective, the tomorrow perspective. We are trying to engage and give perspective not to shutter eyes to the problem but also to look at alternatives and solutions“, said Christina Johannesson, Project Manager of future competencies, SVT. She acknowledged that leadership was extremely important and leaders on senior level had to be really committed, as "culture is not just something that’s changing itself“.
"Solution based journalism is not hard, but it just requires a different mindset“, said Marcus Melinder, Managing Editor at SVT Nyheter Norrbotten. The station had a structured model of content creation, which includes constructive element in every in-depth story.

Norway`s NRK approach to the problem sounded optimistic and life-asserting. Ida Anna Haugen, Head of editorial innovation at NRK, spoke about what does it mean to put Hope at the core of the company’s strategy. "We want to touch your head and heart but we want to do it with hope and humour“, said she. The NRK understanding for Constructive news was that this should be content that strengthens and develops democracy by showing more nuanced image of the world, by pointing at solutions and fight polarization and create dialogue with and between people. "Part of being constructive is keep researching and see what has happened after your story is being published“, concluded Ida Anna Haugen.

In this understanding solution based journalism was perceived as part of the constructive journalism, with the three parts being dialogue, democratic debate and nuanced information and explanation. It took one year to introduce constructive culture and make it part of the media`s DNA.

So, Constructive Journalism had grown up from various separate experiments to concepts and again – to updated tailor-made practices, meeting the needs of the media entities, which apply them. It went even further. Today Constructive Journalism is taking centre stage in strategies, defining new mindset and shaping a new internal culture. Not less important is that it turns out that Constructive Journalism has got the potential to help tackling the challenges of growing news avoidance by audiences.