Activist or Journalist? RESET Joins the Discussion Around Constructive Journalism

Thaisa Mezzavilla / memo factory
The December edition of TAZ's "Journalist Salon" looked at the topic of constructive journalism.

RESET was joined on stage at the TAZ cafe in Berlin by transform magazine and Good Impact to talk about the role of constructive reporting.

Author Laura Wagener:

Translation Laura Wagener, 12.25.17

Constructive Journalism: the fancy name given to reporting that doesn’t just cover the problem at hand, but also looks for solutions. In other words – exactly what we’ve been doing here at RESET for the past 10 years.

And that’s why, last week, RESET was invited along to last month’s “Journalist Salon” – an informal panel discussion organised each month by Berlin’s TAZ newspaper together with Mekolab. This month’s topic was “Transformative Media and Constructive Journalism – Positivity in the face of the negativity bias”.

So, what makes constructive journalism different?

The task of “traditional journalism” is to report on events neutrally and without judgement – as “objectively” as the journalist can. As far as possible, the report is merely there to inform – not present the story in a negative or positive light. But as journalism has developed – and there are numerous scientific studies to prove it – most news outlets have a clear “negative bias”, not just in the reporting itself but also the choice of topics to report on.

And here too, studies have shown that negative reporting can leave many people feeling helpless and overwhelmed, and apathetic, rather than motivated to do something to help. Constructive journalism can be seen as the foil to that – not only reporting on the problems, but possible solutions too, in the hope that by demonstrating possibilities, people will develop an awareness of alternatives.

Constructive Media – Traditional Media’s Positive Little Brother

The panel was full of representatives from the world of “positive news”, and while talking about their experiences they also tackled the question: what can constructive journalism achieve, that big media organisations can’t? How can constructive media help to describe and depict the world’s most pressing global challenges?

Answering these questions on behalf of RESET were Indra Jungblut and Marisa Pettit, representing the German and English sites respectively. Next to them on the podium were: Marius Hasenheit, founder and publisher of transform magazine (and former RESET contributor), Viola Nordsieck, also from transform, and Jonathan Widder, publisher of the online magazine Good Impact. In the chair was Johannes Altmeyer from Die Welt.

© Thaisa Mezzavilla / memo factory Marisa Pettit, Indra Jungblut (beide reset), Viola Nordsieck und Marius Hasenheit (transform) auf dem Journalistensalon der TAZ.

The panel agreed that positive journalism isn’t an attempt to replace traditional reporting, but instead offers a welcome addition to it. Especially when it comes to big daily news mills, where journalists are working to tight deadlines, there’s little time to work on a constructive angle or think about solutions – it’s generally just the “problem” itself that ends up being reported on.

And in the eyes of traditional meda outlets, many of the solutions and constructive ideas out there are seen as “works in progress”, as lacking in scope and reach, or simply not made for the long term.

RESET’s Indra said: “Many really good and important initiatives – tackling both global and local problems – simply don’t have enough reach to catch on. One reason for that is of course to do with the structures in place within the contries where these solutions are required, but also because they lack the networks and the exposure. That’s where we come in – but it doesn’t mean that we don’t also offer well-founded reporting on the background issues.”

© Thaisa Mezzavilla / memo factory Indra von Reset: “konstruktiver Journalismus ist eine Ergänzung zum klassischen Journalismus”.

Constructive But Still Objective

Questions from the audience ranged from: Can a journalist that looks for positive or constructive aspects, ever remain objective in their reporting? To: Is a “positive” approach even possible when it comes to certain topics?

There the panel were once again more or less in agreement: To some extent to, isn’t all reporting subjective? From the choice of content, to the choice of words, headlines and images – everything is the result of journalists’ subjective points of view.

And yes, even the most dreadful accidents can in some cases be the subject of positive reporting. By explaining the context of a terrible conflict or event (such as a bomb attack, for example) in more detail, reporters can ensure that events are not sensationalised or distorted, which could lead to readers losing the bigger picture.

The most important thing – just like traditional journalism – is for the reporting to be thoroughly and reliably researched. Presenting solutions to problems, and ensuring that news is always presented within a larger context, doesn’t ever mean having to cut back on quality.

This article is a translation of the original article which first appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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