If It’s “Constructive,” It’s Not Journalism

Stephanie West Allen sent me a link to a wikipedia page the other day to alert me to a new “thing” called “Constructive Journalism.”  At the top of the wiki page, it read, “This article has multiple issues.”  That was an understatement.

This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay that states the Wikipedia editor’s particular feelings about a topic, rather than the opinions of experts.

Why? Because it was front loaded with malarky.

Constructive Journalism is an emerging domain within journalism that is slowly getting grounded within academia and involves the field of communication that is based around reporting positive and solution-focused news, instead of revolving around negative and conflict-based stories. It aims to avoid a negativity bias and incorporates findings from positive psychology research to produce novel frameworks for journalism. 

Therefore, instead of solely reporting on conflicts and problems, constructive journalism aims to gain a more comprehensive portrayal of the issues at hand. It aims to expose core causes of problems but also to report on emerging ideas and developments to shift society towards more impartial and sustainable paths. Constructive journalism aims express how change is possible and highlights the role each member of society may play to foster it. Additionally, it strives to strengthen the ethics code of journalism by avoiding the distortion of information in order to provide a more real portrayal of the world. Constructive Journalism attempts to create an engaging narrative that is factually correct without exaggerating numbers or realities.

Or, to put it in TL;dr terms, “constructive journalism” wants to spin information to manipulate readers into believing it’s substantively legitimate while promoting an agenda. It’s part Happysphere, part bullshit, all rationalization for lying while calling it truth.

And, of course, there’s a group propounding the new wave of journalism, where Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia. It’s led by these folks.

SEÁN DAGAN WOOD Co-Founder, Constructive Journalism Project

Seán Dagan Wood is a media innovator with a passion for personal and social transformation. As the editor-in-chief of Positive News and co-founder of the Constructive Journalism Project, his vision is for a media that informs, inspires and empowers.

DANIELLE BATIST Co-Founder, Constructive Journalism Project

Danielle Batist is a journalist who writes about social change and highlights solutions. She witnessed the birth of the nation of South Sudan and interviewed the Dalai Lama. As co-founder of the Constructive Journalism Project, she aims to redress the current news balance by bringing more positive elements into conventional reporting. She is also the founder of Journopreneur, a training platform to help freelancers adapt to the changing media landscape.

Media innovator with a passion for personal and social transformation? Seems legit. Especially Sean, with the cool diacritical acute mark over the “a” which is certainly not an affectation. But what is it they’re selling, exactly?

WHAT IS CONSTRUCTIVE JOURNALISM?

We define constructive journalism as rigorous, compelling reporting that includes positive and solution-focused elements in order to empower audiences and present a fuller picture of truth, while upholding journalism’s core functions and ethics.

A “fuller picture of truth”? Well that’s certainly a wonderful thing, because who doesn’t want a fuller picture of truth?  But how do we know your “truth” is the real “truth”? They are kind enough to explain.

WHAT IS IT NOT?

• Fluff / ‘Good news’
• Advocacy journalism
• Government influenced ‘development journalism’

It’s not the Happysphere. It’s not agenda drive advocacy. It’s not government propaganda. How do we know? They say so. Are you not paying attention? So it’s the real truth and not lies at all, because that’s what they say it is.

Putting aside the [ableist slur] of claiming to be the voice of “truth,” there might seem to be an upside to the notion as its “characteristics” would have journalists end their negativity.

Focuses on a wellbeing model of the world rather than a disease model – for example, seeing people as having strengths, not just as victims.

Isn’t that great, the idea of ending this culture of victimhood? Except that’s not really what they’re saying.  It’s “not just as victims,” not about people not being victims. It would appear that this is the next step in victimhood culture, turning victims into heroes because they’re victims. So much more constructive. How cool is that?

Then again, there remains the problem of there not always being a solution to all problems, and there is almost invariably no solution that doesn’t have unintended consequences. But these are the issues raised in commentary, advocacy, editorialization of news. And yet, constructive journalism claims it’s none of these things. It’s truth!

And if you wrap your passionate truth up as if it was actually journalism, doesn’t that make it so?  It’s not like we’re awash in dim-witted advocates spewing nonsense to manipulate the thinking challenged to believe in stupid ideas now. But at least they don’t pretend it’s part of some movement to claim it’s legitimate journalism that speaks truth to haters.

They just don’t call it “constructive journalism.” Yet. But it’s catching on in academia, so don’t be surprised when “scholars” and “experts” teach it to your children and inform you of their absolutely true feelings, which will definitely be the truth because they say so.

But then, the only change here is that they are trying to lie their way into transforming editorial commentary into truthful journalism to test how gullible we are.  It’s nothing new, but when academics who are passionate for social change have a name to attach, anticipate that it will become a “thing.” I just thought you should know.

20 comments on “If It’s “Constructive,” It’s Not Journalism

  1. Billy Bob

    Thanx for deconstructing “constructive journalism” on this most constructive, memorable day of the year. You had to go there! We had to wake up to this? Hope you did not destroy somebody’s will to live. Not mentionin’ any names.

  2. Kathleen Casey

    I took a journalism course once. It was a snap. Who What When Where Why in the first paragraph, and “a fuller picture of [the facts]” in the rest of the article. What’s the problem? Old school, I guess.

        1. Troutwaxer

          This would be great if the current system of journalism actually covered the facts. If you think the current version of journalism works, carefully watch what happens when they cover any subject in which you have expertise. Look at how many idiotic press releases are rewritten and released as news, how many experts are quoted out of context, how many facts are gotten wrong – then try not to vomit.

          I’m willing to give Constructive Journalism a chance for three reasons. The first is that adding a “What Next” to the standard “Who, What, Where, When and Why” makes sense to me. The second is that the particular form of “What Next” chosen by the Constructive Journalist will tell even the most uncritical reader exactly what the journalist’s ideology looks like. (Constructive Journalism is as easily tweaked to support one ideology as another.) The third is that this system of journalism makes it difficult for anyone to do the kind of reporting where two different, wildly conflicting versions of reality are treated as equally valid – if your journalism must propose a solution, you must pick a particular definition of the problem and a particular solution – and this will speak to the journalist’s judgment. In short, I think Constructive Journalism will be easier to decode.

          Of course I say this as a middle-aged guy who was taught a useful, non-ideological system for critiquing the news. Your mileage may vary.

          1. Kathleen Casey

            My idiocy detector rings a lot when reporters don’t study or think about what they don’t know — especially when I know the subject — and make it plain they don’t know what they’re writing about. Plus if they would practice their critical thinking skills they would not half-baked answers to the questions. It does cost time and money to write fast, and competently. Journalists have deadlines, and they need to be paid.

            I think investigative journalism can fulfill your objectives (reasons). That is usually reserved for seasoned reporters stretching their wings on a mission. It costs even more when done right, in time and $.

            1. Troutwaxer

              A big part of the problem is the idea that reporters who are paid poorly, overworked, and given minimal resources are able to practice responsible journalism.

    1. Jim Tyre

      Kathleen, you’re so close, and yet so far. You got the 5 Ws, all essential elements, but you omitted the H, which is every bit as important. Suppose you were journalisming about a murder. The 5 Ws would tell us most of what we need. But the H (how) is needed to tell us whether it was an axe murder or some other sort of murder. Everyone knows how important it is whether a murder is an axe murder, they’re special. ‘-)

      1. Kathleen Casey

        I thought of that later. WT…I forgot the How. How did I forget the How? ; ] Because it takes me back apiece. 1971, high school. A nun taught it. A good teacher, Sister Nancy Drigan, RIP last December. The order keeps us on a radar, sending news and begathons for donations.

        Anyway, I figure (or rationalize) the How fits inside the What. And the Why. The Why is arguably the most important question because it is the foundation of each of the other questions. “Because” is arguably the most important word.

        But sometimes there is no answer. There is no Why.

        So how do you like that?

  3. Patrick Maupin

    How long until this post gets linked from that wikipedia article or its discussion page?

  4. LTMG

    “…to produce novel frameworks for journalism.” Yes, but novel as a noun, not an adjective. If constructive journalism takes off, then there will be hope for employment for those with creative writing degrees.

  5. mb

    That’s not a bad idea. I’m going to start calling the waffle cones, “constructive blizzards” and see if any more people buy them.

  6. B. McLeod

    Of course, as lawyers well know, “constructive” quite often means “not,” as in “constructive notice,” “constructive discharge” or “constructive eviction.” This seems like simply one more example.

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