Constructive journalism: Responding to an excess of sensationalism in today’s news culture

Ulrik Haagerup Founder & CEO, Constructive Institute presented a Power Session on constructive journalism at this years virtual CBAA Conference.


Ulrik says that when he first told his mother and aunt that he was coming to Australia in February they both said they were both concerned about the fires and floods that had gripped the country.

What he found when he arrived the situation was not as he had seen on some news broadcasts, and that the countryside of some of the fire ravaged areas were already on their way to recovery with new vegetation already beginning to shoot.

Ulrik is a champion of constructive journalism, and he says, “…it’s not a religion you can convert to, it is not positive journalism (like) cats saved from trees stories, and it’s not a North Korean type of journalism where you ignore problems and paint the sky blue.

“Of course we should cover the fire, of course we should cover the flooding, but maybe it’s important to say where the fire is and when it’s out and to give people a nuanced balanced picture and tell them what to do about it and maybe engaging people in the discussion about how do we stop this from happening again.”

He suggests that perhaps journalist need a new vocabulary to talk about what is going wrong where they are having, or intending to have, a beneficial purpose.

Ulrik says that this idea was not well met with a number of people labelling it as crazy and as an attack on critical journalism and an antidote to investigative journalism, but he says “It’s not. You can’t be constructive unless there is a well-documented problem to be constructive about.

And we don’t need more cute stories or happy stories because we are not in the happy business, we are not going to work every day to make people smile. We are not going to work every day to make people commit suicide either…we are there to give people a realistic picture of themselves, each other. Other people who are not like them and the world they are a part of.”

Constructive journalism is an attack on the notion of ‘If it bleeds it leads’. That it has to be something dramatic and full of conflict and blood and murder and crime in order for people to click on it and spend time on it and pay for it.

“It turns out that this isn’t true.

“Constructive journalism is trying to fight one-eyed journalism where you only look at reality that confirms the angle you had before you started to research. It is insisting that we need to see the world with both eyes, the happy and the sad.”





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