Ulrik Haagerup, Founder and CEO of the Constructive Institute for journalism is the keynote speaker today at a Judith Nielsen Institute function titled Constructing Tomorrow’s News.
Haagerup is known for his new approach to journalism, which encourages publishers to tell all sides of the story, including solutions and the positive angles.
“To support democracy we have to support journalism,” he said but pointed out that news outlets may have created the problem for themselves by only telling negative stories.
“It has now become socially acceptable for people to say they don’t want to consume news… We need a new vocabulary, such as Constructive journalism… We need to find a way to talk about what is missing.”
The word constructive is defined as something that “intends to have a useful or beneficial purpose.”
“Journalism is the filter between public perception and reality.
“When journalists are on the attack it builds distrust and people find new tactics to fight each other… The goal of journalism is to give people the best available information for them to make up their minds about things.”
“Fake news is not the real problem, news is the problem. The picture is wrong, we are leaving out some important aspects to only cover the conflict or the negativity,” he said, pointing out, for example, that Corona Virus coverage is highlighting the deaths, but is not always reporting how many people are recovering. Other examples he mentioned included the recent fires in Australia, where he pointed out that stories were constantly keeping tally of how many hectares were burnt but did not say how many were not burnt, for example more than half of Kangaroo Island is not burnt.
Quoting Roland Shatz he said: “Negativity is the illness… apathy or fear is the result… It disengages people.”
Without negating the importance of normal news values, he urged journos and editors to publish the best obtainable version of the truth, cover all angles, not just report the conflict or the negativity, he urged.
“See the world with both eyes, the happy and sad, the good and bad. Document wrong doings but also document the right doings,” he said.
Should we change the way we report news? Yes, says Haagerup. “People don’t need more news they need better news.”
The good news is that people like to read good news. “It does work, people read those stories more than traditional style news stories. They read them to the end and share them more,” said Haagerup, quoting various studies (see The Guardian).
Because they are scared by stories in the media, the majority of people believe the system is failing them. This engenders a sense of injustice, a lack of hope, a lack of confidence and a desire for change. These factors are recipes for populism. He cited the Edelman Trust Barometer’s global results which showed that trust in journalism is decreasing and is notable in countries where populist leaders are emerging.
He cited a poem by Jodie Jackson, published as a video online as one of the reasons he began to rethink the way he did news.
Ulrik’s full presentation is below.
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