Constructive journalism has recently been put forward as a remedy to some of the ailments that plague contemporary journalism and traditional news media. The constitutive element of the constructive approach is the prioritization of solutions-focused news stories. Rather than merely reporting negative, conflict-driven news about societal problems, this approach argues that journalism should focus more on presenting potential solutions to issues. The main argument for more solutions-focused news is sustained by psychological research showing that negative, problem-focused news contributes to “compassion fatigue”, leaving the public feeling depressed, disengaged and disempowered. Solutions-focused news stories, on the other hand, could mitigate news avoidance, instill hope, and empower people to engage with societal issues on a personal and collective level.
The aim of the project
Despite the increasing popularity in journalism practice, academic research on constructive journalism is still evolving; we know very little about the extent to which constructive journalism actually delivers on its promises. This project aims to fill this research gap by presenting an audience-focused approach to the study of constructive journalism in the news media, using a mixed-method design integrating content analyses, reception analyses, survey-based experiments, and laboratory experiments.
The aim of the project is to examine how audiences respond (think, feel, and do) to journalistic storytelling that sets out to be solutions-focused, compared with traditional problem-focused stories. In doing this, we also aim to address the broader significance and implications of constructive journalism for the audience and for the role of news media and journalism in society more broadly.
The project group
The project group consists of professor Monika Djerf-Pierre (project leader, JMG, University of Gothenburg), professor Mats Ekström (JMG), associate professor Adam Shehata (JMG), and professor Andreas Olsson (Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institute). The project is funded by The Swedish Research Council (2023-2026).
The project consists of four parts:
- The content analysis has the wider aim of charting the prevalence and characteristics of solutions-based reporting in news journalism. These analyses are conducted during the first year of the project, to provide a basis for identifying and selecting the actual problems and solutions, as well as the storytelling techniques, that will be used in the focus group studies and experiments. The goal is to identify and characterize different storytelling “models” for solutions-focused news, comprising both frames and discursive elements.
- The focus groups are used to examine audiences’ active interpretations of the news, and the engagement with news topics shaped and articulated in discussions with family and friends. How people make sense of the news, and the positions they adopt, depends on social contexts, pre-understandings and experiences of the topics reported on. Moreover, this is a social process in which news are related to and interpreted in the everyday conversations.
- The survey experiments are conducted in collaboration with Laboratory of Opinion Research (LORE) at the University of Gothenburg. The survey-based approach to large-scale experiments allows us to examine general responses to solutions-focused stories across different groups of participants, but also to identify individual differences based on the participants prior experiences and knowledge.
- The laboratory experiments constitute the final stage of the project, building on the experiences drawn from the focus groups and survey experiments. The methods draw from the latest research in experimental psychology and affective neuroscience to capture key emotional and attentional processes involved in information processing. Measures of verbal responses will be complemented with indices of non-verbal responses.