In 1994 Rwanda, some journalists used their power for evil when government-run media houses perpetrated genocide through what scholars termed “hate media.” Since then, however, Rwanda’s media landscape has changed dramatically and the country has seen tremendous social and economic progress. Building on the tenets of social responsibility and framing theories and on literature regarding journalistic role functions, this study utilized qualitative interviews with Rwandan journalists to discover how they view their roles today and whether they have contributed to the reconstruction and recovery of the country by practicing constructive journalism. In keeping with the social responsibility theory of the press, constructive journalism calls for the news media to be an active participant in enhancing societal well-being. Results revealed that while journalists in Rwanda aim to fulfill traditional roles like informing and educating the public, they value a unique role to promote unity and reconciliation. They carry out this role by regularly practicing constructive journalism techniques, such as solutions journalism and restorative narrative, which involve reporting on stories that foster hope, healing, and resilience, and they strongly believe that this style of reporting has contributed to the country’s post-genocide reconstruction.
We propose to expand the boundaries of the news process by introducing and defining the interdisciplinary concept of constructive journalism — an emerging form of journalism that involves applying positive psychology techniques to news processes and production in an effort to create productive and engaging coverage, while holding true to journalism’s core functions. First, we review the critical issues in journalism that highlight a need for this approach. Next, we define constructive journalism, discuss the history of news as it pertains to the development of constructive forms, and describe four branches of constructive journalism. Finally, we outline five techniques by which constructive journalism can be practiced, including the psychological frameworks supporting these applications. This essay, which is based on McIntyre’s (2015) dissertation, attempts to introduce the concept of constructive journalism and clarify related terms in an effort to call for more precision in constructive journalism practice and more research among scholars to test the process and effects of this innovative shift in journalism.
News media played a prominent role in perpetuating the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Since then, Rwanda has undergone impressive social and economic growth, but the media landscape during this redevelopment remains understudied. Qualitative interviews with Rwandan journalists reveal that reporters censor themselves to promote peace and reunification. Short-term, prioritizing social good over media rights might help unify the country, but ultimately it could limit development and reinforce existing authoritarian power structures. Findings suggest that McQuail’s development media theory and Hachten’s developmental concept maintain relevance but point to the need for a new or revised media development paradigm.
In a changing news environment, journalists are looking for ways to engage readers. Although the public’s interest in serious news has declined in recent years, satirical news has remained popular. Through a 2-by-2 between-subjects survey experiment, this study tested the effects of a satirical news story about mass shootings — displayed as either a traditional news article or on the photo sharing site Instagram — on readers’ affect, perceptions of story credibility, optimism, and story sharing behaviors. Results indicated that satirical news and serious Instagram posts increased positive affect. Further, results revealed that perceived credibility and sharing behavior increased due to affective activation regardless of whether participants experienced positive or negative affect, suggesting higher emotional cues might dictate the way individuals interact with news coverage. Journalists may use these results when trying to obtain and retain readers.
This study analyzes the visual content included in a purposive sample of 1,241 news stories from the Solutions Journalism Network’s “Story Tracker” database of international articles identified as properly utilizing solutions journalism techniques. From this analysis, we better understand the type of visual content that is presented with solutions-oriented news stories, setting the foundation for future effects research. Specifically, we examine photos that accompany solutions news stories in regard to their content, type, source, dominance and latent meaning.
This experiment examined the impact of story-photo congruency regarding solutions journalism. We tested the effects of solution and conflict-oriented news stories when the photo paired with the story was congruent or incongruent with the narrative. Results revealed that a solution-oriented story with a congruent photo made readers feel the most positive, but surprisingly readers were most interested in the story and reported the strongest behavioral intentions when the story was paired with a neutral photo.
News media play a role in increasing public understanding of human rights issues. Yet, little scholarship has analyzed human rights reporting in developing or post-conflict nations. Interviews with Rwandan journalists revealed that, in this post-genocide era of reconstruction, reporters define human rights broadly and believe reporting on abuses has a positive impact on the abuse. However, a lack of press freedom inhibits human right reporting, thus, prohibiting journalists from fulfilling their social responsibility.
The media’s constant supply of negative news has contributed to audience decline, and journalists are experimenting with more constructive story formats to engage readers. This experiment examined the presence and placement of positive emotions in news stories. Results showed that news stories with positive emotions influenced readers’ affect, attitudes, and engagement. Results further suggested it is possible to evoke positive emotions even in inherently negative stories without participants perceiving the story to be less valuable.
We propose to expand the boundaries of the news process by introducing, defining and subsequently coining the interdisciplinary concept of constructive journalism as an emerging form of journalism that involves applying positive psychology techniques to news processes and production in an effort to create productive and engaging coverage, while holding true to journalism’s core functions. First, we review the critical issues in journalism that highlight the need for this approach. Next, we coin constructive journalism and situate the concept in the field. Finally, we outline techniques by which constructive journalism can be practiced, including the psychological frameworks supporting these applications. Overall, this essay suggests a needed direction for journalism by means of constructive reporting which aims to positively impact journalism’s diminished reputation and weary news audiences.
The media contribute to compassion fatigue — or a public apathetic to human tragedy — in part by failing to present solutions to the social problems ubiquitous in today’s conflict-based news coverage. Journalism practitioners are attempting to lessen compassion fatigue and engage readers by writing solution-focused news stories. This study experimentally tested the effects of including solution information in news stories on readers’ feelings, attitudes, and behaviors. Results revealed that when writing a news story about a social problem, mentioning an effective solution to the problem did not impact readers’ behavioral intentions or actual behaviors, but it did cause readers to report favorable attitudes toward the news article and to feel less negative than when no solution or an ineffective solution was presented. This suggests that solutions journalism might mitigate some harmful effects of negative, conflict-based news, but might not inspire action. More work needs to be done before sweeping claims can be made about the impact of solutions journalism.
The fact that the news has a negativity bias is relatively undisputed. But is this a matter for concern? In this study, two experiments explored the impact of different types of constructive news stories on readers’ affect, motivation, and behavioural intentions. Study 1 examined news stories with either a solution frame or catastrophic frame, and Study 2 examined stories that evoked either positive or negative emotions. Findings revealed that catastrophically-framed stories and news stories that evoked negative emotions reduced intentions to take positive action to address issues, and resulted in negative affect. In contrast, solution-framed stories and news stories that evoked positive emotions resulted in more positive affect and higher intentions to take positive action and were still perceived as legitimate journalism. Respondents expressed a greater preference for solution-framed news. The conclusion is that more constructive journalism would better serve society.
Contextual journalism calls for depth of news reporting rather than “just the facts.” A national survey of local television (TV) journalists indicated the increasing popularity of this more comprehensive reporting form. Although news sociologists contend that local TV routines facilitate the production of quick, less substantive stories, TV respondents in the present study highly valued comprehensive, contextual news styles—even more than newspaper journalists. Building on the work of Weaver and colleagues’ “American Journalist” project, TV news workers in this survey preferred contextual roles, such as alerting the public of potential threats and acting in a socially responsible way, but also valued traditional broadcasting roles, such as getting information to the public quickly. TV news roles were compared to those of newspaper journalists to analyze how professionals in different media view their work identities.
With issues related to sexual orientation at the forefront of public consciousness and policy debates, media depictions of sexual minorities are commonplace. There is ongoing pressure to avoid negative stereotypes, yet positive stereotypical depictions and descriptions of GLB individuals continue. This study focused on the effects of positive stereotypes of sexual minorities in news stories. Results of an experiment confirm previous research in regard to awareness of and affective reaction to positive stereotypes. Some results are also in line with past research that reveal the insidious nature of positive stereotypes.
Despite the well-established power of the media to shape public perceptions of social problems, compassion fatigue is believed to run rampant. So what does it take for someone to be compelled to act after reading a story or seeing an image of a prominent issue? This study, a 3-by-2 between subjects experiment, examined the effects of two journalistic techniques — shocking audiences into action with offensive stories or inspiring them to act with solution-based stories – in the context of sex trafficking. Results revealed that neither shock nor solutions stories led to increased empathy for trafficked individuals, greater understanding of the issue, increased desire to share the story or increased desire to act, but that readers of solutions stories felt more positive and were more likely to read similar stories about the issue. This suggests that solution-focused news stories might be at least somewhat more engaging than shocking and offensive stories.
This paper uses in-depth interviews with 14 journalists to better understand the position of solutions journalism—rigorous reporting on how people are responding to social problems—in the field and in journalistic habits. We found that journalists familiar with solutions journalism accept and align it with investigative reporting, but with the extra step toward social response. They think it’s broadly topical, but has the same objectivity concerns journalism is facing. When taking a solutions approach, journalists shift their thought processes but largely maintain the same reporting habits. Finally, they perceive management to be the greatest facilitator or impediment to their ability to adopt solutions journalism.
This article seeks to provide a theoretical foundation and justification for the innovative and interdisciplinary field of constructive journalism. Constructive journalism involves applying positive psychology techniques to the news process in an effort to strengthen the field and facilitate productive news stories, while holding true to journalism’s core functions. It is this application of positive psychology methods that makes constructive journalism distinct. This paper expands existing work by identifying the broad psychological framework that is applied to journalism and the more specific constructs that apply to six individual constructive techniques. Constructive journalism has been gaining popularity in the industry but is in need of more academic research. This conceptual article intends to clarify the theory and practical application of constructive journalistic methods in an effort to provide a foundation for further research on the topic.
Solutions journalism is rigorous news reporting about how people are responding to social problems – a definition used by scholars but formulated by the Solutions Journalism Network, an independent organization that promotes the practice. The approach has a growing appeal in the professional world, but what little exists in academic research fails to offer thorough theoretical and conceptual definitions or a concrete operationalization of the practice. Through in-depth interviews, journalists familiar with solutions journalism offered insights about how to define and measure the practice. Specifically, journalists said solution-oriented news stories contribute to more accurate and balanced news coverage, they are sophisticated and rigorous, and they intend to motivate readers to contribute to societal change. Further findings help distinguish the Solutions Journalism Network’s conceptualization of the concept from how working journalists practice it, particularly in regard to the extent that solutions journalism overlaps with advocacy journalism. Finally, this study offers guidelines for measuring a solutions news story in an effort to spur consistent future research on the effects of the solutions journalism approach.
Evidence shows that Americans have become considerably more accepting of same-sex marriage in the past quarter century. This paper discusses how the news media might have contributed to this change. Following Shoemaker and Reese’s (2013) hierarchy of influences model, this paper argues that same-sex marriage coverage was likely influenced by increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage by individual journalists, changing newsroom routines, and shifting societal ideologies.
U.S. journalists are tasked with covering mass shootings on a regular basis. A growing body of research has examined mass shooting coverage and journalists’ perceptions of this coverage. However, U.S. news consumers’ opinions about mass shooting coverage are largely absent from the literature. The current study
addresses this research gap by gauging the opinions of the American public regarding these issues,
while also seeking to predict attitudes based on demographic factors and journalistic role
conceptualizations. Data for this study—a survey sample of 1,047 adults representative of the U.S.
population in age, gender, ethnicity, and geographic region—were collected in September 2017.
The “gap” between journalist and audience expectations appears to be wide, and such a chasm
could be one reason why news media credibility is low. Assumptions about journalistic work are
often explored through analyses of the news worker’s role in society. One understudied topic in
roles literature is perceptions of newer contextual reporting roles that consider society’s best
interests, including: Reporting in a socially responsible manner, alerting the public of threats and
opportunities, and contributing to society’s well-being. This study used a representative survey
of 1,047 U.S. news consumers to determine audience perceptions of these contextual roles, along
with more traditional journalistic roles. Responses were then compared to similar surveys of
news professionals. Subsequent analyses investigated the influence of news media trust, media
consumption and demographic variables on audience role perceptions. Findings indicate that
U.S. audiences prefer contextual roles and diverge sharply from journalists in their role
estimations, including more positive evaluations of adversarial and political roles. Results also
suggest that trust in the news media is a more powerful predictor of audience role perceptions
than media use, political ideology, and demographic characteristics.
Americans say that reading, watching or listening to the news is one of their leading causes of stress. And indeed, research has shown that negative news can negatively impact people’s attitudes, behaviors and mental health. To combat the unwelcome effects of negative news, some have suggested that reporters practice more constructive or solution-oriented journalism by reporting stories that highlight societal progress. Drawing on cognitive appraisal theory and the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, this study tested the impact of constructive news.
In a mixed design quasi-experiment, participants received access to a Google Assistant feature in which they could prompt the assistant to summarize a constructive news story. After two weeks, those who used the feature were more likely, between pretest and postttest, than those who did
not to feel positive while consuming traditional news, suggesting constructive news could mitigate the effects of more typical, negative news.
A survey (N = 1318) evaluated US newspaper journalists’ attitudes toward contextual reporting – stories that go beyond the immediacy of the news and contribute to societal well-being. Results indicated that journalists highly value professional roles associated with contextual reporting. Responses revealed new journalistic role functions, including the ‘Contextualist’, who placed high value on being socially responsible and accurately portraying the world. Analyses showed that younger journalists and female journalists highly valued three genres of contextual reporting: constructive journalism, solutions journalism, and restorative narrative. Additionally, a journalist’s belief in activist values such as setting the political agenda and pointing to possible solutions predicted more favorable views of all three forms of contextual journalism, while belief in an adversarial attitude predicted less favorable views of restorative narrative.
Using data from a national survey of U.S. newspaper journalists (N = 1,318), this study examines attitudes toward news coverage of mass shootings. The study also considers how individual characteristics, journalistic routines, and organizational attributes influence these attitudes. Participants generally agreed that coverage has become routine. Journalists were largely supportive of coverage of perpetrators, but were hesitant to agree that coverage contributes to “copycat” shootings. Regarding attitude influences, a participant’s age was generally the strongest predictor. A journalist’s role perception, meanwhile, was the most powerful determinant of attitudes toward victim/survivor coverage. Findings also indicate differences in attitude according to job title and coverage beat. As a whole, findings indicate that traditional libertarian ideas about mass shooting coverage are still prevalent; however, journalists also want to see more comprehensive reporting, including coverage of solutions and community resilience.
Applying the psychological concept of prospection — or imagining possible futures — to political journalism, a content analysis examined questions asked during U.S. presidential debates. Half of debate questions asked from 1960 to 2012 focused on the present, one-third focused on the future, and 12% focused on the past. Members of the public were more likely than journalists to ask future-oriented questions. The percentage of future-oriented questions also related to the specific election cycle and which news organization hosted the debate.
After decades of criticism that the media publish too much negative news and during a time of declining news audiences, some media outlets have dedicated themselves to publishing only happy, upbeat stories. The current experiment examined the positive news industry by testing the effects of three types of story valence – positive, negative, and silver lining – on readers’ affect, story enjoyment, perceived well-being, knowledge acquisition, and sharing intentions. The authors additionally looked at hard vs. soft news stories. Results suggest that, among all types of stories, valence plays a significant role in readers’ affect, in that positive news makes readers feel good. In addition, findings suggest that the silver-lining story – one that highlights a positive outcome of a negative event – may present a practical way for media outlets to maintain the time-honored surveillance function of negative news yet also reap the affective benefits of positive news.
***This paper won the Top Student Paper Award at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Montreal, Canada (August, 2014)
Personality and nationality have been known to influence media choices. This study examined the relationship between respondents’ level of extroversion and their motivations, story preferences, and sharing behavior in regard to consuming positive news on a “good news” website. A survey of 1,114 positive news consumers from the U.S. and the U.K. was conducted. Results revealed that extroversion was more strongly associated with the information-seeking motive than the social utility or mood management motives. Extroverts were more likely than introverts to share stories with a wider group of people, although sharing medium was found to be more important than audience size. Finally, positive news readers were most likely to both view and share the stories they considered to be the happiest, and extroversion moderated this relationship. Differences between American and British readers are discussed.
This paper examines how drones are regulated and how journalists might operate drones without invading people’s privacy. It analyzes court decisions in existing surreptitious newsgathering and aerial surveillance cases that courts might rely upon to decide future cases in which journalists use drones intrusively. Based on these cases, this paper suggests the ways drone journalism might invade a person’s privacy and offers guidelines to journalists considering the use of unmanned aircraft to gather news.
Research has shown that website structure can impact storytelling. This study examined the effects of two online news packages’ website designs – a multiple-page, nonlinear, click-through design and a single-page, linear, scroll-through design – on users’ attitudes toward the website, factual and structural comprehension of site content, and attention to the site. Results of a 2×2 between-subjects experiment revealed that both types of comprehension were influenced by the interaction between website design and attention. Among participants who spent at least 10 minutes browsing, users were better able to recognize facts after looking at the scroll-through site, but they showed a deeper understanding of content after looking at the click-through site. Theoretical and practical implications for storytelling are discussed.
How did social media begin, and where is it going? Will a new social network conquer Facebook? In order to speculate about the future, the evolution of social media from 1969 to 2013 – a topic that scholars have yet to explore – is examined. Through a textual analysis, the historical development and downfall of influential social media platforms is traced and a discussion of how media evolution theories applied along the way are provided. Results indicate early social media platforms competed with each other directly and marketed to the general population, largely supporting the functional equivalence theory of media evolution. Around the turn of the century, however, social networks experienced a theoretical shift. Sites competed less with each other and more for audience time and attention. Simultaneously, platforms started targeting niche populations – a change that may support the future of social media as an industry supporting the complementary and niche theories of media evolution.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been heralded as a democratizing force bringing higher education to the world’s neediest students. But do MOOCs effectively confront the well-documented challenges of online education for underprivileged students? This textual analysis examines MOOC offerings in the humanities and finds that courses are designed for relatively well-prepared students, not underprivileged students.
A content analysis was conducted to determine the news values in stories of five websites dedicated to publishing positive news. News values in stories from a traditional news site – the New York Times Online – were also measured to provide a baseline comparison. Results indicated that a majority of stories from the “good” news sites were entertaining and emotional, whereas a majority of the New York Times stories involved authority figures and conflict. These findings suggest the content producers of good news websites emphasize different news values than content producers of a traditional news site.