A new project called Constructive Voices is being launched by NCVO to ensure the positive impact of charities is publicly heard and harnessed for the benefit of society.
Charities have such a huge range of positive stories to tell and practical solutions to offer on so many of the big issues we face today, but too often they’re taking place under the radar.
Constructive Voices will link up journalists and charities and equip both to approach news in a more constructive way, directing journalists to charities which are having a positive impact in whichever news areas they’re covering.
Constructive Voices will also act as hub for charities’ stories, spot media opportunities and enable a quicker and more effective response by charities which should improve their chances of media coverage. There will be a new dedicated Twitter account which will be helpful in enabling charities to piggy back on breaking news stories.
Championing constructive news
Constructive Voices will also be championing constructive journalism. Constructive journalism is a more solutions-focused approach to news which gives audiences a more comprehensive look at issues, analysing potential solutions alongside problems. It’s not about fluffy, feel-good stories or PR puffs, but rigorous reporting of positive responses to pressing problems.
As David Bornstein, the founder of the US Solutions Journalism Network says, ‘solutions remain an under-represented part of the news’. The press shouldn’t just be focusing on ‘people doing terrible things that are hidden from view’ but also on ‘people doing remarkable things that are hidden from view’.
Good news for news organisations
Evidence shows that the public are being turned off by negative news as it leaves us feeling anxious, passive and helpless. Even though we may be biologically programmed to pay attention to alarming information, that doesn’t mean we don’t want alternatives.
In fact it’s been shown that we prefer a more rounded picture that highlights solutions, as well as problems, with young people particularly keen on this. We are also more likely to stick with news outlets that provide this type of coverage and to share these types of stories on social media. With online traffic increasingly being driven by social media shares, those are really powerful incentives for news editors to embrace constructive journalism.
Good news for charities
Constructive journalism dovetails neatly with the voluntary sector, as by encouraging journalists to incorporate a constructive twist in their coverage, this will naturally draw on the varied solutions being generated by charities.
But it’s also helpful for charities in another way as constructive news has been shown to make people significantly more likely to take positive action or donate to charity.
Constructive journalism is an approach which is gaining prominence in the US and around Europe, particularly in Denmark and is already being modelled in this country by the publication Positive News and by the Huffington Post, whose founder Arianna Huffington is a leading proponent.
Look out for the upcoming BBC World Service programme, My Perfect Country, which is a good example of this solutions-based journalism in action.
Constructive Voices will ensure that charities are in a position to benefit from this burgeoning constructive news movement and will be at the forefront of encouraging constructive change.
Constructive Voices will be a collaborative project. We have already agreed to work with CharityComms to cross-promote and enhance our work and their Ask Charity service as both of us have the same aim of ensuring that the positive work of charities reaches more journalists.
We’ll also be collaborating with the Constructive Journalism Project, an initiative co-founded by Positive News’ editor-in-chief Sean Dagan Wood, which offers training to journalists and media organisations interested in adopting a more constructive approach to news.
And we’re in the process of forming an advisory body of figures from the media and small and large charities to guide us and offer expert input. It will be led by the chair of NCVO, Sir Martyn Lewis CBE, who has long advocated rebalancing the news agenda and has been the driving force behind this project.
As with any new venture, it’s important to be flexible and responsive to those you’re targeting and trying to help. So we intend to listen and evolve. We aim to be a magnet for all voices demonstrating and publicising positive social impact. This could also embrace social entrepreneurs, academics, think-tanks and not-for-profit organisations.
Constructive Voices is a self-contained project. It will work alongside the initiative currently being developed by the Understanding Charities Group in association with NCVO and Acevo to improve the narrative surrounding the voluntary sector, but it won’t be involved in rebutting specific negative news stories about the charity sector.
Constructive Voices will try to achieve many goals: highlighting and fostering civil society engagement; satisfying and stimulating news audiences; and giving a voice to valuable, positive solutions that can contribute to public debate and bring about social improvement.
It was Bas Mesters, the constructive journalism pioneer from the Netherlands, who said:
In journalism we have to add a sixth element to the five known W’s: Who, What, Where, Why and When. It is: ‘What now?”.
Well it is charities that can help answer the ‘what now?’ question and it is Constructive Voices that can help demonstrate that charities matter.