Can civil society shape the future of UK media?

Over 22 years ago I put forward what became known as the “good news” argument, which was grossly distorted and attacked by some journalistic colleagues who should have known better.

I argued that editors and journalists should continue to allow the exposure of injustices and the tragedies, but also give proper weight to achievements, successes, and triumphs. I now accept – with some sadness – that in those days I was perhaps asking for too much too soon, and that challenging deeply entrenched journalistic attitudes and systems of judgement was unlikely to succeed.

An international movement

A relatively new idea – which I have yet to hear sensibly challenged – is called ‘solutions-based journalism’ or ‘constructive reporting’, and a number of initiatives have sprung up across the globe. In the US for example, following the success of his regular column ‘fixes’ in the New York Times, David Bornstein has launched the Solutions Journalism Network. With support from the Gates Foundation, they aim to increase the quality and volume of solutions-based journalism with online resources, training, journalism development, and community building programmes. In Denmark, media consultant Catherine Gyldensted is looking to set up a national centre for constructive journalism. Closer to home, Cardiff University recognised this growing trend in digital community journalism, opening the Centre for Community Journalism last year.

A social movement

There are a number of underlying reasons why this idea may be gaining more traction at this particular point in time: Eminent editors such as Richard Lambert (when he left the FT), Alan Rusbridger (The Guardian) or John Lloyd (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism) have all thoughtfully questioned elements of today’s journalism. We also know that many people are moving away from traditional news outlets towards web-based outlets such as the Huffington Post, Upworthy, and Buzzfeed, which often present a more balanced news agenda. Social media has changed the way that people consume news – instead of having a particular allegiance to one news source, they are more like to read a variety of sources signposted via social media. There is emerging evidence to suggest that people share more stories via social media if they have a more constructive slant to them. In addition, hyperlocal news sites such as the Kings Cross blog are becoming increasing popular as an expression of active citizenship, while the slow news movement is championing longer-form publications, creating more spaces for more considered comment and analysis.

A great career move

Over the last year, NCVO has done some thinking around what we can do to help facilitate the growth of ‘solutions-based journalism’ in the UK, and how we can ensure that charities and other voluntary organisations are better equipped to sell in stories about what they do, and better at recognising opportunities to piggyback on the news agenda.

We have spent time looking at what services are provided already by other organisations; areas where we feel there may be gaps, and where there may be potential synergies. In particular, this work will dovetail with the work we are doing as part of the Understanding Charities group.

We are in the process of recruiting a media network coordinator in order to explore this idea further. Learning from what our colleagues in the US have already done, we will set up a new network aimed at securing better media coverage for voluntary and community sector organisations in the mainstream media. The network will champion ‘solutions-based journalism’ which aims to produce stories that give the audience a more comprehensive look at an issue, analysing the problem but also understanding and exploring potential solutions.

If you would like to be involved or have thoughts you would like to share with NCVO, please email Chloe Stables.

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Sir Martyn Lewis CBE is the chairman of NCVO’s trustee board. His knowledge and experience in the voluntary sector spans 32 years.

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