"I think the idea of Constructive News is a way to make journalism more meaningful again. To make people trust us more. And that's the biggest threat right now. People don't trust us because they think we are too biased, they think we exaggerate things, that we tend to focus on their troubles, that we only do stories to generate clicks… they think journalism is just a product to be sold and… that's wrong." - Executive Director of DR News Ulrik Haagerup.
Ulrik Haagerup hosted the 11th Eurovision News Assembly at DR's Koncerthuset in Copenhagen on November, 28-29. Over 100 news directors, editors in chief and foreign editors from 40 Members in 28 countries explored the state of journalism, digital transformation and, in a “post-fact" age, the challenges public service media (PSM) faces in reaching and representing all audiences.
At the Assembly he explained how DR has managed to regain the trust of their audience by offering them empowering stories through Constructive News.
Haagerup has been advocating for a change since 2008. He realized that positive news stories were struggling to make bulletins filled with natural disasters and robberies etc
After researching the issue he came up with a new idea called “Constructive News”. A concept he defines as a “mind-set” rather than a way of doing things.
“Audiences perceive the world they live in as a dangerous place and the media has played a big role in creating that wrong perception,” according to Haagerup. He thinks the media have portrayed the world as a place where conflict is the norm, where the audience watches news bulletins expecting an uncomfortably truth behind every single story presented to them. “Journalism is not dishonest in the facts, but in the proportions”, he argues.
“The news media are now so full of stories on misery. Negativity controls news flow, and therefore also politics and public debate,” says Professor Hans Henrik Knoop, President of the European Network for Positive Psychology. “As a result apathy makes people not only to deselect the media as sources for news, but also to disengage in the public debate.”
Haagerup decided to test his new model of storytelling at DR's Newsroom and has been doing so long enough to say that it works for the audience.
In Denmark DR currently ranks 1st not only for the most watched media but also, more importantly, for being the most trusted. Today, 87% of the Danish population turn to DR to follow the news.
When talking about constructive news it is almost impossible not to use the word “positive”, which Haagerup hates. “Positive news is the North Korean version of reality," he keeps repeating every time someone brings that word up.
He might be right as he explains that the difference between positive and constructive news is that the latter doesn't ignore the conflict behind the story. Moreover, it dives into it with the aim to find the tools that would help the audience to discern the solution. "Constructive news is about possibilities and people, who do something that the rest of us might learn from," he believes.
Whether this trend will solidify only time will tell, but what it is true is that news organizations such as BBC or The Huffington Post now host a constructive news section among their traditional offer. It looks like the media is now beginning to acknowledge Haagerup's "mind-set", having understood that happy storie,s often ditched for that very same reason, could also be told in a non-condescending way.
"If the story of the world is happy and sad, why do we tend to tell just one?" Haagerup concludes.