United Nations Director-General backs Constructive Voices

The UN Director-General has welcomed NCVO’s Constructive Voices project and the positive contribution of the charity sector. Speaking after a meeting of top journalists, editors and figures from the charity and social enterprise sectors convened by Constructive Voices, Michael Møller, a strong advocate of constructive journalism said:

I very much welcome Constructive Voices and that it is championing constructive, solutions-focused journalism at the very moment that this trend towards a more balanced kind of journalism is picking up steam. It’s clear from the comments at the meeting that the voluntary sector has a valuable role to play in contributing solutions to society. I hope the media take note of that.

Charities struggle for positive coverage

Chair of NCVO, Sir Martyn Lewis, told the meeting that 'national media mostly ignore charities unless they screw up.' Becca Bunce of the Small Charities Coalition agreed it was 'very hard to get your voice heard, even when you’re delivering brilliant solutions.'

Rob Wilson, director of Ashoka UK, the leading network of social entrepreneurs, said 'we have thousands of relevant solutions from social entrepreneurs.'

'How often do your stories get reported?' asked Sir Martyn Lewis.

'Almost never,' replied Rob.

Pathways to better coverage

Bob Tyrer, executive editor of the Sunday Times, advised charities to 'build personal relationships with reporters' to improve their chances of coverage. Vicky Browning, director of CharityComms agreed that charities need to 'get better at building relationships with journalists and offering strong, relevant stories about their impact, particularly featuring the voice of beneficiaries.' Caroline Diehl, chief executive of the Media Trust, said it was 'important to skill up people' who’ve been changed by charity to help them communicate that effectively.

Clare Pelham, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, noted the 'salutary warning' from the media that 'constructive journalism doesn't mean that broadcasters will rush to embrace "NGO puff pieces"' and Tom Elkins, chief executive of PhotoVoice, highlighted his charity’s use of participatory photography to tackle challenges and bring about positive change.

Gordon Rayner, chief reporter for the Daily Telegraph said a lack of time and resources were a problem for the media in looking for solutions angles. 'Maybe we do too many stories,' he told the other guests. 'It's a discussion we often have in the newsroom: should we cover fewer stories but devote more time and resources to each one? We're always thinking about how best we can serve our readers.'

Another solution is for journalists to sign up to Constructive Voices. NCVO’s media coordinator, Giselle Green, explained how Constructive Voices could help them find positive case studies to give a 'constructive twist' to their reports if they were looking for solutions angles.

Changing newsroom culture

Some of the media representatives admitted it would be hard to change the negative mind-set of journalists, particularly as Charlie Wilson, the former editor of the Times and Independent, pointed out, 'our most successful daily paper is the Daily Mail that tells us every day that we are all going to hell in a handcart.' But he said the key to changing the negative mind-set was training young journalists. This is precisely what Sean Dagan Wood, editor of the online and quarterly published magazine Positive News, explained he was doing through his Constructive Journalism project which has trained hundreds of journalism students , as well as newsrooms and freelancers.

Michael Møller, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, said journalists shouldn’t just react to what their readers wanted: 'you need to educate them, make them better informed'. He said this was now more important than ever: 'With 7.3bn cell phones now on the planet, everyone has the opportunity to express themselves', but the 'cacophony of voices are often ill informed and speak from a narrow viewpoint.' He said 'the media has an incredibly important role to play in educating and informing people, to help ensure they know what they’re talking about.'

BBC World Service group head of special projects Emily Kasriel explained she is currently leading an initiative to introduce BBC News staff to constructive – or solutions-focused journalism as they’re calling it. She said that it wasn’t relevant for all stories and is tough to do, 'but it’s important to also focus on what’s working.'

Growing momentum

Louise Ridley, assistant news editor of the Huffington Post UK said their own research showed 'positive news is shared much more than negative news' and that a lot of their most successful stories are about 'inspiring individuals coming up with solutions.' James Randerson, the Guardian’s assistant national news editor, said hundreds of thousands of readers told the paper they wanted to hear about 'the projects around the world that are working' when asked 'what next?' in the paper’s coverage of climate change. 'They were asking for a more constructive approach and we changed editorial course to provide that in our reporting.'

Sir Martyn Lewis said there was now 'a momentum growing for constructive journalism unthinkable a few years ago' and explained there was also a good business case for news organisations to adopt a more constructive approach: 'Evidence shows audiences, especially young people, prefer stories with solutions, stick with outlets providing them and share those more on social media.'

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