Talk about “constructive journalism” is currently gaining a great deal of attention in the newsrooms of newspapers, online news sites and broadcasters, as well as in academic discussions concerning the future of journalism and media. Here “constructive” means that the newsrooms should develop their coverage to focus not only on social problems, but also on possible solutions and the spaces for action. This would, it is argued, lead to positive social impact (and to committed readership) through better audience engagement (Haagerup 2014, Gyldensted 2015).
This discourse seems especially strong in the European context, but there are also similar ideas in the U.S., for example under the title of “solutions journalism” (Dryer 2015). Furthermore, the term “constructive journalism” has acquired various meanings on a global scale: for example, it has been used to explain the expansion of Chinese media in Africa (Zhang 2014). Moreover, the current discourse around “constructivity” resonates with earlier discussions about “public/civic journalism” (Rosen 1999) or “peace journalism” (Galtung 2002) from the 1990s onwards. These approaches also emphasize the role of journalism in societal processes and its responsibility in supporting constructive social developments. These developments suggest a need to critically scrutinize and contextualize the current discourse about constructive journalism with previous movements in order to evaluate their potential implications for journalism practice and theory.
These efforts to reform journalism address broadly similar questions regarding the social role and responsiveness of journalism (Romano 2010; O’Donnell 2009), but they all stem from slightly different cultural, geographical and theoretical backgrounds. Some of these approaches are more theoretically oriented, albeit with different research fields in the background – e.g. public journalism draws from the public sphere and democracy theories (Ahva 2010; Haas 2007) while peace journalism derives from peace and conflict research (Galtung 2002). Respectively and at least so far, the call for constructive journalism has been rooted in practice, aimed at management and practical newsroom work, as well as journalism education (e.g. the Windesheim School of Journalism in the Netherlands has launched an institute and curriculum for constructive journalism).
Meanwhile, these suggestions that journalism should participate constructively in the development of society, and foreground solutions and positive developments, have stirred criticism for blunting the critical edge that is essential for the “fourth estate” role of the press. The key question keeps recurring: how can these mediating and facilitating functions of journalism coincide with the task of revealing social conflicts and keeping power in check? The response, in turn, has been to emphasize that constructive does not mean advocacy, and in fact the constructive approach can help journalists to do their work better (e.g. Kempf 2007). However, this debate has so far not been very thoroughly based on theory.
Therefore, there is a need within the field of journalism research to better understand, theorize and critically engage with these varied forms of journalism and their relations to each other. This discussion is needed to address if these or other attempts to “reform” journalism (or to redefine its social role and functions) are to be taken seriously in the current political and economic context in Europe, the U.S. and beyond.
This special issue invites contributions that will address the theory, practice or pedagogy of the above mentioned or other relevant approaches to journalism. This will provide an opportunity to map the conceptual landscape of “constructive forms” in journalism, examine the discourse of constructivity in a historical continuum, to reflect actual constructive reporting styles and practices against this background, as well as address the role of journalism education and research in relation to this.
Abstracts responding to the call for papers should contain an outline of the main argument: how it relates to constructivity and the theoretical or empirical grounds of the main argument. Abstracts that address the underlying conceptual and theoretical understanding behind constructive forms of journalism are especially welcome.
Prospective submissions should consist of no more than a 350-word abstract and be emailed no later than 31st May, 2017 to the guest editors (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com). Selected authors will be invited to contribute by November 2017, a full 8 000 word paper including references, etc. that will be considered for publication subject to double blind peer-review.
Abstracts to guest editors: 31st May 2017
Full papers for peer review: 30th November 2017
Reviews to authors: in February
Revised full papers: 31st March 2018
Publication: August 2018
Ahva, Laura (2010). Making News with Citizens: Public Journalism and Professional Reflexivity in Finnish Newspapers. Tampere: Tampere University Press.
Dyer, John (2015). Is Solutions Journalism the Solution? Nieman Reports, Spring 2015.
Galtung, Johan (2002). Peace journalism: A Challenge. In Wilhelm Kempf and Heikki Luostarinen (eds) Journalism and the New World Order. Götebrog: Nordicom, 259–272.
Gyldensted, Cathrine (2015). From Mirrors to Movers: Five Elements of Positive Psychology in Constructive Journalism. Group Publishing.
Haagerup, Ulrik (2014). Constructive News. Hanoi: Innovatio.
Haas, Tanni (2007). The Pursuit of Public Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism. New York: Routledge.
Kempf, Wilhelm (2007). “Peace Journalism: a Tightrope Walk between Advocacy Journalism and Constructive Conflict Coverage”. Conflict & Communication Online, Vol. 6 No. 2 2007.
O'Donnell, Penny (2009). “Journalism, change and listening practices.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 23 (4): 503–517.
Romano, Angela (2010). American Public Journalism versus Other International Media Models. In Angela Romano (ed.) International Journalism and Democracy: Civic Engagement Models from Around the World. New York: Routledge, 16–34.
Rosen, Jay (1999). The Action of the Idea. Public Journalism in Built Form. In Theodore L. Glasser (ed.) The Idea of Public Journalism. New York: The Guilford Press, 21–48.
Zhang, Yanqiu (2014). Understand China’s Media in Africa from the perspective of Constructive Journalism. Paper presented at the international conference China and Africa Media, Communications and Public Diplomacy, Beijing, 10–11, September 2014.