Relentless negativity is undermining the media's credibility, editors told

Cheer up. That’s the message from world-renowned editor Ulrik Haagerup, who says the persistent negativity bias in Australian media is costing them trust and audiences.

Haagerup, who is the Danish founder of the ‘constructive journalism’ movement, addressed a collection of senior Australian editors and others at a Judith Neilson Institute event on Tuesday.

Ulrik Haagerup addresses the Judith Nielsen Insitute (Photo: JNI)

A former newspaper editor and TV news executive in his home country, he was quick to say that constructive journalism is not about the “nice and cute”, nor is it soft news that ignores society’s problems.

“Constructive journalism is calm in tone, being less focused on scandals, conflicts and outrage. It reports on important societal issues, setting them in the bigger picture and in their relevant context,” the Institute’s website reads.

A Constructive Journalism summary from the institute's website

Last year, the global Reuters Institute report found that Australians were the lightest news consumers out of 38 countries surveyed, and that trust in the country’s news media was shrinking at the same time as news avoidance was growing.

Haagerup said the relentless negativity embedded in journalistic culture globally was making audiences anxious and ultimately discouraged them from engaging with news.

That’s what motivated him to establish the Constructive Institute three years ago to encourage and train journalists to take a different approach.

It teaches the use of a calmer tone on negative stories, while also devoting resources to the often positive responses to social ills.

Data from Streem, presented on the day, showed how reporting on domestic violence policy, research, funding or programs over three months received just 5 per cent as much media attention as the Camp Hill murders of Hannah Clarke and her children did in one week.

Political stalemate

Haagerup said while journalists were frustrated with the evasiveness and ‘spin’ of politicians or big companies, the practice had developed as a response to the combative style of questioning and coverage.

He quoted famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein as saying, “Journalism is the best obtainable version of the truth”.

“The aim of constructive journalism is to provide its audiences with the best obtainable version of the truth, whether positive or negative,” Haagerup said.

- Conal Hanna

An introduction to Constructive Journalism can be found here:

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