10 Mar 2020

How journalists can rebuild their audiences' trust

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Australian journalists should focus less on negative stories if they want to win back the trust of their audiences, said Ulrik Haagerup, the founder and CEO of the Denmark-based Constructive Institute.

Mr Haagerup was the keynote speaker at Constructing Tomorrow's News, an event in Sydney hosted by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

He said the goal of journalism was "to find the best obtainable version of the truth", but the industry had become too focused on negativity.

"A good story is a bad story," Mr Haagerup said.

"Journalists are being asked to find the conflict before they find the angle."

He said the preoccupation with stories built around "drama, conflict, crooks and victims" has led to a meltdown in the public's trust in journalists, and a subsequent lack of engagement with news media.

"It has becoming socially acceptable to say, 'I don't care anymore,'" he said.

The two groups of people with the highest levels of disengagement are young people and women.

Ulrik Haagerup

Image: Ulrik Haagerup says journalists should think about solutions, not just problems.

Better news, not more of it

Mr Haagerup said the solution is not to just do more journalism.

"People don't need more news, they need better news," he said.

He advocates for a constructive approach to journalism, which balances exposing problems with positive reporting on progress and opportunities.

“We’re not negative, we’re journalists.”

Mr Haagerup also took a positive outlook to the recent news of AAP's closure.

“There is life after the fire. That goes for the AAP too."

Some in Australia are already seeing the benefits of the constructive journalism approach.

AAP Deputy Editor Jo Williamson said: "Constructive Journalism will add great value to our newsrooms in Australia, but it will take commitment”

Find out more about Constructive Institute.

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Images: Peter Morris