Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Southampton Business School

Constructive Journalism: supporting positive, solutions-based news reporting

Business ethics research by Professor Denise Baden at Southampton Business School has found that positive solution-based news stories are more effective than catastrophic stories or cautionary tales at inspiring ethical and sustainable behaviour. Her findings have been taken up by leading news and media organisations, who have gone on to establish successful initiatives that have engaged millions of people in a more constructive, solutions-focused approach to journalism.

Context

Building exterior

Research challenge

In an initial study in 2013, Baden posited that pedagogical methods exposing students to businesses that operated in an ethical manner would encourage the students to follow their lead. Baden found that the opportunity to work with social entrepreneurs or ‘responsible’ business professionals provided students with inspirational role models and positive learning opportunities.

Baden explored positive role models further through a study involving 96 undergraduates in business ethics at Southampton Business School. Baden found that exposing students to positive role models elicited beliefs that business can be both ethical and successful, while stories of scandals had the opposite effect.

In a further study she exposed 259 undergraduate students to positive and negative versions of similar news stories. Negative stories included the war in Syria and coral reef destruction. Positive stories included peace talks with Iran and oceans becoming cleaner. She found that positive news gave rise to significantly higher motivation to take positive actions, such as adopting pro-environment practices. Conversely, the more anxious or pessimistic the stories made participants feel, the less motivated they were to act.

Baden subsequently interviewed news editors and journalists and found relatively little awareness of the consequences of the negative bias in the news. However, some did recognise that negative bias can create feelings of disengagement and powerlessness, and that a backlash against positive news as being ‘fluffy’ or propaganda had gone too far.

In a further study with Virginia Commonwealth University, 480 US participants were exposed to the same news story that had been manipulated to elicit positive, neutral or negative emotions. Findings revealed that catastrophe-framed stories reduced intentions to act to address issues. Solution-based stories resulted in greater intentions to take positive action and were still perceived as legitimate journalism.

Influencing news sector initiatives that seek to ‘combat apathy and inspire people’

UKRI logo

Having found that positive news can be a significantly more effective motivator in spurring people into action, Baden communicated her research outcomes in The Conversation in March 2015. It attracted the direct attention of journalists, leading ultimately to the adoption of more constructive journalism approaches by the Guardian and the BBC.

The Guardian confirms that Baden’s research was one of the reasons it launched a new project, Half Full, in 2016, which evolved into The Upside in 2018, which ‘comprises journalism that focuses on our capacity to act together to make positive change’.

The BBC’s head of special projects confirmed that Baden’s research helped inform her approach to launching the Solutions-Focused Journalism initiative in 2016 to ‘help colleagues think about how they might broaden their understanding of what news is to also include a focus on solutions’. An article on journalism.co.uk in 2019 quoted a senior BBC editor as saying that reaching larger numbers of younger people had ‘been made simpler by the clever combination of solutions journalism and social media feeds’.

Informing constructive journalism training at colleges in UK and internationally

Baden was awarded £10,000 from the University’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to work with the Constructive Journalism Project to deliver 23 workshops to around 800 students at journalism colleges and to media professionals in newsrooms in the UK, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the US in 2015-2016. Baden’s research findings were a key component of the workshops that were designed to help participants develop a more balanced approach to news reporting. The founder commented that the workshops had ‘been successful in raising the profile of constructive journalism over the past year and showing young journalists that there are other options outside of the existing culture of mainstream media’.

Baden’s research has also influenced training delivered by the Constructive Voices project run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The initiative ‘flags up solutions-based stories sourced primarily from charities and social enterprises – and works with journalists to ensure those stories are heard’. The project engaged 200 charities, social enterprises and community interest companies, and secured extensive coverage across multiple BBC channels.

Informing constructive journalism training at colleges in UK and internationally

Baden was awarded £10,000 from the University’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to work with the Constructive Journalism Project to deliver 23 workshops to around 800 students at journalism colleges and to media professionals in newsrooms in the UK, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the US in 2015-2016. Baden’s research findings were a key component of the workshops that were designed to help participants develop a more balanced approach to news reporting. The founder commented that the workshops had ‘been successful in raising the profile of constructive journalism over the past year and showing young journalists that there are other options outside of the existing culture of mainstream media’.

Baden’s research has also influenced training delivered by the Constructive Voices project run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The initiative ‘flags up solutions-based stories sourced primarily from charities and social enterprises – and works with journalists to ensure those stories are heard’. The project engaged 200 charities, social enterprises and community interest companies, and secured extensive coverage across multiple BBC channels.

Encouraging climate action through environmental storytelling

Baden’s research into ways to inspire pro-environmental behaviours through stories resulted in her launching the Green Stories writing competition in early 2018. It aims to engage the public in creating positive visions of a sustainable society via creative projects, including writing, film and stage plays. The Guardian’s The Upside and BBC’s Writers Room recommended the project to their readers.

Short stories from the first writing competition were published in an anthology, Resurrection Trust, with a foreword from Caroline Lucas MP, and with royalties put towards prizes for the competition in 2019/2020.

The research has also informed the Global Action Plan’s Flickers of the Future competition, which calls on young filmmakers to tell a different story – one where humans and planet thrive together.

Key Publications

List of all staff members in
Staff MemberPrimary Position
Denise BadenProfessor of Sustainable Business
    Share this case study Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
    Privacy Settings