This research article explores solutions journalism (also known as constructive journalism) which is a global response to the negativity bias found in the mainstream media today. The article demonstrates that the solutions narrative goes beyond journalism, and can be used as a tool by anyone to improve health and happiness (wellness).
This bias in the media perpetuates a mainstream narrative which scientific research clearly shows has an incredibly detrimental effect on our personal and global wellness.
The Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) is perhaps the most influential solutions journalism organisation in the USA, connecting people with “what’s missing in today’s news: how people are responding to problems.”
The SJN carries out research, builds links with current solutions-focused media outlets, offers free training for any aspiring journalists, curates stories, and connects the public to these stories via their SolutionsU platform.
In Europe, solutions journalism is more commonly known as constructive journalism, and after 10 years as executive director of news at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR), Ulrik Haagerup launched the Constructive Institute in 2017, an “independent center at the heart of the constructive journalism movement.”
Since 1997, The Good News Network has provided “an antidote to the barrage of negativity experienced in the mainstream media”, continuing “that good news itself is not in short supply; the broadcasting of it is.”
At the fore of the solutions-focused academic movement, the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at UC Berkley study “the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being to teach skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society”, and publish the Greater Good Magazine which turns scientific research into “science-based insights for a meaningful life.”
The global surge in solutions journalism is supported by university academics and journalists worldwide and is influencing the mainstream. Further examples include Positive News, yes! Magazine, Permaculture Magazine, Colibris Magazine, Ouishare Magazine, Transition Network, Pachamama Alliance, Low Impact, Drawdown, Solution Library, SolutionsU, Global Regeneration, and de Correspondent.
These organisations seek to rebalance reality, providing readers with critical reporting on society’s problems and stories that explain how individuals, institutions, and communities are solving these problems.
The question is: does this narrative actually enable us to be able to explore today’s many controversial topics without being overcome by negativity, and could it even be more beneficial for our health and well-being than that?
Dr. Karen McIntyre, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University explains in a 2018 Journalism Practice article that constructive/solutions journalism “involves applying positive psychology techniques to the news process in an effort to strengthen the field and facilitate productive news stories.”
A 2017 study comparing responses of 242 participants, ranging from 19 to 63 years old, to a shock media news article and solutions-focused news article on sex trafficking found solution-focused news stories leave readers feeling more positive.
In another 2017 study, college students read one of three versions of an article concerning on-campus graffiti or rising tuition costs. The study found students who read a story with an effective solution felt more positive and had more favorable attitudes towards the news article and solutions to the problem.
The Center for Media Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin published a 2014 study in which a sample of 755 US adults was presented with a news article reporting on traumatic experiences in American schools, homelessness or a lack of clothing among poor people.
Results showed that as well as feeling more optimistic, participants who read a solutions-focused article felt more informed, had a greater desire to share what they had read, to read more about the issue, and to seek out more articles by news organisations covering stories in a solutions-focused manner.
In a 2016 study, a sample of 834 US adults saw one of two online news articles, both reporting on the struggles of the working poor. The experiment showed that adults who read the solutions-focused article spent more time reading the article, left the website more frequently to learn more, and also demonstrated greater optimism and self-efficacy (belief in one’s own ability).
A 2005 study that analysed medical data over a 2-year period from 1041 patient records from a multi-specialty medical practice concluded that higher levels of hope and curiosity decreased likelihood of developing a disease, and a 2001 study found that positive emotion now increases longevity in later life.
Barbara Fredrickson, award-winning social psychologist and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at The University of Carolina at Chapel Hill published an article in 2011 that posits that positive emotions may even “undo the aftereffects of negative emotions.”
It seems they broaden an individual’s thought–action repertoire, which in turn has the effect of building that individual’s physical, intellectual and social resources, including broadening one’s scope of cognition, attention and action; thus increasing one’s ability to not only maintain but to keep increasing positivity in all areas of life.
A 2016 study that surveyed 1318 newspaper journalists in the USA found that younger journalists and female journalists are especially interested in “contextual reporting”, focusing on constructive journalism, solutions journalism, and restorative narrative, or “stories that go beyond the immediacy of the news and contribute to societal well-being.”
Extensive research in neuroplasticity over the last few decades shows that our brain formation is not fixed but rather plastic (changeable), and recent research shows that repeated positive environmental and emotional stimulation enhances cognitive function while “simultaneously enhancing vigorous longevity, health, happiness, and wellness.”
The science is clear. Focusing on solutions enhances our mood, outlook, self-efficacy (belief in one’s own ability), and our curiosity and desire to explore and share and learn more about the solutions-focused narrative, which further increases our positive emotions, broadening cognition, attention, action, and longevity in later life.
This is neuroplasticity. Since the mainstream narrative educates us to view the world through negativity bias, we unwittingly see reality through the lens of problems, conflict, prejudicial categorisation of others and fear.
The constructive narrative literally re-educates our brains to view the world through the lens of solutions, cooperation, acceptance of others and love – a different reality and new positive way of thinking about the world which anyone can choose to strengthen.
Thus, the remedy to the barrage of negativity presented in the mainstream media is to accept that it is just a chosen view of reality and not actual reality.
The solution that promotes wellness then is to stop reading and watching the mainstream media, and instead committing to not only reading, but also thinking about and viewing the world ourselves, through the lens of solutions instead.
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