Jodie Jackson on why mainstream media needs to be disrupted

Our Impossible Minds series profiles the individuals who are building new possibilities for the future across technology, design and culture.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed and powerless after watching the news? The longterm effects of the negativity of our media is something author, researcher and campaigner Jodie Jackson is all too familiar with. A research associate for the Constructive Journalism Project, Jackson holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology through which she has investigated the psychological impact of the news.

Now Jackson is campaigning to radically change our media diets, a topic area which we at Impossible tackled through our Wikitribune collaboration last year. As she discovered evidence of the beneficial effects of solutions-focused media on our wellbeing, she has set out to challenge the news system.

Right: Positive News publication

Why does our current dominant media system need to be challenged?

We need to challenge the current mainstream media because of the overwhelming negativity bias in the news that is causing us harm psychologically and socially. Decades of research shows “prolonged exposure to bad news over long periods can have detrimental effects on moods, attitudes, perceptions and emotional health” (Haskins, 1981). The excessive negativity has been shown to create an inaccurate assessment of risk; making people believe the world is more dangerous than it actually is, it has been shown to lead to lower mood levels, cause anxiety, lead to a feeling of helplessness, increase feelings of contempt and hostility towards others and cause us to become less sensitive to information, caring less about the world and the people around us. It is no wonder I wanted, and so many others want, to switch off.

I must stress that it is the excess of negativity, and I use the term ‘excess’; it is not the presence of problem’s focused news, it is the avalanche of it that is creating harm. We can reduce this harm by having better balance in the news by including solutions, achievements, progress and peace-building into the narrative to help the reader feel inspired and energized.

By becoming aware of ways in which individuals and communities flourish, we create hope and possibility, which are important psychological resources required to address these problems head on.
Positive News publication, The Upside illustration by Blok Magnaye for The Guardian

How is rapid digitalisation effecting our evolving relationship with the news?

Digitalisation has increased the speed at which the news is produced. What was once only available in a daily print is now available on 24 hour news cycles, social media platforms and internet newspapers, with content being churned out by the minute. This speed and availability has given birth to pseudo important news, inflated headlines and a confusion between a real threat that deserves our full attention and understanding and a good headline produced to get a reaction and increase ratings. We are in a media environment where we favour quantity as much as, if not more than, quality and this has created a situation where we are oversupplied and under informed.

What is the objective behind solutions-focused news?

The objective behind solutions-focused news is the same objective behind any news; “to empower the informed”. Solutions journalism is defined as “rigorous journalism that reports critically on tangible progress being made in order for us to understand how issues are being dealt with”. Note the words in this sentence: rigorous, critical, tangible, understanding. This has all of the characteristics of serious and well-respected journalism. It is not simply uplifting and entertaining “fluff”, as it is often painted out to be, but instead representing real news, with real implications for the world in which we live.

It is important to stress that solutions-focused news does not require us to ignore negative news; in fact the opposite. For a solution to exist, there must be a problem to begin with. They are two halves of the same story.

We must abandon the previous rhetoric of solutions vs. problems and acknowledge the complex and interdependent relationship between them, recognising them to co-exist rather than compete.

Solutions news cannot wait to be reported on in the absence of problems because if you are waiting for the world to be rid of problems before you start looking at what is good, you are never going to see it. We need to notice the world’s achievements alongside its failings in order to report on and understand the world more accurately.

Who have you collaborated with during this project?

I have had the pleasure of working alongside many incredible news networks over the years that are pioneering this kind of reporting as well as learning from others that I have not been directly involved with. These include organisations like Solutions Journalism Network, De Correspondent, BBC World Hacks, Guardian Upside, Positive News. I have learnt from inspiring people like Danielle Batist, Michelle Geilan, Hans & Ola Rolsing, Steven Pinker and David Bornstein.

Did you come across any challenges?

Yes, many. The biggest challenge facing solutions news is not that people disagree with it and dismiss it; it is that they misunderstand it and dismiss it. Unfortunately, solutions news is a term that is commonly misunderstood and has gained an inaccurate reputation over the years. I have spoken about solutions journalism at many news functions and I am no longer amazed — sadly — at how many journalists themselves misunderstand the term. Or worst, dismiss it with comments like, “You mean like cats being saved from trees?” I’m sure I’ve developed a few wrinkles from the numerous fake smiles I have forced in response to this sort of unimaginative and clichéd derisions!

Finally, what do you want to see for the future positive, solution based media, what impact do you want to have?

I would like to see solutions news become a mainstream component of classic news reporting rather than a niche area within it. I would like to see the media industry report on strength as it does on weakness, on successes as it does on failures, on human excellence as it does on human corruption and scandal, on solutions as it does on problems, and on progress as it does on recession.

I agree with all of those who wish to remain informed on world events. I like to consider myself one of them. But when we think about the way in which we see the world, we must ask, what stories are being reported on? What stories are we not hearing about? How are we being led to perceive the world? This last question is of paramount importance because perception is everything.

You cannot see what you have not been shown. You cannot hear what you have not been told. You cannot understand what has not been explained, and you cannot know what is happening in parts of the world that have been left off the news agenda.

Jodie Jackson has successfully crowdfunded her new book, ‘You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World’ available on Unbound. To learn about Impossible’s work to challenge current media production read our the story about ‘How we built Wikitribune in 72 hours’.