STEP - Journalistic values to define the good story

Journalism needs a new frame. A new set of values for the definition of the excellent story.

Below is an argumentation on why new is needed and what an answer to the question of a new definition could be.

Through the last decades in the fight to claim clicks, constant financial cuts and the hunt for advertisers, journalism has distanced itself from the ones that it should be a part of and be there for - the readers, listeners, watchers - or just the citizens. Those that live in our democracy. 27 percent of Danish citizens use the newspaper when they are informing themselves on society today. That's a 49 per cent decrease since 2013 according to Reuters Institute for Journalism's yearly Digital News Report. Every democratic society thrives on and with a free press. Still more places in the western democratic world are under pressure today in that regard. In the USA, it is reported that there is a fast increase in the number of communities without independent journalistic coverage. But it is not only there these so-called news deserts are growing, but also in Europe, the problem is growing fast. Even though it isn't affecting Denmark that much, nothing is showing that the direction is going to fix itself. Therefore, it is now especially crucial that the journalism we produce in the free and independent press shows the way and lives up to the democratic needs of a fourth branch of the government. Since 1883 we have educated and sought-after journalism that points towards problems rather than solutions. P.J. Reuters, the man, known as the founder of Reuters News Agency, sent a definition on the excellent story to his employees back in 1883.

He asked his reporters to report back to him if they experienced fire, explosions, floods, etc. - stories that focused on the thing that doesn't work. On all the negatives. In 1964 two Norwegian researchers called Galtung and Ruge published the results off a study that looked closely on what was needed before an event became a journalistic story. It was clear that the most dominant criteria that had to be present, if a story had to be published in the media were negativity - thus, "a negative story is a good story."

The introduction to the article itself emphasizes that it is going to discuss "the problem of factors influencing the flow of news", but instead as to regard the article as the warning it was meant to be it has instead over many years been used as a directory for what you should do if you wanted to reach the front page or just wanted to reach the media and news editor's milestone. The conclusion on Galtung and Ruge's research has since boiled down to five values that we teach in most of the western journalistic educations: Actuality, Importance, Identification, Sensation, and Conflict - Five values, that encourages in journalism, that is extreme, fast, simplistic and conflictive. Not even more than five years ago, I taught after this very same set of values at the journalistic education at SDU. Thankfully, much has happened in the last few years, and at many places, the values receive counteraction, for example, at SDU where the Head of Studies and Professor Peter Bro researches on this topic. And the same goes for many other places. But it doesn't change the fact that the five values still provide the framework for a lot of the journalism that gets published today. Only a select few have taken the two researchers warnings seriously. Already then, when they released their results, they warned against continuing to prioritize conflict and sensation as the guiding values. They predicted that journalism would focus excessively on single issues and lose the perspective, highlight celebrities and overlook ordinary people as well as we would get an overly negative impression of the developments in the world if we continued down that path. Unfortunately, it went exactly as the two researchers predicted. We focus on conflicts, single issues, and celebrities, to such a degree that journalism is in danger of losing its role as the fourth branch of the government and its imprint as the world's most important subject. The trust in the media is declining all over the world and the experience that journalism is of such high relevance that it's worth money is under pressure. If you ask people that don't follow news media and journalism anymore why they turned their backs, the predominant answer is that it is because it affects their mood negatively.

But if we choose to rethink the role of journalism - stopping the negative bias and the overly framed stories in the hunt for quick readers, then I do not doubt that we can recapture journalism where it belongs.

STEP- a new definition of the good journalistic story

If we instead focus on what impacts the most and hardest, looking at what good comes out of the reporting when we cover a story, then journalism can become essential for people living the best possible lives. I think that we should develop journalism that starts and ends in the Room of Solutions where we ask ourselves and each other what good it does - what the point of journalism is. Constructive journalism is another suggestion on how to define a good story. I think that instead of the current values we should look at how we can create and support communities, inspire citizens in participating actively in society, to bring the nuances when we look at a problem so that it isn't portrayed sensationally in black and white and we with our journalism create trust. Trust to the media and to the institutions of our society and especially building trust between people that live different lives. People that don't understand each other's choices. I call this new set of values STEP, and it comes from: SOLUTIONS, TRUST, ENGAGEMENT and PERSPECTIVE.

They are values that focus on the meaning of journalism and media rather than access to the press. If we with journalism can support communities, inspire, show nuances and create trust in society, I assert that we can recapture the title as the fourth branch of the government. A role both society as an institution, media, journalism, and citizens, in my opinion, will gain massively from.

Constructive journalism as one of the answers

In my opinion, there isn't a simple answer as to which direction the future of journalism should develop towards. Still, I do not doubt that if we want to experience progress as an industry, both in regards to effectiveness and economy, then it is crucial that we are perceived as relevant and as co-players in a still more complex world. And we don't succeed in that if we take on the role as those that point fingers. There is a need for journalism that is at the forefront of the quest to give people democratic confidence. That means; giving people the feeling that they influence their own lives. That they can make a difference in the society, they are a part of. That it makes a difference when you take responsibility. I think we can help with that if we work with the STEP values. We don't leave people apathetic and in a bad mood which the Reuters-rapport that was described earlier in this article conveys is the single most important reason why people opt-out on journalism. If we succeed in creating journalism using the STEP-values, we leave people with a feeling of belonging to a community. Thus, people want to engage actively in said community. If we inspire them with examples of how other people have solved problems like those, they experience themselves, instead of a sense of apathy, it can create a feeling of "if they can, so can we". If we instead of only showing the extremes/sensations include the nuances, it creates a sentiment that everything isn't pointless but relevant. There are only a few people that live extreme lives, so the recognition in the sensational stories does not invite recognition. But the nuanced articles do so. And if we add the last value, trust, then we succeed in supporting what is described as the reason for not only the Danish prosperity but also why we are year after year voted as one of the happiest countries in the world. What researchers call "social trust" is the most critical reason behind the Danes' happiness. "Social trust" can be translated to "trust to those that we don't know". If we through journalism stop working with the "us and them"-model but instead choose to look at stories as "us", then we can show those things that we have in common despite the differences, thereby creating trust rather than anxiety for the things we don't know.

No - STEP isn’t just “positive journalism”

And just to be sure that STEP isn't perceived as overly happy-journalism, afraid of problems, comes the following underline: It doesn't mean that we are not critical and don't see the issues. But we're not content with that. And no, it's not propaganda-journalism either. The point of this type of journalism is not showing the right solutions to a current problem, but to show that there are solutions and that it is possible to do something if you want. Which solution, of course, is up to the individual to decide. I think that one can define constructive journalism from the following sentence: Constructive journalism is journalism that critically and perceptively inspires possible solutions to current problems. In constructive journalism, we explain what has happened. We investigate how it happened and who is responsible. And then we add the next element, the question of what to do about it. How others have previously gone through similar situations. And we facilitate solution-oriented conversations between people affected by the situation.