Petra Kovačević: Constructive journalism is a way to fight against sensationalism and copy paste journalism

The conference Solutions and Innovations in Media organized by Mediacentar Sarajevo and citizens association Why not (Zasto ne) and supported by the embassies of the Netherlands in the Western Balkans region gathered a number of media and communication experts among which is Petra Kovačević, a freelance broadcast journalist and producer based in Zagreb, Croatia. Besides being a journalist, she’s a full-time teaching and research assistant at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Political Science, Department of Journalism and Media Production and also a mobile journalism trainer and a constructive/solutions journalism trainer.

Author: Kristina Gadže / Photo: Vanja Čerimagić

Where can we find constructive journalism, what do research studies show, why it isn’t popular in the media sphere?

The first time I encountered constructive journalism was almost seven years ago in Denmark, but when it comes to the region, I wouldn’t say that it’s something that still has taken off. It’s an idea that most of the journalists have heard of, but it’s not something that they have tried to practice. I conducted research of the potential of constructive journalism in Croatia and I talked to more than 20, mostly  television journalists and what I found out is that they were really interested in the concept because as all other countries in the region, journalists in Croatia have very active attitude towards journalism, and they think that journalism is something that they should use to help people in their communities. What needs to change is the mindset of journalists working on a story. Usually, in newsrooms, they focus on problems immensely, and the idea of constructive journalism is to see the other side and that includes reporting on things in society that work. That’s the point of constructive journalism, to show there’s progress, there’s hope, future, and that there are people who are making the world better.

Do you think that in the public media, or the private ones, there’s enough space for constructive journalism?

If you want to practice constructive journalism you need to have a budget and that’s something that is a reality for all journalists who want to build something new in their newsroom and change the way that people think. It takes a lot of work, a lot of workshops, a lot of practice, and it takes a lot of pilot projects. I think that the biggest potential of constructive journalism is in the non profit media and public broadcasters because they have the support and they have the funding and freedom, at least some of them in Croatia. I think time is the biggest obstacle in each newsroom and it’s the budget but I think there is potential for constructive journalism, however it takes small and consistent steps. The people who have the biggest role to bring constructive journalism in the newsroom are the editors. If the editors change news and accept constructive journalism as a new concept, then everything else changes and it’s easy for the newsroom to adapt.

Which challenges in the media sphere don’t allow the media to start practicing this type of journalism?

One of the biggest points in constructive journalism is that you need to give a context about what is happening and explain to the people what this means for them and what it means for their lives. In many countries politicians don’t want for people to understand better, they don’t want to see who’s guilty of what, it’s easier like that for the structures of power, especially in the countries in our region. The focus is always on conflict and if you want to take a step further, either you don’t have time for it or you don’t have the support because it’s not someone’s interest for people and the audience to understand. 

Is constructive journalism one of the solutions for sensationalism and copy paste journalism?

The point of constructive journalism is to show that the world is not as bad as the media portrays it. The proponents for constructive journalism is that the media portray the world the worst and that really is true. When we talk about negativity, we are also very tied to sensationalism and sensationalist reporting. I think that constructive journalism is a way to do news in a different way and not just focus on what’s wrong, on clickbait, headlines and stuff like that. So, it is a way to make journalism better.

Why is constructive journalism important, especially in post conflict societies?

Constructive journalism is essential for post conflict societies because it brings the element of a dialogue and of innovation in the relationship between the audience and the journalists. It is a way for journalists to get to know who are they reporting for but it is also a way for the audience to understand who are these journalists, who are those people that are trying to show them what the world is like and when you have dialogue between those two parties, when it becomes a space of co creation, something new emerges and that is very good way to smoothen the edges in terms of conflict and for other people to understand better, especially if they are in conflict nations and societies, that’s a way to understand the other one and their point of view.