Kristoffer Frøkjær has been editor and radio host for ten years at the Danish Broadcast Corporation. Furthermore, he has participated in creating the scientific website Videnskab.dk, lectured about science and media at the University of Copenhagen, and written several books in the field of popular science. Lately he has participated as editor and idea developer in a website Sciencereport.dk regarding the world of science, and, as part of the Constructive Institute, he has been examining how constructive journalism and research and facts, when it comes to the climate issue, can be brought together to facilitate better informed decision making among citizens.
The Constructive Institute was founded in 2017 by the Danish journalist Ulrik Haagerup who believed it was time to redress the negativity bias in the news. What is for you the importance of constructive journalism?
Kristoffer Frøkjær: I have no doubt that constructive journalism has a role to play in reducing news avoidance, heighten trust to media, and getting people to engage with the society. There are of course many other tools we as journalists can use to counteract these problems, but constructive journalism, I think, holds good promises for it.
We need to empower people to believe that they can actually do something about climate change, we need to avoid hopelessness, and we need to avoid news fatigue. That is why we need to put solutions in our journalism and consider nuances.
How much empathy is important in constructive journalism? How to report in an objective way, promoting democratic conversation, while still keeping anunderstanding for the mental state of others?
Kristoffer Frøkjær: While doing constructive journalism as a journalist, you do not need to be especially empathetic. But if done right, the result will be both as objective as possible, promote democratic conversation and less disturbing for the mental state of others. To do constructive journalism there needs to be a real and important problem, and you have to cover it critically – but remember to tell about the solutions to the problem and cover it in a nuanced way. That way people are left feeling empowered rather than hopeless.
How can a journalist promote a solution without being labeled as for example ’an activist’, as someone who is not objective and possibly protects the hidden interests of a company or politicians? What are the best ways to find that solution which can be promoted in an article? Seeing that the media have a problem with news avoidance and trust issues, people could of course question this solution. Should we think more like our audience, which can help us to reach them, and find a connection?
Kristoffer Frøkjær: One way not to be rated as an activist is to be transparent about where your knowledge comes from. If it’s from a scientific article, put a hyperlink to it. If it’s a report, direct me there with a hyperlink. To find solutions we as journalists have to dig and research – the internet is your friend. And if you are a journalist, tell me where the solution comes from, who made it, and if it worked well or not. This transparency will hopefully result in people trusting the news.
Regarding the audience: I think journalists have to try all the time to get to know their audience. One way of reporting about the climate we know works well with almost all audiences, is by telling local stories about real people doing everyday things.
When we compare climate change reporting and reporting on the pandemic, which one of those two topics is better for promoting and developing constructive journalism in newsrooms, and why?
Kristoffer Frøkjær: Actually, people from the constructive institute do workshops about how to develop constructive journalism in newsrooms in many media around the world (e.g. The Times in London and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK in Oslo). In the short run Covid-19 might be easy for promoting constructive journalism in the newsroom, as the threat is easier to understand here and now for both editors and audiences. In the long-run climate reporting, if done with the tools from constructive journalism, will work well to change the culture in the newsroom, simply by tracking data from the audience. And once journalists get used to think about solutions and nuances, it will be possible to use the tools in stories with other topics than climate or Covid-19.
Do you think that people would more drawn to (science) news if we, the media, questioned scientific results more? During the pandemic, we could find so many theories, studies, results, what to do, and what not to do…people got afraid and confused, and of course, that is science, but do you think that we should question it more?
Kristoffer Frøkjær: I think it is always good to question the science behind results, otherwise, bad or weak science could easily get into the media. Asking questions like “in what scientific journal has it been published?”, “which scientists have done the research?”, help a lot. And be aware of how old the publication is. If told in a compelling way (e.g. focused on not too many details and scientific reservations), people will have the opportunity to understand, and I believe, that will not turn people away from news but heighten their trust.