Reporting Beyond the Problem

From Civic Journalism to Solutions Journalism

by Karen McIntyre Hopkinson (Volume editor) Nicole Smith Dahmen (Volume editor)
©2021 Textbook XVIII, 186 Pages


Americans say that reading, watching, or listening to the news is a leading cause of stress. Of course journalists, as watchdogs and public informants, must disseminate information that is inherently negative, but experts argue that the news media’s emphasis on the problem has had a negative effect on the public, the press itself, and democracy. At the same time, the past sixty years have seen a rise of journalistic practices that purport to cover the news beyond the typical problem-based narrative. These genres of journalistic reporting are not positive news or fluff reporting: They are rigorous reporting philosophies and practices that share a common goal—reporting beyond the problem-based narrative, thereby exemplifying a commitment to the social responsibility theory of the press, which asserts that journalists have a duty to consider society’s best interests. However, there is little academic or professional understanding of these journalistic approaches. As such, this book provides an in-depth examination of socially-responsible news reporting practices, such as constructive journalism, solutions journalism, and peace journalism. Each chapter focuses on one reporting form, defining it and detailing its evolution and status among scholars and practitioners, as well as discussing its known effects and future direction. This edited volume is the first academic book published on these forms of reporting in the United States. It provides a comprehensive resource that explores the theoretical underpinnings of these journalistic genres that grounds these approaches and allows for a coherent line of research to follow as these approaches evolve.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • 1. Introduction: The Case for Productive and Socially Responsible Reporting
  • 2. Civic Journalism: Current Journalism Innovations Can Trace Their Ancestry to Civic Journalism
  • 3. Constructive Journalism: Portraying the World Accurately through Positive Psychology Reporting
  • 4. Solutions Journalism: Reporting on the Response Is Just as Newsworthy as Reporting on the Problem
  • 5. Explanatory Journalism: Bringing Greater Interpretation and Depth to Complex Issues
  • 6. Participatory Journalism: Looking on the Bright Side without Discounting the Dark Side
  • 7. Engaged Journalism: Shifting Power Dynamics to Increase Public Participation
  • 8. Peace Journalism: Reporting Nonviolent Resolutions to Conflict
  • 9. Slow Journalism: Synthesizing Digital Journalism and Slow News
  • 10. Moving Forward: Bringing Clarity to Productive and Socially Responsible Reporting
  • Contributors

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Table 1.1:Brief definition of each of the eight reporting approaches discussed in this book

Table 2.1:Two taxonomies of civic journalism practices

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Figure 3.1:Four types of social responsibility

Figure 5.1:Pulitzer Prize Winners and Finalists in Explanatory Reporting/Journalism by Topic, 1985 ‒Present

Figure 5.2:Vox News Coverage by Theme in 2018

Figure 5.3:Vox News Coverage by Theme in 2018

Figure 7.1:Entry points for community collaboration

Figure 7.2:Public-powered story cycle

Figure 7.3:The continuum of engagement

Figure 7.4:From Participatory to Collaborative Journalism

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Thank you sincerely to the smart and thoughtful chapter authors of this book. It is your time, dedication, and commitment to socially responsible journalism that made this book possible. Thank you also to AEJMC and Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., and specifically to Erika Hendrix, the Acquisitions Editor for Media, Communication, and Performing Arts at Peter Lang. We are grateful for the thorough feedback from the AEJMC Scholarsourcing Editorial Board: Radhika Parameswaran, Carolyn Kitch, Greg Pitts, Meghan Sanders, and Katie Place. And we are especially indebted to the series editor, Carolyn Bronstein, whose substantive feedback unquestionably improved the book.

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sir martyn lewis

In 1993 the BBC told me I would be fired as anchor of their main evening television news programme, the Nine O’Clock News, if I went ahead with a speech I had agreed to make at the University of Colorado.

It was my subject matter (which I had shown them in advance) they considered inappropriate: I was arguing at some length that the media in general—and television news in particular—should aim for a much better balance between negative and positive reporting. Instead of debating my argument, the BBC chose to interpret my speech as an attack from within, with the potential to generate unfavourable comment from the press.

What I was suggesting was that when we decided the editorial priorities for each day’s news, we should be more prepared than we had been in the past to consider the positive, serious news stories—not artificially created, but as they naturally occurred in the news agenda—on the same set of journalistic scales on which we weighed the negative stories. And the balancing factor on those scales—the main criteria for commissioning and including stories—should not be the degree of violence, death, conflict, failure, or disaster they encompassed but should be the extent to which those stories shaped or changed—or had the potential to shape or change—the country or the world in which we live.

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Those were criteria that would not only allow us to expose the world’s injustices and problems, but also to give proper weight to its achievements, successes, and triumphs.

A reasonable argument, it seemed to me—but not to the BBC management. Hence their attempt to silence me—which extended to forcing their main television current affairs programme, Newsnight, to cancel an interview which, just a few hours earlier, I had agreed to do.

I saw red! Here was a well-respected news organisation—a global bastion of democratic debate which quite properly probed, questioned, and commented on every other sector of society—and yet they were refusing to turn that same eagle eye on themselves, and engage in debate about news values and judgements on their own territory. I found the double standards breathtaking, and—after a discussion with my splendidly supportive wife—decided that I didn’t want to work for them any longer, so would go ahead and make the speech—and look for another job when I returned home.

To my amazement, when I eventually arrived back in London, I realised the full extent to which the rest of the UK national media had covered my speech, as a result of which (as the Chairman of the BBC told me) they had been inundated with support for my arguments. What’s more, my newscasting job was safe, and I went on to further debate the issue in countries around the world.

How refreshing then to see, almost a quarter of a century later, BBC starting to embrace what is now called constructive journalism, although they prefer to call it “solutions-focused journalism.” Whatever you call it, the clear message is that radical change is afoot in the media, driven powerfully over the last few years by pioneers such as David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg of The New York Times; Ulrik Haagerup, former executive director of news at Denmark’s main broadcaster; and the investigative journalist Cathrine Gyldensted. The emphasis is on reporting the considerable efforts of many people and organisations to put things right in the world—and to do this alongside the necessary reporting of what is going wrong. After all, in order to report on a potential solution, you have to outline the problem that provoked the need for that solution in the first place. Among more recent converts is The Times of London. Its editor John Witherow argued, “Constructive journalism is one way in which the trust in the mainstream press can be restored… It will improve the image of the media because readers will begin to feel we can help them improve their lives.”

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Public disengagement with conventional journalism—whether shaped by relentless media negativity, fake news, or the growth of virtually unfettered social media—clearly needs to be addressed. To work properly, democracy requires an accurately informed electorate, and this book charts a surprising number of ways in which journalists of goodwill are coming up with good ideas to try to achieve that—to report, as they put it, “beyond the problem.”

Carefully conceived and edited by Karen McIntyre and Nicole Dahmen, this is the first academic book published on these new forms of reporting in the United States, but it also highlights similar work in other parts of the world. It is a much-needed compilation of the arguments, ideas, and dangers that are shaping—and giving momentum to—the new approaches to journalism.

It deals comprehensively with issues such as the demands of 24-hour news, the so-called slow journalism that takes time to explain often complex stories, and how re-engaging with readers is making civic journalism a growing force in communities again.

It is rigorous in reporting the arguments of those who remain (unfairly, I believe) suspicious of this re-interpretation of journalistic purpose; indeed, it would be a matter of journalistic neglect if it did not! It is revelatory in, for example, explaining the difference between positive and negative “peace journalism,” and in the way it calls up echoes from the past, relating how some of journalism’s prominent pioneers—in laying down the purpose of their profession almost a century ago—talked about the need to be “constructive.”

So there is nothing new in the intent or in the name. What is new is the way in which the word “constructive” has become the prominent label for journalism that is adapting to the reporting challenges of a new global environment. In providing the background for that and charting its progress, this book is an invaluable guide not only to academics and a new generation of journalists, but also to those “old dogs” of our profession who are prepared (however reluctantly) to at least consider a new approach. It is a bible for all who want a journalism better serving a rapidly changing society by holding up a fairer mirror image to the world in which we live—a world in which successes, triumphs, and endeavours ride shotgun to, and splendidly and regularly outnumber, the disasters and tragedies.

I hope it will inform and inspire generations to come.

Sir Martyn Lewis



XVIII, 186
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XVIII, 186 pp., 7 b/w ill., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Karen McIntyre Hopkinson (Volume editor) Nicole Smith Dahmen (Volume editor)

Karen McIntyre Hopkinson is a Fulbright Scholar and an associate professor of multimedia journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. She received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Nicole Smith Dahmen is an associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. She received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


Title: Reporting Beyond the Problem