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Constructive Journalism and TV Reporting on Refugees in Sweden and Belgium (2015-2017)

Sundin, Ebba, De Cock, Rozane, Mistiaen, Valériane

Conference paper (Refereegranskat)


The sustainability of journalism has been questioned from various directions during the last decade: individualized news instead of public interest, algorithm news, changes on the markets challenging the independence of news producers etc. In addition, Schofield Clark and Marchi (2017) show that young people are by-passing traditional news in the way they share news with each other. Audiences as minority groups and youngsters often feel misrepresented by mainstream news media, turn to alternative sources or lose their interest in news. 

Four years after the first dissertation on constructive journalism (McIntyre, 2015), we propose a paper aiming to discuss how constructive journalism (CJ) approaches can be operationalized in tv news studies and how they appear in daily news reporting on serious and often negatively framed topics. Precisely the focus of CJ (Gyldensted, 2011; McIntyre, 2015) on possible solutions and alternatives for the problems touched upon in the news and progress or lessons learned for the future could function as clear answers to the complaints of news avoidance. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first international comparative study focusing on tv news reporting on refugees and elements of CJ. 

We collected and quantitatively analyzed a sample of 1682 tv news items during eleven key moment periods between 2015-2017 stemming from Sweden (SVT as PBS and TV4 as commercial channel) and Belgium (the Dutch speaking part Flanders: VRT and VTM; and the French speaking part: RTBF and RTL). The codebook was tested beforehand by three researchers and adapted several times until good coder reliability was achieved. 

Although the majority of the news items (69%) in our sample does not contain CJ aspects, one third does contain at least one constructive element (31%). In the analysis we differentiated between “items that mention possible solutions, alternatives or improvements for the problems touched upon” and “items that mention progress or lessons learned concerning the topic”. Contrary to our expectations, the Belgian journalists promoted more of a solution-based reporting than their Swedish colleagues. In 27,1% of the news items, the Belgian tv reporters mentioned a CJ aspect and in 10,8% of the items they explicitly mentioned two whereas Swedish journalists did so in respectively 16,9% and 2,7% of the items on refugees (X2= 56,96; df=2; p< .001). For a heavy news topic as the refugee situation, we conclude that mentioning solution-driven elements in between 20 and 38% of the total appearing news items is a clear indication of the expanding idea of CJ in tv reporting. 

Cite: Sundin, Ebba, De Cock, Rozane & Mistiaen, Valériane, Constructive Journalism and TV Reporting on Refugees in Sweden and Belgium (2015-2017), 2019