COJO Against Covid was an 21-month project investigating how constructive journalism (COJO) can help Covid-19 pandemic recovery in local and regional areas of the UK.
COJO – known mainly by its key form, solutions journalism – breaks from traditional journalism’s focus on social problems to a balance between problems and solutions to problems, i.e. reporting on problems rigorously while paying due attention to actual or possible solutions to problems. It aims both to inform and to motivate and empower people to deal with the problems they face in daily public and private life.
The project was undertaken by Bournemouth University, in collaboration with several of the UK’s largest publishers of local and regional newspapers (e.g. Newsquest, JPI, DC Thompson), the US-based Solutions Journalism Network, and the Association of British Science Writers.
It was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
As the British public emerges out of the lockdown to face COVID-19’s destruction, they will need to seek, create and test solutions to fix the many problems that arise from the pandemic. As a major shaper of the thinking and doing of the nation, journalism is a key to that process.
This project investigates the extent to which and the way in which COJO can help the UK’s local/regional communities in that transition to the “new normal”.
Why are we doing this?
As people move out of lockdown to face a difficult and uncertain struggle to exit from the COVID-19 pandemic, they will need to be informed, inspired and empowered to respond to social problems in a forward-looking manner.
Traditional journalism, however, has a negativity bias, focusing more on problems than solutions to fulfil its fundamental role as a public warning and power-monitoring system for societies. However, problem-focused reporting could lead over time to many people feeling demotivated, hopeless, desensitised, and even tired of the news. As COVID-19 peaked, for example, 59% of Britons avoided the news, with two thirds of them citing “bad effect on my mood” as reason.
COJO fixes that occupational ideology by focusing reporters’ attention on both solutions and problems. It has proven to be a powerful approach with concrete and material positive impacts on affective and behavioural responses.
Early evidence shows that this style of journalism leads to audiences to more engagement with the news, a stronger sense of hopefulness and optimism, and a stronger intention to take actions towards solving social problems.
In helping local newsrooms to practise COJO around COVID in an evidence-based manner, this project will:
- act as a catalyst for a rich source of positive energy for the public to respond to problems in this challenging time; and
- gain crucial theoretical and practical insights into how to harness constructive news in future health and other crises.
How are we researching it?
The project entails three major activities over 18 months:
- investigate what a pandemic-wounded public expects the media, especially local news, to do to help them out of the crisis in an informed, inspired and forward-looking manner;
- develop and deliver a learning-by-doing campaign in which local news titles across the UK produce constructive journalism on COVID-19 solutions; and
- evaluate the overall values of constructive journalism for both the news industry and the public during the exit and their implications for news coverage of future epidemics/pandemics and crises.