Interview 20th January 2020
Sean Dagan Wood
Media innovator, publisher at Positive News and co-founder of Constructive Journalism.
"We don’t ignore the problems and challenges of the world, but we do want to report in a way that informs, inspires and empowers people."
Sean Dagan Wood: Media innovator, publisher at Positive News and co-founder of Constructive Journalism on writing for positive change, the benefits of co-housing communities and consuming ethically.
The ASOOO team sat down to talk to Sean on a chilly Wednesday morning, excited to speak to the Positive News publisher about all things constructive journalism. Sean is friendly, straight-forward and kind - but most of all, positive. Very on brand...
A Studio of Our Own (ASOOO): For those of us who aren’t aware, please can you tell us a bit more about what Positive News is and why it was created?
Sean Dagan Wood: Positive News is an online and print magazine for good journalism about the good things that are happening in the world. We call our approach ‘constructive journalism’ as we’re all about rigorous, quality, trustworthy reporting, which is focused on progress and solutions. We don’t ignore the problems and challenges of the world, but we do want to report in a way that informs, inspires and empowers people.
ASOOO: How do you go about gathering stories for Positive News?
Sean Dagan Wood: They come from a lot of different sources; we have a network of freelance journalists that pitch stories to us, our readers share ideas, we monitor other media for leads and we also receive a lot of press releases from people who work in charities and social enterprises, for example. Because of this we have a constant ear to the ground on where progress is happening, helping us to gather really interesting stories.
ASOOO: Is it easy to find journalists who want to write these types of stories?
Sean Dagan Wood: It’s increasingly easier – there’s now a whole new generation of journalists who want to take this approach. The main issue that I see is the culture around journalism. There’s a lot of assumptions in how we’re taught as journalists – for example ‘if it bleeds it leads’ and that essentially news is about what’s going wrong, but there’s no actual reason that that needs to be the case.
From my experience, journalists genuinely do want to have a positive impact on the world. I think it’s really important to encourage journalists to step back from those assumptions about the news being about the negative, and to encourage them to question what the purpose and impact of journalism is. To me, journalism’s purpose is to provide information that empowers people. Journalism shares the truth and important information about something so that society can respond. However, when we focus excessively on what’s going wrong, research shows it actually disempowers people – so it’s counter-productive.
To me, journalism’s purpose is to provide information that empowers people. Journalism shares the truth and important information about something so that society can respond.
ASOOO: What’s your newest favourite Positive News story?
Sean Dagan Wood: There’s so many to choose from, however a recent favourite would be a cover story from a recent issue of Positive News magazine in print, which was about co-housing. While we’ve heard a lot about social division in this country in recent years; instead, our co-housing story looks at examples of how people are trying to live together in a more collaborative way. The people we interviewed in co-housing communities talk about how they deal with conflict, and how not everyone in the community has the same values or political preferences but they try to find successful ways to live together. It’s interesting to ask how some of these insights could be put into practice and scaled up in wider society.
We also ran a story in that issue about the growth of citizens assemblies which I think is really interesting. The idea is that diverse groups of people come together to discuss key issues like the climate crisis, working together to find ways forward. These ideas can then be presented to local authorities and governments, therefore helping people to be more involved in the democratic process.
There have been a lot of encouraging stories about the growth of renewable energy recently too - we really get into that in our January issue. The rise of renewables is a really big positive story; the shift away from fossil fuels is obviously needed.
ASOOO: We love your #OwnTheMedia approach. Why do you think it’s important for readers and journalists to own Positive News cooperatively?
Sean Dagan Wood: There’s a lot of reasons; from a business perspective it was clear that our greatest asset was our readers who are passionate about our journalism, so we turned to them for the finance we needed. At the same, cooperative ownership meant we were able to ensure we were duty bound to work in their interest, and it helped us bring our community closer to what we were doing. So this model helps keep our organisation financially secure, while protecting the integrity of our journalism. Unlike much of the media that is concentrated into the hands of a few corporations and wealthy proprietors with commercial and political agendas, with the cooperative model everyone co-owner has equal influence no matter how much they invested.
ASOOO: Positive News has a large focus on sustainability, and many of your stories encourage readers to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle. What advice would you give to those who want to shop more ethically?
Sean Dagan Wood: When possible, I like to try to choose companies that are showing ethical commitments in how they run their business, not just the credentials of a product itself. So I like to try to support other cooperatives, as well as B-corps for example, or companies paying the living wage. I think supporting these more systemic changes helps to create a more sustainable economy.
We want our journalism to be less about us saying what’s important and more about going to our community and asking them what they want us to investigate solutions to.
ASOOO: What are the plans for Positive News’ future?
Sean Dagan Wood: Demand for our journalism is ever increasing, so we want to accelerate our growth in 2020. At the moment one of the key things we’re looking at is developing a closer relationship with our online audience by involving them more with our journalism. We want to build a membership community around Positive News, which is about delivering real value to our readers in a media landscape that’s changing. We want our journalism to be less about us saying what’s important and more about going to our community and asking them what they want us to investigate solutions to. As a Positive News community we have a lot of shared values, so we want to nurture a space for our readers to connect and engage more with us and each other. We also want to continue influencing the rest of the media. The main way we can do this is by leading by example; doing really good, constructive journalism and helping lead the way towards a more balanced media landscape. We’re feeling optimistic.
Visit Sean at Positive News and say Hey! From the ASOOO team:
Positive News Instagram: @positivenewsuk
Positive News Facebook: /positive.news.uk