An action research project on covering and mediating conflict-sensitive issues
Recently, several international and social conflicts have made public discussion all across Europe increasingly polarized and conflict-ridden. This is the case also in Finland, where numerous social topics, ranging from immigration and austerity politics to nutrition recommendations and wolf hunting, repeatedly lead to aggressive public debates and even hate speech. At the same time, there is less and less room for constructive public discussion.
What is common to almost any of these debates is the critical attitude towards the established media. Journalists are accused of being biased and even attacked online through different kinds of smearing campaigns. In this atmosphere, it has become increasingly difficult for media professionals and institutions to do their work and provide common public arenas for constructive discussion.
Certain journalistic processes and routines run the risk of maintaining and increasing polarizing discourses.
– How could journalism release tensions around conflict-sensitive issues?
– What could journalists as professional communicators do in this situation?
– Could tools of mediation help them cover heated issues and facilitate public discussion in a manner that is conciliatory rather than contradictory?
Conciliatory Journalism Project was an action research that examined these questions through experimentation. The objective was to develop methods and principles by which journalism could act as a mediator and moderator in the public sphere. Researchers compiled a handbook that highlighted best practices of conciliatory journalism to reporters and editors. The handbook is available online in Finnish: sovittelujournalismi.fi.
Action research with workshops
The project revolved around a series of workshops with professional journalists and students of journalism and communication. The research team organized workshops in four different locations in Finland (Helsinki, Oulu, Tampere and Kouvola), each of them meeting four times. The participants defined the themes that they wanted to “conciliate” according to their everyday experiences and needs (i.e. the issues requiring mediation are not defined by the research team). The key was to develop ways to adjust the journalistic process by keeping the principle of conciliation in mind at different stages: from sourcing and choosing story angles to the actual choice of words, visuals and narrative styles; and to facilitating online discussions after the publication of the story.
The academic aspect of the project focused on what the concepts of conciliation and mediation could offer for journalism studies in the digital era. In journalism studies, there are several lines of inquiry that have been asking similar types of questions. For instance “peace journalism” has addressed the role of journalism in releasing violent tensions and severe conflicts. “Public journalism” proposed citizen deliberation as a way forward for better citizen engagement. A line of more practice-based projects, for instance “constructive journalism” or “solutions journalism”, also aim at positive social impact through foregrounding positive possibilities and reporting on feasible responses to social problems, rather than just reporting the problems.
The Conciliatory Journalism Project drew from these discussions, focusing on the aspect of conciliation. The study made use of theories from the fields of journalism studies, speech communication and online media studies.
The project was funded by the Kone Foundation and it was carried out 2016–2018.
Laura Ahva, laura.ahva at tuni.fi, +358 50 3185915 (project leader)
Mikko Hautakangas, mikko.hautakangas at tuni.fi (principal researcher)
Links in English
Academic publications in English
Ahva, Laura & Hautakangas, Mikko (eds.). (2018). Special Issue of Journalism Practice (12: 6). Constructive Forms in Journalism. London, UK: Taylor & Francis.
- Ahva, Laura; Hautakangas, Mikko (2018). Why do we suddenly talk so much about constructiveness? Journalism Practice 12: 6, 657–661. (Introduction to the special issue.)
- Hautakangas, Mikko & Ahva, Laura (2018). Introducing a New Form of Socially Responsible Journalism: Experiences from the Conciliatory Journalism Project. Journalism Practice 12: 6, 730–746. (Original article in the special issue.)