What can content marketers learn from Constructive news? Part 1.

Unless you’re a newshound or Danish (and you probably need to be both…) you’ve probably not heard of Ulrik Haagerup. But you may already have been influenced by the cause he has made his own: constructive news.

For marketers seeking to elevate brand credibility and relevance through content marketing, the principles of constructive news may well help your charge.

Haagerup is the Executive Director of News for Danish state broadcaster DR. A much-respected journalist in his homeland, Haagerup has been at the sharp end of current affairs and news journalism – both print and broadcast – for over 30 years. A realist and a pragmatist, he wears his experience and wisdom lightly. But in 2008 Haagerup reached a point where even he had begun to question the role of the news media that he had an integral part in producing.

I was fortunate to hear Haagerup’s story at the recent Circle of European Communicators forum in Athens. An annual event, the Circle invites the worlds of marketing, communications, academia and the media to debate wide-ranging issues with the intent of broadening the mind and giving otherwise busy people the headspace to think and learn.

This year’s forum carried the title ‘Hope and Courage’ – a fitting subject for a country that perhaps more than any European nation still needs both in equal measure. Haagerup opened the event with his thought-provoking presentation on Constructive News. Here is a précis of that talk:

While relaxing on the sofa one Friday night in 2008 he decided to watch his own nightly news programme on DR. The running order of the programme went something like this:

Terrorism… Shooting… Train problem… Cancer threat… Woman abused… Crisis congress… Air crash deaths… North Korean suppression… And finally, the rain continues… Have a nice evening!

You get the picture. Haagerup certainly did and the picture he saw – one of his own making, don’t forget – was one he began to question. ‘Is the world,’ he asked, ‘really like that?’

Did his news programme really represent the state of the world or was there something in the accusation that journalists spend so long looking for the fly in the soup that they forget to mention the soup?

Ever since that night Haagerup has been on a mission to redefine the purpose of news media. He is at pains to point out – so I will – that a constructive news agenda does not mean an uncritical, naïve, positive news agenda. He’s not interested in news that ducks the big questions. He simply wants to report news in a way that looks for solutions to the problems it describes. Constructive news offers, in his own words: a way out, hope, inspiration to solutions, a call to action, education, engagement, perspective, positivity.

Haagerup asserts that this thinking is not exclusive to liberal Danish reporters. He highlights a conversation between Apple’s Steve Jobs and news mogul Rupert Murdoch that took place two years after he had begun his mission to create constructive news. Murdoch asked Jobs if he could help do for the print news trade what iTunes had done for the music industry. Jobs’ response to Murdoch was apt and to the point.

‘The axis today is not liberal or conservative. The axis is constructive-destructive and you’ve cast your lot with destructive people. You can be better and this is going to be your legacy if you are not careful.”

One year later Murdoch was forced to shut down the News of the World.

Haagerup took the other route and eight years on his constructive agenda has become arguably the most interesting direction in news media. His own DR broadcasts have seen ratings rise strongly and the movement has been taken up by broadcasters and print journalists around the world. This year the BBC News channel began to trial its own form of constructive news with Haagerup’s help.

What lessons can the content marketing world learn from a Danish newshound’s yearning to tell stories more faithfully? Would brands that decide to tackle issues head-on and proactively propose constructive solutions to their challenges fair better?

I believe that genuine ‘constructive content’ could play a vital role in giving brands greater authenticity, credibility and cut-through. The question is, what does that constructive content look like? In part two, I’ll propose some ideas.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about Ulrik Haagerup’s mission you can read his book Constructive News, available for order at http://constructivenews.eu/


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