You Are What You Read by Jodie Jackson – the Media and solutions based journalism
The subtitle of this this thoughtful book is “Why Changing your Media Diet Can Change the World”, and most of it refers to the problem of negative news. Jackson argues for a more balanced approach to the news media rather than the immersive twenty four hour news cycle available online, and the tabloid brevity of many newspapers. Highlighting the psychological dangers of constant news checking in terms of a pessimistic worldview, this book is an impassioned plea for a more balanced approach to the presentation of events. A founder of The Constructive Journalism Project, Jackson has evidently worked hard to formulate and refine a programme for journalists and those who present the news. In doing so, she provides a guide and reassurance for all those who consume the news in any way, and who can accordingly feel depressed at the way of the world. This is a very significant book for all those with an interest in the media , and I was very interested to be given the opportunity to read and review this title.
Using a quick poll in the Introduction as to whether the reader believes that global poverty has increased, as well as later referring to a relative who feared for the future of the author’s own baby, this book carefully challenges our perceptions of the present and future of our world. There are examples of issues and presentations from the United States and Britain, of how a different view of the same event can alter the reception of a news report. The introduction of solution based news means that the observer can not only discover what the answer to a problem may well be, but also how they can be involved. Jackson does not want all the news to be good news, along the lines of the last item of evening bulletins, but to be constructive stories that do not merely offer a despairing if dramatic story. She criticises a Russian ‘experiment’ when a news source changed all their stories to good news, lost two thirds of their audience and swiftly reverted to business as normal. She also deplores the fact that when tragic events are continually presented in dramatic and shocking terms, viewers and readers become so familiar with the concepts that they no longer register surprise and merely add to their perception of the world as a dangerous place. She shows how even the truth can be sacrificed to deadlines and the sheer volume of articles and reports that must be churned out to meet the demands of news outlets.
Jackson’s ability to suggest positive alternatives and possible coping mechanisms makes this a valuable book for many readers. She presents six effective ways to change our media consumption to “help us become more informed, engaged and empowered”, including becoming a conscious consumer and reading solutions-focused news. Freedom of the press is far from being a straightforward issue, as different forces operate on journalists and others in constructing and delivering stories. Solutions based journalism is a complex idea in some ways, being more sophisticated than just good news, and far more positive than the shocking themes which currently dominate the programmes. There is an impressive set of notes for each chapter and a list of books which serve to anchor the book as well as offer information to the reader. The most interesting point is the insistence of hope in the production and reception of news, an “emotional coping mechanism” that can combat the feeling of doom that can characterise our world view. This is a positive book in a controversial area, and I recommend it to the general reader as an enlightening read.