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January 29, 2018

Positive News magazine sees subscriber growth as editor says people don’t want journalism that leaves them ‘completely hopeless’

By Louise Byrne

Positive News magazine, which relaunched two years ago following a crowdfunding campaign, has gone on sale in 150 WHSmiths shops around the country.

Co-owned by 1,542 reader-investors from 33 countries, the magazine claims to be the only title in the UK entirely dedicated to “constructive” and “solutions-focused” journalism.

“Constructive journalism” means not only covering the problems arising from newsworthy issues, but also examining solutions to them, according to UK charity the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Since 2016, subscriptions to the 84-page magazine have grown by 29 per cent to 4,500, and visits to the website by 15 per cent.  In April it plans to relaunch the website to support a new membership scheme.

For editor-in-chief Sean Dagan Wood, the magazine, is about more than providing positive stories for its readers.

“Our social purpose comes first, but we also want to show the industry that constructive journalism and co-operative ownership make good business sense too,” he said.

The magazine eventually hopes to pay a small return to its co-owners, but the level of interest will be capped. Any further surplus will be ploughed back into its journalism.

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“There are not many media organisations with a structure like ours,” said Wood.

“We are democratically owned by our reader-investors who, no matter how many shares they have, only have one vote each.

“With that vote they can elect the board of directors – which they can also nominate themselves for – and vote on other key decisions the board might put to them.”

But otherwise, Wood said, there is full editorial independence.

“We are trying to achieve an effective balance between being accountable to our co-owners, who collectively guard our purpose and values, whilst keeping the day to day operations securely at arms’ length,” said Wood.

The magazine currently has three paid, full-time staff and freelance journalists. A partnership scheme has also replaced the traditional advertising model.

Said Wood: “Our readers know any advertisers in the magazine are selected for their positive impact, such as a green energy company or an ethical bank. We also publish branded content, which is clearly labelled.”

Originally launched as a free newspaper 23 years ago, before converting to a magazine in 2016, Positive News sees itself as a pioneer in the field, but mainstream media are also beginning to see the need for more constructive journalism.

In January, Bill Gates dedicated his guest editorship of Time magazine to “the optimists” and in November Guardian editor Katherine Viner called on journalism to provide more “hopeful ideas” and “fresh alternatives”.

In 2017, a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report also found that almost a third of people say they often or sometimes avoid the news, some admitting it could negatively affect their mood.

“What we hear is that people want trustworthy journalism that tackles important issues but doesn’t leave them feeling completely hopeless,” said Wood.

“We’re excited to see our approach gaining traction. What was once a fringe idea is rapidly becoming a valued part of the journalistic landscape.”

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