Silja Raunio is a fellow at the Danish Constructive Institute. We asked her to tell about her experiences and how she will use them when she is back in Helsinki
I arrived in Aarhus for the very first time last June, late at night. My first thought arriving from Paris was frankly Wow, it is very quiet in the streets of this city! From the window of the bus I didn’t see a single person before arriving to the railway station. Even more quiet than in Finland, I thought.
Would life in here be similar to a mid-sized Finnish city? I was curious. Back home a friend even asked me why I wouldn’t do a fellowship year somewhere that was actually different from my home country. He’d be surprised how interesting all the differences between these two countries would turn out to be!
When first arriving at the university, Aarhus University park was to my eyes mesmerizingly beautiful: so much green, well-maintained parks, historical-looking buildings. And all the young people wandering around, with an endless amount of opportunities ahead! This is also where the Constructive Institute is located, and I had arrived to spend a 10 months fellowship here.
What is constructive journalisme?
I am often asked what the Institute is about, what is constructive journalism and whether it’s about telling only about the positive, nice and cute stuff. That I can easily say is not the case.
The idea of constructive journalism can be defined in many ways, and there are different forms of it practiced around the globe, with slightly different tones and names to it. I personally see it as an umbrella term for various ways in which journalism could improve in telling not only about the problems but also about possible solutions to the social ills – whether you like to call it solutions focused journalism, constructive journalism etc.
That way journalism can also improve in reporting about the world both critically yet the same time being balanced. And obviously it goes without saying that this is what many journalists already do in their everyday work in many quality outlets and media houses. We can be proud in the Nordic countries for having strong quality media and freedom of press.
The Constructive institute helps editorials and journalists in finding tools on how to apply constructive journalism in the everyday work, also engaging the audience for stronger democracy. The institute also runs a fellowship program, for the second time now, and is aiming to grow it internationally.
My fellowship program
The semester at Constructive Institute started late August with a diverse set of meetings and visits in the city of Aarhus, to different organizations and events. We really got to know where we had landed, me and the 7 other fellows, all from different parts of Denmark.
All of us are looking at the concept of constructive journalism from different points of view. I was to try and figure out whether a constructive approach in journalism could help us to create more dialogue-oriented discussion online, also on social media.
Before coming to Aarhus, I was working at the social media news desk for the Finnish Public Broadcaster, Yle and partly because of my work I became interested in the many ways we could better engage our audience and reduce hate speech online – and on other platforms, too.
On a typical week at the institute we would have joint-meetings with the fellows and guests, follow courses of our individual choices and do excursions and study trips to media houses, both in Denmark and every now and then abroad. So far we’ve seen a set of interesting visitors from the field of journalism and media coming to the institute sharing their ideas and experiences. I as a Finnish fellow have had a great opportunity to discover the Danish media landscape on our visits to different media houses. The initiatives and innovations taking place in the field bring a lot of hope for the future of quality journalism.
A similar media landscape – but still different
I’ve been impressed by the enthusiasm and knowhow. Many challenges faced by the media landscape here are similar to what we’ve experienced in Finland – media convergence, economic issues, social media, etc. Yet again saying that, there are definitely differences, too.
For instance, topics that I’m especially interested in (among other things) like diversity inclusiveness in media and gender equality, have been so far less in the focus that I would have thought.
Therefore I’ve been happy to introduce my colleagues e.g. the Finnish concept of ”Congrats, you have an all-male panel!”, a microblog of pictures of all-male panels, created by the Finnish scholar Saara Särmä some years back. It points out (humorously) the ineluctable fact that there’s no excuse for an all-male panel.
Interesting initiatives in the fields of gender equality and diversity are taking place here too and I’ll be curious to find out more about those during the spring semester. In these fields I believe that Nordic co-operation will prove most useful and already has; my next dream would be to familiarize myself with the Swedish media more in terms of gender equality and diversity inclusiveness.
I see that these aspects hold a great importance as we in media try to lay grounds and create more dialogue oriented public discussion instead of the harsh rhetoric and polarization.
When going back home I’ll be grateful for all the learning and experiences gathered during the 10 months in Aarhus. It has surely deepened my understanding of journalism as a crucial factor of democracy building and in the many ways we can work on it.
I feel also privileged having the chance to participate all the excellent courses at Aarhus University, and I’ll surely miss studying as well as my colleagues, too – they’ve taught me a lot.
If journalism is supposed to be the best obtainable version of the truth around us, fellowship years like this also help us as journalists grow professionally to hopefully become the best obtainable version of ourselves.