Journalism today is like bad parenting, says author and journalist David Bornstein. “What journalists do is get up every morning and tell people what’s wrong," he said.
"If a parent tells a child every morning what is wrong with him, the kid will likely end up in an institution. Journalism today is like bad parenting – it is not based on how change happens.”
Not only that, but Bornstein believes the fundamental theory of journalism is wrong. The theory assumes that when people are given information about what is wrong, they will change it.
“Newspapers chronicle everything that is wrong in the world in their stories," Bornstein said. "Yet everything we know about behavior change is that people don’t change because they know that something is bad for them. What leads to behavior change is aspiration. People move toward something that attracts them.”
Bornstein is hoping to attract people to Dowser
, a media outlet he just launched that will be the first of its kind devoted to covering the field of social innovation. Dowser addresses the question of “Who is solving what and how?”
Social innovation is "soft news" that is usually presented only for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and then presented as "hero stories."
Dowser strives to highlight creative approaches to social change in order to help people understand how to build better communities and a better world. Dowser envisions a day in which everyone is as well-informed about potential solutions to social problems as they are about the problems themselves.
If you haven’t already resorted a dictionary to answer the question, “What is a ‘dowser’?” – Bornstein explains that it is a person who uses a divining rod to discover underground water. Bornstein chose the name because "we’re searching for stories of immense value that are hidden," he said.
"Nothing is more valuable than the water a dowser uncovers with a divining rod. We’re trying to find stories that are precious—that haven’t yet been revealed.
“I do a lot of lectures to college students, and I always ask, ‘Can you think of ten problems facing the world?’ Hands always go up, because people know lots of problems," Bornstein said. "But when you ask people if they know about creative solutions to those problems, hands go down.”
Bornstein believes that filling people’s head with shortcomings and mistakes creates an information imbalance that is “a crime,” leading to apathy and impoverished imaginations. In his view, painting the world in this way creates fear-based anger and polarization. Through Dowser, Bornstein hopes to show faithfully how things are changing, so that readers can use those solutions to inform their own work.
“The idea of Dowser came from all the years that I’ve been focused on writing about social innovation and seeing that there are so many stories out there that are not being told about the creative ways that people are creating change—children changing schools, people changing countries,” Bornstein said.
“Media sources have a hard time writing about social change. Social innovation is ‘soft news’ that is usually presented only for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and then presented as ’hero stories.’ And yet I believe these types of stories provide extremely important information about how the world is changing. All of this activity is not being reported, and media channels are inherently biased against stories of solutions.”
Dowser wants to reframe the way issues get covered. Bornstein argues that it is not enough to stop halfway through a story, once a problem has been revealed.
“We don’t want to cover the typical media actors—academics or government officials," he said. "There is a whole network of changemakers that is still off the radar screen when it comes to the media. And when we look to where the knowledge really is for causing social change—I would argue that it isn’t coming from governments.”
Dowser receives content from about a dozen contributors who look for stories locally through personal connections. Bornstein’s reason for pursuing a story is simple: it has to tell him something that will enable us to construct the future differently, or provide insight that someone can apply beyond the story itself.
“Information about how the world is changing adds to your ability to be a changemaker yourself," Bornstein said. "This will help people to chart their own changemaking path.“
Fresh out of the gate, Dowser needs four things: story ideas, great writers, financial support, and distribution partners. Bornstein also wants to hear from other changemakers.
He wants insight into the kinds of stories that have helped them become a changemaker, and wants to learn about the kind of stories that help changemakers move their work forward. That is the new form of journalism that Dowser plans to inspire.
Bornstein’s most recent book, co-authored with Susan Davis, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, was published earlier this year. Bornstein can be reached at: www.dowser.org