20th July 2023
Spotlight On | Daisy Greenwell, Positive News editor

“People want to read news that informs and empowers them, rather than takes away their feeling of agency and depresses them.”

Daisy Greenwell is a journalist and editor for Positive News, a website and magazine dedicated to the rigorous reporting of what’s going right in the world.

Having worked for The Times for just shy of a decade, Daisy left London for her home country of Suffolk and made the switch to Positive News, working on a rewilding project in-between.

In this Spotlight On piece, we speak to her about getting into journalism and why we need more positivity in the news.

Tell us a bit more about how you found your way into journalism? What inspired you to join the profession?

I always loved newspapers. At home, we got the East Anglian local paper every day and I used to read that when I was a kid. Then I started reading The Times because my dad got that. I was always keen on newspapers, basically. Then after university I just started writing and wrote some reviews of things and sent them off to different editors on the internet and one of them got back in touch with me and said, ‘Oh, I liked your article, come and see me’ and it was the editor of What’s On In London magazine, now defunct, but at the time, it was sort of it was like the first Time Out. So I went to see him, and he sent me to do another article, then he gave me a job. I felt like I’d won the lottery, it was just fantastic. I don’t think it would happen that easily these days. It just sort of all happened quite easily without too much fore thought from me, to be honest.

You have previously worked for some of the biggest outlets in Britain, including The Times and The Guardian. Why did you make the switch from established national brands to Positive News?

It was partly a lifestyle thing. I worked at The Times for a decade, had three kids whilst I was there and I was living in London. Then we moved to Suffolk, to the countryside, where I grew up and I wanted to be able to work from home and, at The Times, all of the editors had to be in the office, so I left.

“What people need most right now in these troubled times that we’re living in is to be empowered to make change.

Then I just started getting really into rewilding, and climate and environmental work, and I realised that I didn’t want to do a job that didn’t have some connection to that. That felt like the most important issue of the day for me and for all of us. So I was trying to figure out my way and then I saw the job advert for Positive News, and it felt like the perfect confluence of those things.

It’s a magazine, it’s trying to make a positive change in the world, trying to empower people to do that. It was a variety of factors that felt like that was the right move for me in that moment.

Can you tell us a bit more about how Positive News came to exist?

It started in 1993, by this very cool woman called Shauna Crockett-Burrows and it was a free quarterly newspaper at that time. When she died, the then Editor-in-Chief, now our CEO, Sean Wood, took it over. He needed to make a workable business case, which it didn’t have at that time.

He came up with the idea of establishing the company as a cooperative, and he invited Positive News readers to become co-owners by a community share offer and he launched this 30 day Own The Media campaign, there was a crowdfunding thing and it was invested in by 1500 people across 33 countries around the world, and they raised £260,000.

He relaunched the magazine with a much increased emphasis on the quality of the journalism and the design. So the nice thing is we’re now owned by a community of readers and our directors are elected by, and from, our community of co-owners. So it’s quite an unusual setup.

Why is it so important to shine a light on the things that are going right in the world?

Essentially, because what you feed grows. What people need most right now in these troubled times that we’re living in is to be empowered to make change. I think that’s exactly what traditional news outlets aren’t doing. The ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ model of traditional news journalism means that reading those newspapers, you come away with a distorted view of reality. It feels like everything is bad and people are evil, and that has impacts on people’s mental health, it makes them feel anxious, depressed and hopeless, and exacerbates their fear of others. It leaves people feeling disempowered, essentially, and that there’s nothing that can be done about the problems in the world.

We feel, and evidence shows, that positive solution-focused news gives people a fuller, more balanced view of reality. You look around at your community, your neighbours, your friends; people are good, essentially, and good things are happening in the world. But you don’t necessarily read that much about that in the newspapers. So reporting on that benefits people’s health, benefits their well being and it empowers people by showing that our actions matter and that change is possible. I think for all of us at Positive News, that’s what really excites us and drives our journalism.

We aren’t just trying to provide people with temporary rest bites from a bleak picture. We believe that our stories of progress are guideposts for a bright future that’s been coaxed into being. Of course, it’s vital that the news in general covers those big bad stories. We’ve got to have that. But we shouldn’t ignore all the things that are going right too.

You have worked with Positive News for just over a year now. How does the day-to-day of Positive News compare to your previous roles with the likes of The Times and The Guardian?

I guess the main difference is is the size. At The Times there 700 people working there and we’re a tiny, tiny team in comparison, which means that rather than being like one tiny cog in this big wheel, we have to be much more responsible and in charge of a much wider breadth of things. From things like, writing, editing, interviewing to things like art direction, commissioning photography and illustration, overall editorial strategy for digital and print, thinking about advertising revenue, budgets, managing people and doing media interviews. So it’s a much more challenging role and I find myself thinking about it 24/7.

It’s hard to switch off, because there’s so many elements to it. I think before I started, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is gonna be so easy. I’ve been working on a daily paper and now this is quarterly, it’s going to be a doddle.’ But I think that I’m probably working harder than I ever have. But it’s also extremely engaging and rewarding, and it’s exciting. I feel like a real sense of purpose and like, we’re making positive change in the world, which isn’t always the case when you’re working for the Murdoch empire.

The publication has been running for more than a decade now. What do you think is the secret to that success?

I think it’s various things. It is amazing because every day we hear about magazines and newspapers shutting down and the decline in advertising revenues. So it’s really impressive and I think that’s partly down to the meticulous dedication of our CEO, Sean, and the strong team that he’s gathered around him.

Then, on the other side, I think it’s that we’re providing a style of journalism that more and more people want. When you look at the Oxford University Reuters Institute report, it shows that the number of people taking a strong interest in the news has dropped by a quarter in the last six years and more than a third of people worldwide say they actively avoid the news now. But when you dig into those figures, what they’re actually avoiding is the daily churn of breaking news. But they are interested in solutions journalism and positive news.

“The trust of our audience is really important to us and so being regulated by Impress is a helpful signpost for our readers that they can trust us

So I think we’ve pioneered a style of journalism that there’s an increasing appetite for and more and more large news outlets are realising that they need to find ways to engage people. Obviously, we have to have the vital news gathering about Ukraine and all these things which you can’t put a positive spin on. But I think there’s definite hunger amongst the whole population for reading things which don’t leave them feeling depressed.

It’s partly about the vision of the world that we’re getting from these news outlets as well, and if that vision is that the world is dangerous and terrible, and everyone’s out for themselves; firstly, that’s not actually true, and secondly, it leaves people feeling awful. So I think highlighting all the good in the world, which we’re doing, we’re providing hope, and in the face of increasing uncertainty, in the climate crisis, war in Ukraine, and cost of living all these things. People want to read news that informs and empowers them, rather than takes away their feeling of agency and depresses them.

What was it that convinced Positive News to join Impress?

It’s really important for us that our solutions-focused journalism is of the highest standards in order to show the rest of the industry that good news matters, it doesn’t mean fluffy stories, and it’s rigorous. That will help other media to follow our approach. So we want to be held to account in the same way as any responsible media outlet. So joining Impress helped with that.

“We’re now owned by a community of readers and our directors are elected by, and from, our community of co-owners.

As a reader-supported media outlet that’s working for the public good, the trust of our audience is really important to us and so being regulated by Impress is a helpful signpost for our readers that they can trust us, because there’s oversight to ensure the accuracy of our journalism and that there is a means of recourse if something goes wrong.

Thirdly, I think it’s a way to protect ourselves. So while we’re fortunate, we received very few complaints, due to the nature of our journalism, we also want the protection of knowing that Impress will fairly investigate any claims raised and can also offer arbitration, helping to protect us from any malicious action.

Positive News have had plenty of success, but what is the next big goal for you now?

Our audience continues to grow steadily, and we’re now financially sustainable and growing, so that’s great, and we think we’re having an important and valuable impact on empowering our readers and influencing other media.

But we’re still a relatively small media outlet, and we see a bigger need and demand for our sort of journalism. So our goal now is to scale up how we’re operating to reach more people more quickly and build a greater community of support.

Daisy Greenwell is the editor of Positive News magazine. She started out her career as the staff writer at The Big Issue, reporting on inequality and homelessness, before moving to The Times where she spent a decade commissioning and editing features for Times2. She has three young children and lives in Suffolk.