Brussels Center for Journalism Studies


Celebrating 10 years BCJS: Looking forward: What can constructive journalism do for us?

The Brussels Center for Journalism Studies celebrated its 10th anniversary by organizing a festive evening lecture on constructive journalism. After a warm welcome by the director of the center, prof Rozane De Cock, BCJS member prof Hedwig de Smaele started to unravel the central concept of the evening by “deconstructing constructive journalism”. She reflected on the Flemish point of view and presented results of her research on the public broadcasting channel as a case study.

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Two Flemish journalists/documentary makers, Tom Mahy and Anthony Bosschem, shared their own approach with us by showing fragments of their in-depth reporting style. They started their own online platform “Zwijgen Is Geen Optie: ZIGO” (“Remaining Silent Is No Option”) from scratch to take a stance and to focus on what can be done about societal problems, inspired by interviewees and their positive approach.

Keynote speaker of the evening was prof Liesbeth Hermans, the only academic expert in constructive journalism in the Low Countries. Her talk revolved around potential building blocks of truly future proof journalism and how constructive journalism can contribute to this aim.

Campus dean of the Faculty of Arts at our Brussels Campus, prof Lieven Buysse had the honor to wrap up the central messages of the different lectures by presenting his concluding remarks and by inviting all guests for the festive reception at the foyer.

We want to thank all presenters, journalists, students, former students and colleagues from Brussels and Leuven who were present for their contribution to a wonderful inspiring evening and celebration!


Faceless: visual representation of overweight people in Flemish and Dutch online newspapers

Ilya Lisser and BCJS member Hedwig de Smaele will present their study on the visual representation of overweight people at the Etmaal voor de Communicatiewetenschap conference at the University of Nijmegen (The Netherlands) on the 7th and 8th of February 2019.

The worldwide prevalence of obesity has increased significantly throughout the past decades. According to The World Health Organization obesity-rates tripled between 1975 and 2016 . This so-called “obesity epidemic” resulted in a rise of media coverage on the subject as well. In the USA, for example, the media attention for obesity has quintupled between 1985 and 2003.

headless picture

The media attention, in its turn, influences the audience’s opinions about obesity. By explaining the causes, effects and solutions to obesity, the media shape the framework in which the topic is discussed. Despite the large amount of publications about the rising obesity rates, studies on framing obesity are lagging behind.

Two observations can be made. First, framing studies focus mainly on the USA with less attention to European countries. Second, the visual aspect of news coverage of obesity is largely neglected.

This study wants to meet these two observations. It entails a quantitative visual content analysis to examine the way how overweight people are portrayed in online newspaper photos in the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium).
Six major Dutch-speaking newspaper websites have been selected during a two-year period (2016-2017). Three newspapers are from the Netherlands (NRC Handelsblad, De Volkskrant, De Telegraaf) and three are from Flanders (De Standaard, De Morgen, Het Nieuwsblad). All images accompanying online articles about obesity that contain individuals were selected. In total, 272 pictures were collected, containing 430 individuals. By use of the “figure rating scale” by Pulvers et al. (2004), the weight of those 430 individuals was determined and systematically coded by the use of a codebook.
The portrayal of overweight people in media coverage of obesity was compared to the portrayal of non-overweight individuals, especially on those criteria that are decisive to stigmatization. Overall, we found that 68 % of the obese/overweight people were depicted in a stigmatizing way. Their heads were more likely to be cut out of the image, they were more often dressed sloppily and they were more frequently portrayed with only their lower body (focus on belly and buttocks) in comparison with non-overweight people. Furthermore, obese/overweight individuals were less likely to be shown in professional clothing or exercising than were non-overweight people. Instead, they were more often associated with passive behavior or medical environments (as patients). (picture: adaptation of joemias/pixabay_free pictures)

WHEN APPLE MEETS DARWIN. How journalism students look to the future of journalism

BCJS member Hedwig de Smaele will present her work on the future of journalism at the annual MeCCSA conference (Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association) at the University of Stirling in Scotland, at the beginning of January 2019.


The future of journalism is pre-eminently described in terms of change (transformation,  disruption) rather than continuity. Change causes uncertainty; one way to deal with this is to “imagine” possible future scenarios.

In 2015, the Dutch Journalism Fund presented four scenarios for the future of Dutch journalism in 2025. They differ from each other to the extent that they embrace technology and to the degree of trust in institutions.

We analyzed how master students in journalism (“tomorrow’s journalists”) look at them: Which scenario for the future is found the most likely? Which scenario is the most desirable? And why?

In November 2017, 27 students wrote a blog essay about the future of journalism. The essays were analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively. In November 2018, the study will be repeated with a second group of  students.

The first results show that students consider the future in terms of continuity rather than change. The present and the future of journalism are equally discussed in most essays and are sometimes even equated. The most likely scenario (A Handful of Apples) is one in which only a few tech giants (e.g., Google, Facebook) become the main news sources for passive consumers. The most desirable scenario (Darwin’s Game), however, is a world in which the professional news media maintain a leading role, admittedly with more attention to the public then is now the case. Scenarios that opt for a thorough do-it-yourself mentality (Wisdom of the Crowd, The Shire), students do not consider as likely or desirable.

Celebration 10 years BCJS

Lecture night on constructive journalism followed by drink and reception

Looking positive towards the future

Thursday, 6th of December 2018

10 j BCJS cojoProgramme:

18.30-18.40 Welcome and introduction by director BCJS – prof. dr. Rozane De Cock

18.40-19.00 Deconstruction of constructive journalism. Case: VRT– prof. dr. Hedwig de Smaele

19.00-19.30 Founders of news site “Zwijgen is geen optie”. – Dhr. Tom Mahy en Anthony Bosschem

19.30-20.15 Keynote speaker: Building blocks for futureproof journalism  – prof. dr. Liesbeth Hermans, lector Constructive Journalism, Windesheim Nederland

20.15 Drink and reception at the foyer

You are most welcome after confirming your attendance to rozane.decock@kuleuven.be

Profile of news avoiders

ECREA Conference Lugano

The profile of news avoiders, their motives and the potential of constructive journalism as inverting factor.

At the beginning of November, Rozane De Cock presented the results of the research she conducted together with Joris Becq and Hedwig de Smaele on news avoiders and the potential of constructive journalism to reverse this avoidance behavior. News consumption patterns are changing fundamentally due to digital and mobile possibilities (Newman et al., 2016).


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Digital media have increased the amount of available information along with a stretched media choice, but this increase in news supply does not necessarily result in increasing use (Strömbäck, 2017).


news avoid1

Strömbäck points out that the transition from low- to high-choice media environments has led to the likelihood that “people who are not interested in news are incidentally exposed to news might have declined”. This could result in what Van den Bulck (2006) calls “unintentional news avoidance”. The study of Schofield Clark and Marchi (2017) shows that young people are by-passing traditional news organizations in the way they share news with each other. Audiences as minority groups and youngsters often feel misrepresented by mainstream news media, turn to alternative sources or lose their interest in news. This could be seen as “intentional news avoiding” and has serious implications for news organizations. Seen from a democratic ‘news leads to informed citizens’ angle, this shift away from news is “cause for concern if considerable numbers of citizens seem to be disconnected from the news” (Schroder & Blach-Orsten, 2016, s.p.).

In this study, we explicitly link the potential of constructive journalism with news avoiding motives. Precisely the focus of constructive journalism (Gyldensted, 2011; McIntyre, 2015) on possible solutions and alternatives for the problems touched upon in the news and progress or lessons learned for the future could function as clear answers to the complaints and motives of news avoidance.

Chinese Media in a New Era of Disruption

For this BCJS event, co-organized by the Brussels Center for Chinese Discourse Studies, Lut Lams invited two China experts to share their views on contemporary Chinese official discourse on the role of the media. First, David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project, University of Hong Kong, presented a chronological survey of continuities and changes in the Chinese official media policies since Chairman Mao came to power. Drawing on his years of experience observing Chinese political and media affairs and a great eloquence, Bandurski positioned contemporary Chinese state-media connections within a broad historical context and offered the audience a fascinating insight into the cyclical nature of disruptions of the ‘normal’ in the Chinese political and media scene. We learned about the recurrent alternations between periods of opening the media to a critical ‘People spirit’ and eras of imposing an ideological Party stance onto the media (‘Party spirit’). Spiced with rich illustrations and quotes from the past, the lecture reminded the audience that the ‘new’ or the ‘modern’ always carries an echo of the past. This presentation was followed by an in-depth interview of David Bandurski by the Belgian Sinologist-author-journalist Catherine Vuylsteke, who opened up the discussion into the wider area of Chinese political guidance of public opinion. The event was closed with some keen observations and questions from the public. (25th of October 2018)

Opening lecture by prof. Edgerly on young news users and changes

The BCJS had the pleasure of welcoming prof. dr. Stephanie Edgerly, Associate Professor, Medill School of Journalism, Nortwestern University, U.S., as opening lecturer at the beginning of the new academic year.

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Her expertise fits perfectly in the content of the master class “News and News Effects” and clearly has links with the news research of BCJS director prof. Rozane De Cock. Prof. Edgerly gave an inspiring talk about her research on changing news consumption patterns among young people and the role of parental influence in news use.

Examining strategic narratives in Chinese official discourse

On the 29th of May 2018, the Department of Informatics and Media of Uppsala University (Sweden) hosted a ’higher seminar’ by prof. dr. Lutgard Lams, entitled “Examining strategic narratives in the Chinese official discourse under Xi Jinping’s rule”. Prof. Lams presented her study about the ways China has, in recent years, used its soft power to spread the ’China story’ internationally and how its strategic narratives differ depending on the targeted audience, either international or domestic or both.

“The China dream”Lut2uppsala

Prof Lams also looked into divergences/convergences with the political discourse of previous generations of leadership by examining argumentation patterns and discursive strategies used in speeches and texts produced by top-level officials and their ‘core’ leader, Xi Jinping. The focus lay on Xi Jinping’s hallmark slogans, such as ‘the China dream’, the ‘new normal’ and the ‘Four Comprehensives’. The presentation was followed up with an interesting discussion on how these ideas are spread through the Chinese and foreign media.


Identity construction of tv news presenters: valuable feedback

Lut1As a member of the PhD committee for doctoral student Chen Yiming, prof. Lutgard Lams was invited to take up the role of respondent at his 50% PhD Seminar, organized at the Department of Informatics and Media Uppsala University (Sweden) on 28 May 2018. Mr Chen Yiming gave a brief presentation of the theoretical and methodological approach in his dissertation about ’The Identity Construction of the TV News Presenter in Guangdong TV from a discourse-theoretical perspective’. Lutgard Lams presented her views on the research, which gave rise to a fruitful dialogue with the PhD candidate, other members of the committee and his fellow PhD students.


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