Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Nigeria-based photojournalist Femi Amogunla looks beyond the 'problems' faced by his subjects. From his series for Al Jazeera entitled 'From trash to treasure', Jumoke Olowokere’s giant Christmas tree, constructed from discarded bottles, has become a permanent fixture on the street near her office in Ibadan [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

Making the world a better place - one camera ‘click’ at a time

What does it mean to be a constructive journalist? And how does that translate to photojournalism?


Learning about the concept of ‘constructive journalism’ reminds me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”. Constructive journalism seeks to go beyond the "single story", which is one that solely focuses on the "problems", in order to explore the possible solutions as well.

I recently completed a four-month fellowship programme on constructive journalism with the Deutsche Welle Akademie.

They had selected 15 journalists from across the African continent and, over several sessions with world leading journalists, we dived together into the term ‘constructive journalism’, the style, the ethics and what it means for the future of the media industry.

What does constructive journalism mean? 

Scientists have shown a connection between “doom scrolling” and mental health, and it doesn’t look good. Once upon a time, the screaming headlines of bad news might have attracted our audiences but not anymore. There are so many terrible things happening in the world already, and the audience gets it; they feel it. How does a virus so small for instance lock the whole world away in fear? 

Photojournalist Femi Amogunla captures one of the moments at the COVID-19 vaccination drive organised for persons with disabilities by polio survivor Raheem Yusuf in Ibadan, Nigeria. [Courtesy of Femi Amogunla]

It is time for the media industry to find a new balance.

This is where constructive journalism comes in: what is the alternative to all the ‘problems’ we are bombarded with every day? Sometimes, it is hidden in solutions which may already exist or just by your reportage providing insights into possible future alternatives. 

This is what I have learned as a photojournalist.

Lesson 1: Your 'lede image' does not have to bleed to make your story lead

How do we move on from our obsession with catastrophe, disaster and problems in our reporting?

First, we need a mindset change, personally and collectively. I have been asking myself: what next after your work has shone a light on the problem without providing possible solutions? What has all the ‘bleeding reportage’ led us to as an industry? Or as a people? 

There are ways to capture a problem without robbing your subjects of their humanity. As photojournalists, we need to find that way


And this is not just about journalists alone. Media producers, media owners and everyone involved in the entire chain of news production - we all have a role to play. The trick that attracted audiences in the past may not be working anymore. If the game has changed, why are the game players refusing to change?

For constructive journalism to take wings, everyone in the media value chain must be willing to change their mindsets in their approach to news. Yes, it is cloudy out there - our audience see it, they feel it but do they want to be reminded every time that it is all cloudy, and all dangerous? They know it already.

They also know something else: that every cloud has a silver lining. But will we be courageous enough to find and show that silver lining? This also means that I need to have the tenacity to find those few media houses that will be courageous enough to publish the silver lining.

Raheem Yusuf, a polio survivor, visits a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Ibadan, Nigeria, in hopes of finding a solution to the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities in obtaining vaccines because of access restrictions. [Femi Amogunla]

Using photography to help bring vaccines to the disabled 

As a photojournalist, it is important for me to always try to find the glee in the gloom, the delight in the doom. Sometimes, it is even in the framing of the pictures. 

For this particular fellowship, I captured the story of a man who was trying to improve the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs).

This problem is not new: people with disabilities have always faced challenges accessing healthcare in Nigeria, and the COVID-19 vaccine has been no exception. The solution to this particular issue that polio survivor Raheem Yusuf came up with was by no means a magic wand: the accessibility challenges in the country have not disappeared. However, through his video campaign and vaccination drive, many PwDs have managed to get vaccinated. His story shows us some possible alternatives.

Lesson 2: Constructive journalism takes time and courage 

I have found that photography poses its own set of challenges when it comes to taking a constructive approach to journalism. 

Unlike the writer or the video journalist who can easily flow from ‘the challenge—the issue—to the solution’ in a linear manner, it is tougher to achieve this with photos. Also, pictures are open to interpretation by the viewer. While what they see is out there, how they see it is a different matter entirely.  

As part of a photo series he wrote for Al Jazeera entitled 'The plight of Nigeria's widows', photojournalist Femi Amogunla captured this image of Monsurat Omobonike whose husband died of a stroke in 2003 at the age of 60. She has struggled to support her children since and also lost her son at the age of 30 [Femi Amogunla/AL Jazeera]

My experience during the training made me rethink the old saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Framing is critical. With every shot, I need to ask myself: what are the words this picture conveys? What are the stories embedded in the words? And how can I be “constructive” through the narrative of the pictures?  

If  you can capture “problems” with a picture, why can’t you capture feasible solutions to the same problems? Constructive journalism takes a cursory look at what we can do about what has happened and how the issue might be better addressed. 

So, how do you take images that lead to solutions? 

Research is key. Almost every story has been reported before. What is the angle that has not yet been covered? 

As a photojournalist, it is important for me to always try to find the glee in the gloom, the delight in the doom


Study the reports, look at the images used in telling the story and how they are captured. And then ask yourself: what is the solution angle to this story, especially in your own immediate location? What new angles can be used to tell old stories? How can the environment of the picture make the story more constructive? 

Research also involves having a better understanding of your subjects, and where you are photographing them. This not only prepares you for your work but it also helps you address any personal biases you might have had about the story. 

The truth is that "problem-focused" reporting needs to be confronted lest it creep into my shots. 

‘I can’t count the number of times I had fallen sick since COVID-19 started and I dare not go to any of the hospitals for fear of contracting the virus,’ says Ifeoma, a subject photographed by Femi for a story he wrote for Al Jazeera. [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

An open-minded call or visit to the people, groups and places whose stories you intend to write about will help to put whatever notion we initially have of them into clearer perspective. 

Have a general conversation about your proposed project with those people, listen to them intently, ask questions where necessary and be observant of the environment.

This may also be a good time to start noting the shots you think will fit into telling your story more appropriately. Before leaving, agree on a specific date that is comfortable for them for the actual work to begin. Revisit everything you have written down once you are back home, it may help you decipher more constructive angles. 

Sometimes, if you are unable to map out a constructive approach, talk it through with a friend or colleague. Your solution may be in the hands of a friend or mentor.

Sometimes, you need to talk to contemporaries. I call friends who are also photojournalists. Once you present your findings and how you intend to tell the story, listen to their feedback. They may have ideas that that will help you come up with even better constructive images.

Femi Amogunla captured this image as part of his series entitled 'Meet Nigeria's child apprentices' for Al Jazeera. “People are shocked sometimes when they compare my physical size to the amount of work that I do.” Kunle (not his real name), 13, apprentice bricklayer [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

Lesson 3: You, the photojournalist, are not an island 

Research provides an avenue for collaboration; the missing piece in your ‘constructive puzzle’ may be in someone else’s hands. 

On the day you take your pictures for your report, you cannot talk about the solution without engaging with the problem. 

Make your subjects comfortable. Upon arrival at the location, do not immediately bring out your camera and start clicking. Make your subjects feel at home. Talk generally about items of interest, create a comfortable and relaxed environment. You would not want to take an image of an uncomfortable  subject. You, as the photographer, also need to feel at home in the environment. This happens only when your subject is too.

If  you can capture ‘problems’ with a picture, why can’t you capture feasible solutions to the same problems?


Beyond your specific subject, delve a little deeper into the wider community and environment, and look for other people who may also be active agents in your story. 

They may know a great deal about the main issue you are reporting on; and they may be familiar with proposed solutions. Showing their efforts and contributions, through your photography of such people may also encourage other people to try out what they have seen or read about once the story is published in their own community too. They may also be part of the story. 

While you’re at it, do not forget to be humane. While trying to capture accessibility challenges that PwDs face in the country, it would not be humane for me to photograph them in a humiliating way. 

As part of a photo essay for Al Jazeera entitled 'Little pieces of home', photojournalist Femi Amogunla photographed 13-year-old Koffi, who had left Ghana to come to Nigeria to work as a farm hand [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

Why would I show another human being helpless on the floor, through no fault of their own, just because I want to illustrate the problem as starkly as I can? There are ways to capture the problem without robbing your subjects of their humanity. As photojournalists, we need to find that way.

Once done, do not hesitate to show your subjects their captured images. Encourage them to voice out their thoughts on the image, mainly to know if they are comfortable with them before they are released. Once they are not comfortable with a particular kind of image with respect to privacy, try other shots - silhouette, close up, and more. 

Lesson 4: When your subjects are comfortable you build trust and respect

Enough with the problem, it is also important to be deliberate in capturing images that highlight either the subject trying to solve the problem or which show efforts being applied to solve the problem. So, how do you find that balance? 

Nature may have some answers. Nature photography may sometimes come in handy while telling a constructive story. For instance, rather than capture the "obvious stress" on my subject who has just returned from work in the evening wheeling himself home, capturing him against the setting sun, may be a story of resilience - a more subtle way of telling the story constructively.

After the pictures, then what? 

'Finding the glee in the gloom' - as a photojournalist, Femi Amogunla tries to portray more than just the problems faced by his subjects in Nigeria. Each year, the Yoruba people in Nigeria offer thanks to Yemoja, goddess of the river and mother of all other Yoruba gods - here, one of the Bata drummers joins the procession to the river [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

Once you are done with the project and you have carefully selected your final images, you need to provide context through your photo captions. The captions are an important element in constructive journalism - take your time to craft them appropriately. This is key and helps your audience to understand your work better. 

You don’t want to do an excellent piece of work which will go unseen because of a poorly thought out title.  

On a final note, through doing this work, do not expect to become known as a great constructive photojournalist whose work eliminates decades of knotty representation of marginalised and vulnerable people across the world. However, with constant practice and training, and a perception about life’s challenges as being solution-embracing, you will contribute to making our world a better place to live in.  

I am not deluded that things can change with the magical click of the camera; I know it will take slow painful steps, and a lot of unlearning and relearning: One click , one story at a time.


More Articles

Silenced Voices and Digital Resilience: The Case of Quds Network

Unrecognized journalists in conflict zones face serious risks to their safety and lack of support. The Quds Network, a Palestinian media outlet, has been targeted and censored, but they continue to report on the ground in Gaza. Recognition and support for independent journalists are crucial.

Yousef Abu Watfe يوسف أبو وطفة
Yousef Abu Watfeh Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Artificial Intelligence's Potentials and Challenges in the African Media Landscape

How has the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence impacted newsroom operations, job security and regulation in the African media landscape? And how are journalists in Africa adapting to these changes?

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 18 Feb, 2024
Media Blackout on Imran Khan and PTI: Analysing Pakistan's Election Press Restrictions

Implications and response to media censorship and the deliberate absence of coverage for the popular former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in the media during the 2024 elections in Pakistan.

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 14 Feb, 2024
Digital Battlegrounds: The New Broadcasting Bill and Independent Journalism in India

New legislation in India threatens the freedom of independent journalism. The draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 grants the government extensive power to regulate and censor content, potentially suppressing news critical of government policies.

Safina Nabi Published on: 11 Feb, 2024
Pegasus Spyware: A Grave Threat to Journalists in Southeast Asia

The widespread deployment of spyware such as Pegasus in Southeast Asia, used by governments to target opposition leaders, activists, and journalists, presents significant challenges in countering digital surveillance. This is due to its clandestine operations and the political intricacies involved. The situation underscores the urgent need for international cooperation and heightened public awareness to address these human rights infringements.

AJR Contributor Published on: 5 Feb, 2024
Media Monopoly in Brazil: How Dominant Media Houses Control the Narrative and Stifle Criticism of Israel

An in-depth analysis exploring the concentration of media ownership in Brazil by large companies, and how this shapes public and political narratives, particularly by suppressing criticism of Israel.

Al Jazeera Logo
Rita Freire & Ahmad Al Zobi Published on: 1 Feb, 2024
Monitoring of Journalistic Malpractices in Gaza Coverage

On this page, the editorial team of the Al Jazeera Journalism Review will collect news published by media institutions about the current war on Gaza that involves disinformation, bias, or professional journalistic standards and its code of ethics.

A picture of the Al Jazeera Media Institute's logo, on a white background.
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Published on: 30 Jan, 2024
Cameroonian Media Martyrs: The Intersection of Journalism and Activism

Experts and journalists in Cameroon disagree on the relationship between journalism and activism: some say journalism is activism; others think they are worlds apart, while another category says a “very thin” line separate both

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 28 Jan, 2024
Silent Suffering: The Impact of Sexual Harassment on African Newsrooms

Sexual harassment within newsrooms and the broader journalistic ecosystem is affecting the quality and integrity of journalistic work, ultimately impacting the organisation’s integrity and revenue.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 23 Jan, 2024
Echos of Israeli Discourse in Latin American Media on Gaza

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 Nov, 2023
Why have opposition parties in India issued a boycott of 14 TV presenters?

Media workers in India argue that boycotts of individual journalists are not the answer to pro-Government reporting bias

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 23 Oct, 2023
The bombs raining down on Gaza from Israel are beyond scary, beyond crazy

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: As Israel bombarded Gaza for the third night, I found myself closer to a missile hit than I could have imagined

Maram Humaid Published on: 11 Oct, 2023
Reporter’s Notebook - what I learned from covering the Kalash people

As journalists, our fascination with Indigenous communities can blind us to our ethical obligations to respect privacy and dignity of those we document - we must reflect carefully

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 5 Oct, 2023
The French banlieues and their troubled relationship with the media

Discriminatory media coverage of recent unrest in the suburbs of Paris shows that little has changed since the uprisings of 2005

Ahmed Nazif Published on: 28 Sep, 2023
Why are Zimbabwe’s elections always surrounded by media controversy?

Election season in Zimbabwe has long been shrouded in controversy, with intimidation of opposition activists and journalists, combined with disorganisation at the ballots creating a perfect storm for chaos. This year was no different

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 25 Sep, 2023
Analysis: The media’s coverage of the Pakistan cable car incident

It was a roller coaster ride with news organisations all over the world giving minute-by-minute reports on the daring rescue. How does the media create suspense and is this sort of coverage useful?

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 21 Sep, 2023
How to use data to report on earthquakes

Sifting through data sounds clinical, but journalists can use it to seek out the human element when reporting on natural disasters such as earthquakes

Arwa Kooli Published on: 19 Sep, 2023
‘I had no idea how to report on this’ - local journalists tackling climate change stories

Local journalists are key to informing the public about the devastating dangers of climate change but, in India, a lack of knowledge, training and access to expert sources is holding them back

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 13 Sep, 2023
Ethical reporting - how to cover suicide responsibly

Sensationalist reporting of suicide cases has been shown to cause a rise in the numbers of people taking their own lives in affected communities. Journalists must take great care

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 7 Sep, 2023
‘Don’t let someone else narrate your stories for you’ - travel journalists in the global south

THE LONG READ: Life as a travel journalist isn’t just for privileged Westerners ‘discovering’ quaint parts of south-east Asia and Africa

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 1 Sep, 2023
‘People need to stop blindly obeying the law’ - journalists fighting on the fringes in Vietnam

THE LONG READ: Imprisoned, exiled and forced to base themselves overseas, independent journalists in Vietnam are punished harshly if they publish the ‘wrong’ sort of content. Some, such as Luật Khoa tạp chí, are fighting back

AJR Correspondent Published on: 25 Aug, 2023
Ethics and safety in OSINT - can you believe what you see?

OSINT is increasingly important for journalists in a digital world. We take a look at ethics, safety on the internet and how to spot a ‘deepfake’

Sara Creta Published on: 15 Aug, 2023
‘Other journalists jeer at us’ – life for mobile journalists in Cameroon

Journalists in Cameroon are using their phones in innovative ways to report the news for many different types of media, but major news organisations have still not caught up

Akem Nkwain Published on: 1 Aug, 2023
‘Life of journalists is cheap’ - how the Philippines became deadly for reporters

Forging ahead with a career in journalism is fraught with difficulty in the Philippines - and many are walking away. What went so wrong?

Ana P Santos Published on: 19 Jul, 2023