When Promise Eze learned of solutions journalism for the first time last year, he was struck by the idea of reporting on individuals who were using local initiatives to solve society's problems. It was a new approach to storytelling in Nigeria.
Journalists usually define news as “what’s gone wrong,” according to the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN). Solutions journalism, in contrast, investigates and explains how people try to address issues. It demonstrates that responses to problems are also newsworthy.
Eze hopes to use local languages to tell these solutions stories of local communities in Nigeria. For instance, in the town of Sokoto, in northwest Nigeria where he is based, Eze is reporting in Pidgin English. This simplified form of English spoken in Nigeria can help bridge the country’s multilingual society, he thinks. “Reporting in local languages would help us to reach those at the grassroots to understand various government policies, efforts and solutions,” he said. Eze is currently working on a story about a nonprofit organization's efforts to address school absenteeism in Nigeria’s northwest.
Fellow journalist Seun Durojaiye adopted a similar approach when she launched a solutions journalism training in Nigeria's three major local languages — Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba — in addition to Pidgin English, as an SJN Africa fellow. Through Social Voices, a digital platform for public service journalism, she wants to provide access to solution-based stories for non-English audiences in the country.
Social Voices is already building the capacity of local journalists to integrate the basics of solution journalism into their reporting. This organization has trained more than 50 local journalists so far, including Eze.
"Getting journalists to adopt SoJo is hinged on the principle that journalists who break news or do investigative journalism must recognize that it’s their duty to tell people the whole story," Durojaiye said. "The whole story here means that if there’s an initiative set up to tackle corruption in public office, for instance, then they must also report about it — with the same rigor they use to report about corruption in public offices."
Solutions journalism is gaining traction as news avoidance and distrust grows. Just over half of respondents in an SJN report released in April 2021 said they preferred solutions-based stories, while a little less than one third prefer problem-focused stories. More media platforms in Nigeria are also setting up solutions desks in their newsrooms.
Social Voices is taking it a step further, particularly with the use of indigenous languages. "Training journalists on doing solutions journalism in local languages was my proposed and approved project as one of 10 inaugural Solutions Journalism Network fellows,” said Durojaiye. “Localizing solutions journalism was a straightforward attempt to combat information poverty, which exists when a large percentage of Nigerians can’t access or engage news due to language barriers.”
Lekan Otunfodurin, a media development expert, believes the initiative will, importantly, further inclusion.
"Promoting solutions journalism in local languages is commendable as it offers journalists who use the language to produce content to adopt a solutions storytelling approach, and not limit it to only English speakers,” said Otunfodurin. More journalists who speak the local language, he continued, would be able to apply the approach to investigate and report the issues most pressing to their audiences.
"There is a wrong assumption that solutions journalism is public relations or positive reporting. There are so many questions that a solutions report must answer, and insights provided to make it a standard solutions report," he said.
For Social Voices, this does not come without its own set of challenges. Durojaiye finds it difficult, for example, to find trainers for some of the local languages. Still, Durojoaiye isn’t deterred. She wants to conduct more training in many local languages until as many Nigerians as possible are able to easily access and engage with solutions-oriented stories. She also plans to connect journalists with other news platforms in the country. "We’re creating a community of journalists who can do SoJo, especially in local languages," she said.