Tips from the Solutions Journalism Network: How journalists can focus on more than just problems

by Will True
Oct 30, 2018 in Specialized Topics

Headlines and stories on epidemics and systemic issues can be found in seconds all over the world, but reporting on ways to improve those conditions is more rare.

“The problems scream, but the solutions whisper,” David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), said at ivoh’s 2014 Mindful Media Summit. Bornstein said that journalists have as much a duty to report on possible solutions as they have to report on the problems themselves.

On Wednesday, SJN held its first in a monthly webinar series to educate journalists on the practice and benefits of what they call “solutions journalism,” a way for reporters to examine and cover some of the world’s most important issues. Samantha McCann, SJN’s network curator, moderated the webinar.

According to SJN co-founder Tina Rosenberg, a Pulitzer Prize winner and columnist at The New York Times, solutions journalism stories focus on the response to a crisis or issue. SJN asks journalists to look at problems and examine how they are being addressed, like the high price of AIDS medication in developing countries and how Brazil has circumvented those prices to treat its citizens.

Solutions journalism stories provide evidence of results, produce valuable insights and openly discuss the limitations of certain solutions. These stories benefit readers as well. An Associated Press study found that young adults experience “news fatigue,” an apathetic reaction toward negative news. However, when readers feel something can be done, they tune back in and are more likely to share solutions stories on social media.

Rosenberg said editors have to play an important role in the creation of solutions stories, incentivizing reporters and giving them more time to work on stories.

But how can journalists actually tell solutions stories? Rosenberg offered several pieces of advice:

  • Look for “positive deviants,” the best performers in a category, in addition to the worst performers. By comparing the two, readers can better understand both problems and solutions.

  • If the problem is widely known, you don’t have to spend time elaborating on the issue. If you’re reporting on bedbugs, you could jump right to how New York City is addressing the pest problem.

  • If you’re doing an investigative series, try including a solutions story at the end. It enriches the series and allows it to end on a more engaging note.

  • The solution you report on doesn’t have to be the solution to the problem. Try narrowing your definition of solution to one aspect of a problem.

  • Look at how a physical location has improved over time. What changes were made that could have caused this improvement? Stories like that offer important insights for comparable locations.

For more information on Solutions Journalism Network, the value of solutions stories and tools to use in reporting, click here.

Main image CC-licensed via Flickr by Tiger Pixel.