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Solutions Journalism

Solutions Journalism doesn’t offer its solution to issues. It does report on what others haveworked and what has not

by Kristin Taylor
David Bornstein co-authors the “Fixes” column in the New York Times, a column focused on solutions journalism. In his 2012 TED talk, Bornstein explains why he has pursued solutions in his investigative journalism rather than simply focusing on the problem.

Bornstein argues that consistently negative feedback alienates journalism’s desired audience. How many of us, he wonders, have stopped watching the nightly news because it feels like such an unrelenting parade of misery? He has a point. Yet quick fluff hero stories — a firefighter saving a kitten from a tree — are also not the answer. He posits that serious journalism can investigate solutions as easily as it can problems, and argues that news producers need to devote equal resources to this alternative approach.

This perspective charts an important middle ground between gloom and fluff. Journalism students would benefit from watching this video and talking about the balance of their own articles. When writing about problems at school, are they also looking at what is working and how people are brainstorming possible solutions to the problem? If drug use at parties is a problem, they should report it honestly and fully. However, a solutions journalism approach would suggest they might also look into how organizations, adults or teenagers themselves try to address this problem.

Critics of solutions journalism fear this approach could cross the line between journalism and advocacy, and this is a valid concern. Student reporters must still go into their investigation of problems with an open mind, and they shouldn’t take a stance on the best way to solve the problem. After all, part of the issue, journalist Jonathan Stay argues, is agreeing on the problems in the first place.

“You can’t just sit down and make a list like ‘unemployment, education, crime, homelessness, global warming…’ and get to reporting,” Stay writes. “People are going to disagree not only about priorities, but about how to best to understand a problem, and even about whether or not certain things are problems. Dealing in solutions also tends to move the journalist from informer to advocate, which is tricky territory.”

But thinking about stories from this perspective — or at least considering it as a valid approach — is a good way to motivate reporters and readers alike. Consider an article one of my students wrote about the rise of hate crimes in early 2017. Although she didn’t even know about the concept of solutions journalism when she wrote this piece, the angle she took — the way Muslims and Jews are coming together to support one another — is clearly a solutions approach.

“In my initial research, all I kept seeing was negativity,” she wrote in an email when asked to reflect on her angle. “There were many articles about the increasingly terrible hate crimes, but limited stories on what people were doing about them. When the news constantly evokes feelings of hopelessness, people stop reading it. I then decided to take on an angle of positivity, one in which there was community and action instead of a list of atrocities.”

“The better people feel after reading the news, the more people’s trust in the media will be restored,” she added, “which is imperative to the functioning of our society.”

We don’t want our journalists to become advocates for causes, but we do want them to tell the whole story. The solutions, the people who help, are part of that story.

 

Quick Tip: Solutions Journalism

Guideline: One approach to reporting on problems in a community is Solutions Journalism. Students wanting to try this approach should work to examine what is and is not working to address existing problems rather than simply advocating for a specific solution.

Reasoning/suggestions:

Solutions journalism is an approach to news reporting that focuses on the responses to social issues as well as the problems themselves. Solutions stories, anchored in credible evidence, explain how and why responses are working or not working. Stories do not offer views on possible solutions. Separate op ed pieces can.

Students can use a solutions approach when reporting about problems in their communities.

Solutions journalism approaches stories this way.:

  • Reporting on a community’s issues and problems
  • Reporting about has or has not been done to solve it
  • Reporting on how similar problems/issues are solved in other communities
  • Reporting how and if this method could work at home
  • Reporting on any unsung heroes who have made strides to solve the issue in some capacity

Resources:

Lesson: Solutions journalism in scholastic publications, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Solutions Journalism Network

Audio: Bad news isn’t the whole story, On the Media

Video: Solutions journalism, David Bornstein, TED

Fixes, New York Times

The hard part of solution journalism is agreeing on the problems,” Jonathan Stray

 

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