By Chris Adams
A cartoon from The New Yorker sums up what many people see and feel when they watch and read the news:
“Everything is horrible – worse than we ever imagined – and there’s not a damn thing we can do about any of it,” a television news anchor announces, to the horrified faces of his viewers.
In fact, there are things that the news-consuming public can do to solve society’s most intractable problems. Too often, however, they don’t know what those things are because journalists don’t tell them.
Solutions journalism is designed to counter that, according to Kevin Grant of The GroundTruth Project, Report for America and the Solutions Journalism Network, which trains reporters on how they can report potential pathways out of societal problems.
In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Grant (bio, Twitter) talked about the tenants of solutions journalism. A key one: Solutions journalism isn’t soft, and it’s not light feel-good features. It doesn’t hype.
“One of the most helpful things in explaining solutions journalism is explaining what it’s not,” Grant said. “It’s not trying to create an overly rosy picture, and it’s not about violating any of the journalistic principles in your work.”
Instead, he said, “It embraces complexity. … It’s just as rigorous, if not more so, as other excellent journalism.”
Indeed, it highlights a response to a problem, but not the personalities. It is based on evidence and data – not merely great ideas that could prove worthwhile some day. It emphasizes approaches that are replicable. And it is upfront about the challenges and limitations the approach faces.
Some examples: A story on ways officials in Hawaii were trying to keep mentally ill people out of jails and emergency rooms, or a look at how Namibia has tackled HIV. Both examples could relate to any community.
There is evidence that readers and viewers respond, Grant said, sharing data from The Seattle Times that showed readers spending more time on solutions-based education stories than traditional education stories.
“It can be really temping to go problems first – and sometimes, problems exclusively,” he said. “We are hearing from audiences that they are a little bit tired of that.”
The Solutions Journalism Network is actively supporting such stories, with grants to support reporters’ travel expenses on assignment. Details here.