The Solutions Journalism Network is supporting rigorous reporting on social problems, with an eye on what works.
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. Around the world, journalism is experiencing a watershed moment. According to a Knight-Gallup survey, 84% of Americans believe that the news media is key to a healthy democracy. Less than half, 44% can name an objective news source.
Mobile, social media, and the ease of online publishing have disaggregated the news into billions of channels. 58% of those surveyed say that more sources can make it harder to stay informed. 73 say that the spread of inaccurate information on the internet is a major problem.
Local and regional news organizations face financial challenges. The rise of free classified ads, such as Craigslist, and job boards, such as Monster, have siphoned off critical revenue sources, leaving local news organizations to do more with less. Last month, the Denver Post published a picture illustrating the decline of staff levels from more than 250 in 2013 to fewer than 100 five years later.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer survey in the UK, people are consuming less news media. Why? 40% report that the news is too depressing. But does news have to leave consumers feeling depleted, powerless, and cynical?
Tina Rosenberg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist. She is the co-writer of a column in the NY Times called Fixes, which looks at social problems with an eye towards solutions. She is also the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network.
According to Rosenberg, since the 1970s Watergate era, serious journalists have “defined our jobs pretty exclusively as uncovering wrongdoing.” What is the consequence? “It has been such an exclusive focus on what’s wrong, that we are distorting people’s view of society. We are not covering the other half of the story, which is how people are solving those problems.”
The Solutions Journalism Network is attempting to legitimize and promote journalists covering solutions. “We should be writing about how people are responding to problems and what evidence there is of success.”
Rosenberg says that consumers of news can spot a story written from a solutions perspective in two ways. “It would be a story that probably talks a little bit about the problems, but also looks at how someone is trying to solve it.”
She adds, “In a way, you’ll know it’s a solutions journalism story because it will have a different psychological effect on you. With traditional journalism, which is problem-focused, the effect it has is, we tend to want to go to bed and pull the covers over our heads.” However, “If you’re reading a solutions story, it makes you feel empowered, it makes you feel excited, it makes you feel like, hey, there is stuff going on out there to change things.”
Solutions journalism describes a problem, for example, the rise of opioids, or contaminated drinking water. However, the reporting does not stop there. Solutions journalism asks the question, “Who does it better?” Who is in a similar circumstance to us, but is taking action and creating results? “That’s what solutions journalism is,” Rosenberg says. “We’re going to report on this problem, but let’s also report on who is doing a better job, and how they’re doing it.”
Journalists need not give up their role as a watchdog to practice solutions journalism. In fact, Rosenberg assets that solutions journalism is an effective way to bring about change. “If you want to have an impact, if you want to bring about change in your city, it’s great to add that solutions component. Nothing embarrasses a city official more than being told, ah-hem, fifty miles away, they’re doing a much better job with the same resources.”
The Solutions Journalism Network is increasingly working with local and regional news outlets. “A lot of local news organizations have closed. The ones that haven’t closed have cut their staff. We’re working with one paper in Alabama, for example, that had forty people, fifteen years ago, and now has seven.” The Solutions Journalism Network is helping smaller news organizations to collaborate with nearby news outlets to work on stories. “One of the things we’re trying to do,” Rosenberg explains, “is get readers, and viewers and listeners in those areas reengaged in the news.”
What is the impact of solutions journalism? Rosenberg offers several examples of cities acting, based on solution stories. She adds “Solutions journalism increases trust: not only trust in our news organization because we have a better relationship with our city when people know we’re not just doing gotcha journalism…It not only increases trust in journalism. It increases our trust in each other.”
Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Tina Rosenberg:
[spp-tweet tweet=”“We have defined our jobs, pretty exclusively, as uncovering wrongdoing.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“It has been such an exclusive focus on what’s wrong, we are distorting people’s view of society.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“We should be writing about how people are responding to problems and what evidence there is of success.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“You’ll know it’s a solutions journalism story because it will have a different psychological effect on you.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“They’re thinking, ‘this is not real journalism.’” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“Real solutions journalism is going to a place and reporting on what they’re doing.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“We are not covering the other half of those stories, which is how people are solving those problems.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“Solutions journalism increases trust.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“You have a lot of newspapers that have been bought up by hedge fund managers.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“We have to produce a product that matters to people.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s really having an effect.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“We have to be thinking through what matters to our audience.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
[spp-tweet tweet=”“[They] don’t trust the news because they don’t see themselves reflected or respected by the news.” @tirosenberg @soljourno”]
Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
- Solutions Journalism Network: https://www.solutionsjournalism.org
- Solutions Journalism Hub: https://www.solutionsjournalism.org/hub
- Solutions Story Tracker: https://storytracker.solutionsjournalism.org
- Solutions Journalism Network on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/solutionsjournalism
- Solutions Journalism Network on Twitter: https://twitter.com/soljourno
- Solutions Journalism Network on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/solutionsjournalism
- Book: Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs: https://tonyloyd.com/book