Basic Toolkit / Finding a Solutions-Oriented Story
Many people who want to do solutions journalism aren’t always sure where to begin. This is partly because, as illustrated above, it can be much easier to spot problems than solutions. It isn’t that challenging to find examples of widespread problems. But it can take work to find places that are effectively responding to those problems.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that solutions don’t exist. We just need to reorient how we see the world, to be more mindful of compelling solutions. Here are some suggestions on where to look:
Peer-reviewed academic papers
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), case studies, and literature reviews can help surface what’s working in different spheres. Google Scholar is a good place to start. Type in a few keywords (e.g., dental health Missouri immigrants) and consider narrowing the time period in which you look. Even reading over a few abstracts can give you a sense of the new thinking in a field.
If you have a chance, try contacting the authors of relevant academic papers — it’s usually not too difficult to find contact information on institutional websites. Interview them, even if only for background purposes. Find out what groundbreaking events are helping define their fields, whether there are any cutting-edge research papers worth exploring, and if there are any rising academic stars worth following.
Datasets (for example, the Global Burden of Disease report) can help surface places and institutions that are having the most success at dealing with common problems. Is something happening in these locations that could be replicated elsewhere? This is known as the “positive deviance” approach to journalism.
People involved in implementation
One distinction between solutions journalism and traditional journalism is the emphasis on the “how.” Good solutions-oriented stories report not only on what is happening, but also the nitty-gritty details of how it’s done. For that reason, it’s often beneficial to speak to people involved in direct implementation of an idea. For example, someone writing about innovations in daycare would find it vital to speak to daycare providers who have seen the implementation firsthand. Since subjects have an interest in claiming success, more than the usual skepticism is warranted.
Networks of innovators
Groups like Ashoka, The Aspen Institute, Echoing Green, The Skoll Foundation, The Schwab Foundation, and TED have vetted thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators. People in their networks could be great sources for solutions-oriented stories. Many of these networks hold social change conferences, which can be a great place to meet many of the people on this list.
Program officers in foundations
Foundations are in the business of vetting ideas. Many program officers have developed a deep understanding of their fields over time — and the ideas within them that have taken off. Since foundation officers will often over-sell their grantees, however, it can be more useful to ask them about programs they don’t fund.
Your own expertise
If you have a beat, or you are drawn to a specific topic, build a network of contacts. They can tell you about innovative responses underway and introduce you to the people behind them.
Hold a mirror up to your own life
If you are having trouble vetting after-school options in your town, it’s likely that others are struggling with it as well. Are there cities that have responded to this issue? Solutions journalism isn’t just about responses to problems that “those” people face in faraway places, but all of us — including journalists. Some of the most successful solutions-oriented stories are grounded in personal experiences.
Thank you SJN, this is very encouraging for me. I assist other francophone journalists in the United States (and English-speaking journalists in France). Feel free to reach out, you will find me under The French Sophie. Merci.
I like how you point out how to tackle each step of this through an objective lens. When it comes to embarking on pursuing a story or topic such as this I always feel rather overwhelmed as to where to start and begin. This step by step guide is a great way to keep you grounded in following the correct path, and asking all the right and necessary questions.
Very informative. Thank you!
"Since foundation officers will often over-sell their grantees, however, it can be more useful to ask them about programs they don’t fund." Could you explain this in more detail, and the evidence you have for it?
Thanks a lot!
Extremely helpful. Thank you.
Belén López Mensaque
Great tools to start practicing solutions journalism.
I am glad I read this. I was already reviewing academic papers on the solutions approach to a particular issue. This section gives me the assurance that I am on the right track. Thank you, team SJN.
Chidera Rosecamille Aneke
This is totally different from what i'm used to. I totally love it ad will be willing to practice.
This is simple solutions focused. Many time I have had issues with some Editors who still subscribe to the old school of thought that we compromise our professionalism by covering solutions. Yet even today the new Thinking in Journalism is about solid solutions. So in Journalism parlance again, we compromise our professionalism by not covering solutions to the problems. I submit to the training philosophies being advanced here to precision. I am interested to learn more. God bless, Respectfully, Kepher, Kenya.
This is the training I have been looking for. I am stoked to have access to this!!
I favor the approach of starting at the bottom. Start with the ordinary person who is affected (or most affected) by the problem. First of all, you'd be surprised how many unsung heroes there are among us, in every community. Second, you can better avoid slipping into the preachy, "Father-knows-best" tone that experts, both acknowledged and self-styled tend to have.
WHO IS DOING THIS BETTER?
“I think about who in my town would know about creative efforts at solving problems. One thing you could do is go to community foundations and ask them. Another would be to think of specific topics that interest you. Then call people in that field and ask them who’s trying to solve this problem.”