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Contents
  1. I. Introduction (30m)
  2. II. Basic Reporting (60m)
  3. III. Basic Storytelling (30m)

Basic Toolkit / Finding a Solutions-Oriented Story

Solutions Journalism and Investigations

In many ways, investigative reporting is an ideal vehicle for solutions journalism. The reporting mechanics are essentially the same in both cases: reporters must understand not just what happened, but how and why it happened.

If done well, solutions journalism can strengthen the most hard-hitting investigations. It’s a way to hold public officials responsible not just for bad stuff they may be doing, but also for the good stuff they aren’t trying. Profiling examples of success takes away any excuses for bad behavior. It’s also often a fresher, more reader-friendly way to report on a depressing subject.

Here are two ways you could add a solutions focus to your next investigative series:

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Contrast your investigative expose with a solutions story

Strengthen your exposé by also reporting on a comparable or nearby place that’s doing it better. Many investigative series give a cursory mention to better responses. Don’t waste that story! Use it to explore deeply why that response works, and what others can learn from it.

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Katharine Mieszkowski investigated the difficulty California parents face when looking for vital information about the safety of potential childcare providers. This was a critical first step in holding policy makers accountable. But like so many investigations, it was only the first step; pointing out the inadequacy of California’s outdated system spurred outrage, but didn’t provide answers as to what concerned parents might advocate for instead.

Courtney Martin later reported on Indiana, a state where inspectors are using the latest in technology—including tablets in the field—and administrators are structuring services online, in person, and over the phone so that busy, overwhelmed parents can get the information they need to keep their kids safe. Now California parents don’t just have the knowledge of what’s broken, but a viable example to point to when they demand better services.

Frame your investigation with a solutions story

Let’s say you are exposing bad behavior. For example, nursing home industry lobbyists persuade state legislatures to go soft on nursing home abuse. Or, the for-profit prison industry runs a public relations campaign that keeps states from instituting drug courts and other alternatives to prison.

Has any place successfully bucked that pressure to do the right thing? If so, you can tell the story of one place’s successful efforts to defy it. In the process, you can report on everything you would have put into a more traditionally- framed expose. In our section on solutions reporting and impact, we talk about how Tina Rosenberg did just this in her investigation of how Brazil handled the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the turn of the century.

4 Comments

  • Jeff Elder

    It hadn’t occurred to me to contrast an expose with a successful approach elsewhere. Clearly that would add to the coverage and the credibility of the investigation.

  • Mary Agoyi

    Personally, I think it is possible to use a template that works in a different country even a different continent. Keeping in view that despite the separate climes, the indices and surrounding factors might actually be similar... for example, underdeveloped sub-Saharan countries and 3rd world Asian countries.

  • Chidera Rosecamille Aneke

    Does this means that it is also possible to use what works in a different country (in a different continent) considering that the indices might be different to portray what my country isn't getting right?

  • Chidera Rosecamille Aneke

    Does this means that it is also possible to use what works in a different country (in a different continent) considering that the indices might be different to portray what my country isn't getting right?

Doing Solutions Journalism on Deadline

Introduction