Basic Toolkit / Vetting a Solutions-Oriented Story
....Focus more on what’s going on than who’s doing it.
Good solutions journalism stories have characters, just like any story. But the work is usually the main character.
...Answer lots of “how” questions.
In addition to the five W’s (who, what, when, where, why), ask how. They get into the nitty gritty of how change happens. David Bornstein, SJN’s co-founder, explains: “When I was interviewing people for my book The Price of A Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank, I had a list of 60 ‘how’ questions. How did you finance this idea? How did you realize people would pay back their loans? How did you decide to make groups have five members? How did you respond when mullahs intimidated the borrowers?"
...Don’t shy away from detail.
When Peg Tyre wrote “The Writing Revolution,” which explored how a writing-based curriculum led to dramatic test score improvements in a Staten Island high school, her editors at The Atlantic were initially worried that the specificity she wanted to include was too wonky and would turn readers away. “Not at all,” Peg responded. “It’s just like ‘House,’ the television show. The details are what bring the story alive.” We’ve seen in solutions-oriented stories that details can often add interest and credibility.
...Put characters in scenes.
Solutions-oriented stories tend to focus less on a character’s intrinsic qualities (e.g., altruism or courage), and more on the character’s work. Show a character trying to solve a problem, and failing or succeeding. Show the results they’re getting, and how this differs from what others do. Show what can be learned from it. This has the added benefit of giving you dynamic scenes and a strong narrative.
...Keep the reader hooked through tension.
Every good story needs tension, but it doesn’t have to come from the clash of two sides, as is so often the default in today’s media. In a solutions-oriented story, the tension is also rarely in, “Will they succeed?” That’s often implied in the headline or in the lede. Rather, the tension is in answering the questions, “How will they solve this problem that has stumped so many others? How do they overcome the obstacles in their way?”
The power of detail...
Love the comparison to House! If you think about it, House is an example of a "solutions-focused" TV show as opposed to focusing solely on character conflicts.
“I don’t think that there’s one way to do a solutions story in terms of the writing. I do think that the 'howdunnit' approach is a really helpful place to start. Not who done it, but how done it. Exactly how did this person or team or community or whatever grapple with a problem and break it down and surmount it? Exactly how? I think that [structure] may be more interesting than a lot of reporters might immediately assume.”