We’ve found that to explain what solutions journalism is, it’s often effective to offer examples of what it isn’t. Here are seven types of solutions journalism impostors we’ve all seen in the media before.
These are stories that celebrate or glorify an individual, often at the expense of explaining the idea the individual exemplifies. Instead of talking about the merits of an approach an individual is advancing, the piece might gush about the person’s decision to leave a high-paying job to save the world.
These stories are often seen in the tech and innovation sections. They describe new gadgets in glowing terms – referring to them, for example, as “lifesavers.” Also, a note: Money is sometimes considered a silver bullet.
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You can sometimes distinguish this impostor because the sole or predominant voice is that of the organization being profiled. Like the silver bullet story, it doesn’t have much in the way of a ‘to be sure’ paragraph–i.e. the caveats to success–and appears as thinly veiled PR.
Opinion journalism can explore solutions if it contains real reporting about existing responses to problems (and the results). But “think tank journalism” refers to journalism that proposes things that don’t yet exist.
A lot of people think, when seeing the phrase ‘solutions journalism,’ that we’re promoting pieces that ask the reader to click a button at the end and give $5 to a cause. These stories offer an emotional plea and then ask for support for a specific cause, as a means to “solve” the issue.
This is a paragraph or sound bite at the end of a problem story that gives lip service to efforts at solving it. The solutions aren’t considered with real seriousness, but rather thrown in as an afterthought.
This kind of journalism is quirky and one-off. It often appears at the end of the evening news or on Thanksgiving, in the form of a kid with a lemonade stand or a guy who made a wheelchair for his beloved pig (the pig is, somewhat ironically, named “Chris P. Bacon”). It tells the viewer that the world has good people doing cute things, but doesn’t get to the structural issues that we want solutions journalism to address.
It seems there's something you don't like about journalism that proposes something that doesn't yet exist ("think tank journalism"). Is that because you think such writing should be published as an op-ed instead? Or perhaps you believe that an idea is only worth writing about if it has been tried. What if it takes discussion of 10 ideas before identifying three worth trying, and then trying those three ideas to find the one that works best. Should journalists turn their backs on the "discussion of 10 ideas" phase?