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

Basic Toolkit

How do I know it's Solutions Journalism?

Here are five criteria to apply when writing/producing a solutions-oriented story. Not every story will meet all of these criteria, and that’s okay—but we hope this will inspire your thinking:

1

Focuses in depth on a response to a social problem

The acid test: If the story doesn’t describe a response, it’s not solutions journalism. That response should be explained in the context of the problem it’s trying to address. Documenting the causes of that problem will clarify the opportunity for a solution to create leverage and impact.

2

Examines how the response works in meaningful detail

A great solutions story delves into the how-to’s of problem solving, investigating questions like: What models are having success improving an educational outcome and how do they actually work? The narrative is driven by the problem solving and the tension is located in the inherent difficulty in solving a problem.

3

Focuses on effectiveness, not good intentions, presenting available evidence of results

Solutions journalism is about ideas—but like all good journalism, the determination of what works (or doesn’t) is supported, where possible, by solid evidence. For early-stage ideas, where the only “evidence” may be the assertions of credible observers, the key is to not overclaim.

4

Provides not just inspiration, but insight that others can use

What makes solutions journalism compelling is the discovery—the journey that brings the reader or viewer to an insight about how the world works and, perhaps, how it could be made to work better.

5

Discusses what's not working about the approach

There is no such thing as a perfect solution to a social problem. Every response has caveats, limitations, and risks. Good solutions journalism does not shy away from imperfection.

5 Comments

  • Chidindu Mmadu-Okoli

  • Chidindu Mmadu-Okoli

    I love this approach to journalism. Most stories tend to have open-ended angles seeking answers. But, these five points pf focus have opened my eyes to know that stories can also be told from the angle of impact and response and how it is measured.

  • Andrew Hobbs

    These resources are excellent, and I use them in teaching. One question: can you give an example of the 'insight' point?

  • Miguel Herrera Castro

    I'm no a journalist but this approach to journalism is a very interesting angle from which to explore how to communicate NGOs and government's social programs from an insiders view. I think it's always relevant to discuss (in point 2) how the solution can be financially sustainable, what segment of people it targets and what are the intermediate results between the solution and it's desired impact.

  • Chibuike Alagboso

    So does it mean that an amazing idea that has potential to impact a large group of people can be investigated as a solutions story? This is in reference to the last part of point 3 - For early-stage ideas, where the only “evidence” may be the assertions of credible observers, the key is to not overclaim.

Resources

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“I felt a great deal of satisfaction in those stories because I was not just lamenting a problem in Philly, but offering readers some new ideas. And I think the response on social media underscored that people are looking for that type of engagement, because it sparks more of a dialogue.”

Davidgambacorta 822ea661f6027d19ac8e8b575e77e91741c22ce93ce1c4c6f7a3811a81ae7706
David Gambacorta
Philadelphia Magazine!
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Quiz Yourself

Spot the "imposter"

Can you tell which stories are good solutions journalism—and which are just posing? Click on the links to read both stories in each pair, and select the one that you think meets the five criteria. Then click the buttons below to reveal the imposters.

Pair 1 (of 4)

Story B is the imposter!

The word “hero” is the giveaway here. Maggie Doyne obviously is doing good work for children in Nepal. But the focus of this story is her, rather than on the response itself and how it works. In a solutions story, the idea comes first; a visionary leader can be an important character, but that person shouldn’t drive the narrative."

Pair 2 (of 4)

Story B is the imposter!

Solutions stories stick to the facts: Here’s what’s happening, here’s how it works, and here’s the evidence. This piece invites readers to take specific actions as ways to address the problem of homelessness among veterans. It’s not bad for people to get involved in causes – but encouraging them to do one thing or another isn’t the job of journalists.

Pair 3 (of 4)

Story A is the imposter!

Usually, a ball is, in fact, just a ball. This story actually does a good job of explaining how One World Futbol works, but it dramatically overclaims without corresponding evidence. Remember: There is no perfect or even “best” response to a problem; every solution has weaknesses, and those should be acknowledged.

Pair 4 (of 4)

Story A is the imposter!

We call this a “think tank” story: It reveals an idea for a response to the problem of access to higher education – but that idea is just an idea, not an innovation that’s been put into practice. Think-tank stories typically emerge from academic research or the policy realm, and they can be useful in guiding reporters to actual responses that are playing out on the ground. But solutions journalism is anchored in responses that actually exist now.

Welcome

How do I know it's NOT Solutions Journalism?
I WORK IN, TEACH, OR STUDY JOURNALISM Not a journalist, but I want to learn about solutions.
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Journalist or J-School? Register here instead.

Your information will be used to better support and enable your membership. We care about your privacy and, in accordance with GDPR regulations, request your consent before giving you access to the membership services described above. You will also receive customized communications tailored to your interests as described by your selections. We will never sell your information to 3rd parties. You can cancel your membership and change your communications preferences at any time, though this may prevent you from participating in the opportunities provided by this program. View our full privacy policy here. By clicking submit, you accept these terms.