Contents
  1. I. Introduction (5m)
  2. II. The Essentials of Teaching Solutions Journalism (60m)
  3. III. Teaching Solutions Journalism as a Module (15m)
  4. IV. Customized Approaches to Teaching Solutions Journalism (25m)
  5. V. Resources (45m)
Resources

J-School Curriculum Builder

The Case for Solutions Journalism

A commonly held belief among journalists is that it’s their job is to uncover problems, which leads to reform. Practitioners of solutions journalism hold that this approach is incomplete, that society often lacks awareness and credible knowledge about how to solve problems, and that this absence can limit the skill, imagination and motivation needed for successful reform. These are six reasons solutions journalism should be a part of any journalism curriculum:

1

Solutions journalism tells the whole story.

The job of the journalist is to hold an accurate mirror up to society so society can self-correct. The standard focus on problems distorts the mirror; we’re not seeing a true picture of how the world actually is. We need to cover how people are solving problems to remove this distortion, to give an accurate picture of the world

2

Solutions journalism is part of the future of news.

Over the past 15 years, journalism has been whipsawed by shrinking revenue and the splintering of its audience, forcing a reactive response driven primarily by the upheaval of news distribution. Now, a growing number of newsrooms are taking a more proactive approach that includes a re-examination the news product itself. Shifts from the holistic newspaper to the article/story as unit of consumption, and from the front page to social media as the key mode of discovery, require journalists to rethink the content of the news.

3

Solutions journalism enhances the accountability function of journalism.

Far from being the opposite of watchdog journalism, solutions journalism can make an investigation stronger. Adding a solutions component to an investigation that shows that other places are doing a better job tackling a problem takes away the excuses of officials who might say “It’s just the way things are.” When a story shows that people are responding to a problem elsewhere--and seeing good results--solutions journalism can shift that problem from unavoidable to unacceptable.

4

Solutions journalism is good for democracy.

Our relentless focus on dysfunction, failure and corruption has led to a steady erosion in trust in our institutions, and worse-- in each other. That focus also depresses civic participation, leaving news consumers passive, fatalistic and depressed.

5

Solutions journalism engages audiences.

Various studies have found that solutions stories get more shares, more time on page, and more pageviews than comparable problem-focused stories.

6

Solutions journalism restores trust in journalism itself.

One big reason many people distrust journalists and journalism is their perception that reporters only look for the negative, and often cover communities through the lens of stereotypes. Rigorous coverage of what communities are doing to solve their problems can build a relationship of trust between community and news organization.

  • Tell the history of how and when journalism adopted its current theory of change.
  • Discuss how journalism’s current theory of change affects society. What have been the benefits of this approach? The costs? What’s missing from traditional coverage? What are the consequences for society?
  • Discuss how the addition of solutions journalism influences this theory, touching on both advantages and potential drawbacks. Bonus: What can we glean from research on human behavior in recent decades to inform this theory of change?
  • Present and critique real-world examples of solutions journalism’s impact.
  • Students divide into groups and discuss different approaches that have been taken with real investigative series. Bring in examples of a traditional investigative series with no solutions story, one where the “last in a series” is a solutions story, and an example of an investigative series where the solutions stories were integrated into the meat of the series.
  • Ask students to take the Gapminder Institute’s 2018 test. What were their scores? Who was the most pessimistic? Who had the best view of human progress? Reinforces the idea that despite things generally improving, most of us think that we are stagnating or steadily declining.
  • Students discuss the different approaches and impact achieved and the role the solutions stories played.
  • Bonus: Brainstorm social media campaigns to promote these different series. Discuss how they differ.
  • Find an example of a story or issue that received traditional journalism coverage that could have benefited from the addition of a solutions story. Explain what that story could have been, how a journalist could have looked for it, and why it would have been a useful addition to the coverage.
  • Take an existing traditional story or series and do the reporting to find and outline a solutions angle.

Resources

“These stories move beyond basic facts to really help audiences have a deeper understanding of complex issues. So not just the who, what, when, where, why of institutional bias and racism or gun violence, but really looking at also what’s possible — both in terms of solutions, resilience of people on these complex issues. Solutions stories help shed light on what communities are facing and serve as examples to others who are in a similar situation.”

Nicole Dahmen
Professor, University of Oregon SOJC
What Solutions Journalism Is, and What It Is Not

Doing Solutions Journalism to the Highest Standards