Contents
  1. I. Introduction (10m)
  2. II. Making the Case (20m)
  3. III. Practicing Solutions Journalism (30m)
  4. IV. Case Study: The Montgomerey Advertiser (20m)
  5. V. Solutions for the Most Common Stumbling Blocks (40m)
Resources

Editor Toolkit

Organizing Solutions Reporting Teams

Samantha McCann, Director of Communities at SJN, at a Hub gathering in Portland, Oregon.

Our partners have found various ways to organize newsroom teams around a solutions story or series, depending on the scale of the solutions coverage, the commitments required to execute the editorial vision, and available resources. As an editor, the most important factors you’ll likely consider are how to design the team in a way that balances the solutions reporting with reporters’ other duties, and how to pull relevant expertise and specialized skills from across the newsroom to meet the needs of the project.

No matter what the team looks like, keep these tips in mind:

Find the right reporters

Work with the people who are willing and interested. While you may have some skeptical or reluctant reporters, others will be excited about the work, and will seize an opportunity to be off the leash and dive into a really deep topic. Allow reporters some freedom to pursue stories and topics they are passionate about; this gives a sense of purpose and ambition, which ultimately leads to better reporting.

As you creatively build the team, you can pull in reporters from different beats who are the right fit at the right time. For “Our Children: Searching for Solutions,” the Detroit Free Press’ Ritu Sehgal was strategic in managing a core team of reporters and pulling in additional reporters as needed. Certain reporters were assigned to installments that were connected to beats they were already covering. In other cases, she gave custody of stories to reporters who would bring a certain writing flair. Through the project, she ensured that the project would not be a huge burden, and that reporters could pursue solutions stories while managing everything else on their plate.

Build in flexibility

There will always be a tension between responding to the news of the day and keeping an eye on the ball for longer-term solutions reporting. Managed the right way, teams can accommodate this need. For example, you can choose to reduce the number of stories assigned per week to a reporter who needs some bandwidth to dedicate to solutions coverage, temporarily shifting her spot news coverage to another colleague on the team. Make sure everyone knows about the arrangement and why it’s happening – and spread the role-shifting around so that all team members have opportunities to invest in deeper reporting.

Empower self-organizing teams

In its recent shift from daily reporting to a subscription-supported daily news digest, the Christian Science Monitor redesigned its newsroom to redefine beats and changed editorial processes to emphasize a reader-first approach to journalism. The newsroom was restructured into “pods” with eight different editors — covering areas from Europe to science — overseeing teams of reporters. Each pod has its own ecosystem that enjoys a certain degree of autonomy and independence to keep things moving without the bottleneck of deputy editor approval.

A larger effort was made to promote transparency and awareness of ongoing projects across the newsroom. Previously open only to editors, morning news meetings were restructured to include all staff, where reporters can talk through their approaches to each story. This helps everyone think across their interest groups, work collaboratively through ideas, and gives editors who are writing the intros to the daily briefings a better understanding of the coverage.

Find the right tools for collaboration

Jeff Young, Managing Editor of The Ohio Valley ReSource, manages a team of reporters from seven different media outlets across three states. He says their primary challenge is communicating and putting together a workflow that makes sense. He holds weekly editorial meetings to foster conversations about how to advance stories. The team uses Slack as a means of communication. There are dedicated channels to issue areas, and reporters use them to form partnerships for stories across the region.

Bro Krift of the Montgomery Advertiser uses a Google Doc for all reporters to collaborate on a list of running story ideas. He also has a white board in the newsroom that shows the schedule of which reporters are assigned to deliver enterprise stories, on what topics, and on which day.

Resources

“Make sure you have the right people in the right places…Make sure you have people who are into investigating things - do an analysis of what you have and what you might need to get this supported.”

Jeff Harris
WEWS News 5 Cleveland

A few models for configuring a solutions team

Education Lab, The Solution Journalism Network’s flagship partnership with The Seattle Times, is funded in part by a grant that paid for two full-time reporters and an engagement editor. Outside of the grant, the paper called upon other reporters and newsroom resources part-time. 1 full-time engagement editor, 1 part-time editor, 2 full-time reporters, 2 contributing education reporters, plus access to newsroom videographers, photographers, copy editors.

A few models for configuring a solutions team

Launched in January 2018, Civility Tennessee at The Tennessean is a year-long campaign to promote and model civil discourse through monthly columns, a Facebook group, and virtual and in-person events for the public. Opinion & Engagement Editor David Plazas leads a dedicated team from across the newsroom that meets regularly to strategize and select topics to maximize engagement. 1 opinion & engagement editor, lead digital producer, brand manager, digital planner.

A few models for configuring a solutions team

For “Our Children: Searching for Solutions,” a project to understand children’s experiences with urban violence, Detroit Free Press Editor Ritu Sehgal leveraged a core team of three reporters supported by an inter-departmental team of part-time reporters, borrowing people from sports, investigations, and other teams across the newsroom. In the initial phase of the project, one full-time reporter was dedicated to organize community focus groups and conduct outreach with partner organizations. 3 core reporters (1 deployed full-time to do community outreach), 1 principal editor, part-time reporters, videographer.

A few models for configuring a solutions team

Two reporters from Ohio Valley ReSource are leading Changing Course: A School Cooperative Aims to Remake Coal Communities; both are in the region adjacent to the school collaborative. One reporter, whose beat is economic transition of coal country, is looking at how schools are preparing students for different types of work; the second reporter, who focuses on health, is examining how the school collaborative is a platform to address health issues. 2 reporters (1 from WEKU and 1 from WMMT), 1 editor.
Organizing Solutions Coverage in the Newsroom

Case Study: The Montgomerey Advertiser