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)

Editor Toolkit

Debunking Common Myths: A Cheat Sheet

Over time, we have seen a few questions and myths about solutions journalism pop up over and over again. Here are some frequently asked questions and a cheat sheet for answering them.

What is solutions journalism?

The Solutions Journalism Network defines it as "rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.” In order to be considered solutions journalism, four qualities must be present:

  1. How and why something is working
  2. Strong evidence that something is working
  3. Insight into how the solution could be applied elsewhere
  4. Limitations to the solution

Is solutions journalism fluffy, good news at the expense of hard-hitting reporting?

By asking reporters to spend at least as much time seeking solutions as spotting problems, solutions reporting does seek to address a common unbalance in the news. But this does not amount to a skewed focus on the good in order to ignore the bad. While solutions stories highlight things that work, they should never shy away from highlighting things that are not working. Solutions reporters must vet any solution carefully, just as any journalist would in keeping with the highest standards of their craft.

In practice, investigative watchdog reporting and solutions journalism are complementary. In fact, one of our partners even calls solutions journalism a branch of investigative watchdog reporting! Solutions journalism strengthens accountability by raising the bar and removing excuses for inaction. Done well, solutions journalism is as clear-eyed and rigorous as the most hard-nosed investigative story. The goal of solutions journalism is not to inoculate people from society’s many problems or to make them feel better about the world. It’s to provide better, more actionable information to society to enable self-correction.

Do solutions stories only talk about what works?

Problems are multi-faceted, and so are solutions! Solutions may be incomplete or have their own problems. In that regard, solutions journalism is not just about reporting on the solution, it's also about calling out what isn't working, and holding those who say they're doing solutions accountable. Solutions stories should be really honest about what the data shows and what it doesn’t, exposing the pros and cons of solutions.

A solutions story can take many different forms. It may include experts assessing and evaluating different solutions. It may talk about failed solutions and lessons learned. It might discuss ongoing or "work-in-progress" attempts or experiments to address a problem. Solutions reporting is not just about what works, but why it works.

Is solutions reporting "advocacy journalism"?

Advocacy journalism intentionally takes a stand or advocates a cause. It is based on facts - so it's not propaganda - but it does take a non-objective viewpoint. Editorials are a good example of advocacy journalism.

Solutions journalism is different, and aims to be fully consistent with the core values of traditional journalism: fairness, accuracy, independence, and objectivity. Facts are vetted carefully, corrections are made for bias, and multiple sides of the story are presented where appropriate. The audience's interests are put above any biases reporters may bring to the story.

A good solutions story may not even have the word "solutions" in it. However, it should have elements that make it good journalism: a clear definition of the problem, evidence about the solution (data, research), the cons or negatives of the solution, the alternatives (i.e. why did you choose to talk about this solution versus the others?), and the broader implications of the solution.

Solutions journalism sounds like picking winners.

Solutions reporting does not abandon the fundamental tenets of journalism. Rather, to all those traditional standards, it adds an extra layer of focus, inquiry and effort. Present the solution (vetting it is even better) - you don’t have to cheerlead for it.

We always tell reporters: if you're writing a story about an organization that is implementing a solution that's working, keep the story about the work they are doing, not about the organization.

Solutions-Oriented Fundraising