Some of our newsroom partners have found that solutions journalism opens up unique opportunities to fundraise. Editors and publishers have found success targeting advertisers, sponsors, and philanthropic supporters that are attracted to solutions-oriented coverage.
To these funders, solutions journalism presents opportunities to build awareness or understanding on certain issues that are important to them, or a chance to align with more constructive narratives. As solutions stories can also engage audiences in more powerful and meaningful ways, funders may also see an opportunity to advance their commercial interests or social impact objectives with readers, listeners, or viewers who are powerfully connected to the coverage. Read on for some tips on thinking through these prospects.
Some newsrooms have secured partnerships with businesses to underwrite solutions stories, while maintaining their editorial and journalistic independence. Corporate support can come in many forms: digital revenue (on-site and email messaging), digital in-kind (products and services that offset operating expenses), events revenue (sponsorship of conversations organized by the outlet), and events in-kind (products and services that offset the outlet’s events expenses). Many businesses have corporate social responsibility arms that state their broad philanthropic goals and objectives (for example, education); this may be a good place to investigate alignment with your solutions journalism goals. As an editor, you can work closely with the development, advertising, or marketing teams in the newsroom to develop pitches for solutions stories to potential sponsors and advertisers.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune, for example, publishes a section in their paper called “Inspired” where readers can expect to find solutions-oriented stories – and advertisers have taken special interest. This is consistent with the experience of other partners, like The Seattle Times, who have found that solutions-oriented content offers new possibilities for fundraising and corporate support.
In 2017, the Richland Source, a digital news organization in Mansfield, Ohio, hosted a “community baby shower” aimed at connecting expectant mothers and families with community health organizations. The event built on the newsroom’s month’s-long, solutions-oriented focus on infant mortality in the county, focusing readers on the challenge and on available resources. The event attracted hundreds of people who received free gift bags of baby items – and 14 paid sponsors. And in 2018, the Source raised $70,000 in sponsorship to support solutions reporting across the site.
Solutions journalism opens up new opportunities to raise money from philanthropists, foundations, corporate entities, and nonprofits committed to values of social impact, civic engagement, and informed discourse. Other sponsors/advertisers have an affinity for solutions projects that promise to expand awareness of a critical issue, hoping to galvanize community conversation and spark innovation.
The Seattle Times partnered with the Solutions Journalism Network in October 2013 to explore challenges and solutions facing public education. The project was initially funded for one year by the Gates Foundation and Knight Foundation, who were both attracted to the solutions journalism approach (considered rather experimental at the time). The paper sold advertising against Ed Lab to local universities; and Alaska Airlines, which has public education as a corporate social responsibility goal, underwrote the Ed Lab weekly newsletter.
Since then, The Times has been able to demonstrate the impact of Ed Lab on the education community, the wider public, and public policy, providing critical proof-of-concept that solutions reporting can be catalytic in social impact. This has helped build interest among funders to support other solutions-focused projects, such as Project Homeless, an initiative launched in fall 2017 that is modeled after Ed Lab, and Traffic Lab, ongoing coverage of the city’s transportation infrastructure.
The Ed Lab experience has allowed the Seattle Times to think strategically about how it builds partnerships, develops ideas, and shows social impact of its coverage. The discipline to attract community and philanthropic sponsorship of solutions journalism is now institutionalized within the Seattle Times newsroom, where editors and the development team approach business development for public service journalism in a highly structured and integrated fashion. In recognition of the importance of this work, the outlet has hired for a full-time director of development for public service journalism.