Beacon Cohorts

News organizations are becoming models for how to build solutions journalism into regular coverage and see its impact on audiences and their bottom lines.

Beacon Cohort members participate in a workshop

Once journalists and newsrooms become familiar with the elements of solutions journalism and publish their first solutions stories, the next step is to figure out how to build regular solutions-focused coverage into their priorities and workflows. In other words, they want to work toward moving solutions journalism from a project to solutions journalism as a practice.

To help with that effort, we at SJN launched our first Beacon Cohort in 2022 with five talented and innovative news organizations that deepened and broadened the number and types of solutions stories they produced. Along the way, they learned a lot about how to make this important change in their newsroom culture and shared insights to help other journalists do the same.

Moving from project to practice is one important key to the kind of system-level change in journalism that SJN is supporting, aimed at building more rigorous reporting that gives communities the information they need to solve problems, not just identify them.

From 2022 to the present, we’ve collaborated with newsrooms in three beacon initiatives:

  • Revenue Beacon Cohort 2023-24
  • Climate Beacon Newsrooms Initiative 2023
  • Beacon Cohort 2022
Two Beacon Cohort participants sit at a table covered in sticky notes and pens

Members of the 2023-24 Revenue Beacon Cohort at the kickoff design session in Dallas in November 2023.

2023-24 Revenue Beacon Cohort

Starting in November 2023, five newsrooms joined SJN to explore innovative ways to tie their solutions journalism to new revenue.  The members of this cohort are, Civil Eats, The Dallas Morning News, The Keene Sentinel and public radio station WSHU. SJN staff members are supporting their work, as is a stellar set of coaches with deep experience in helping news organizations build products and revenue. These five participating newsrooms will be sharing their experiences and lessons later in 2024.


2023 Climate Beacon Newsrooms Initiative

Nine newsrooms expanded their climate solutions coverage in partnership with their communities, and spread that work to many beats within their organizations. The participants were: Capital & Main, Grist, Nueve Millones, the Reader, The Sacramento Bee, The Sweaty Penguin, Telemundo 51, The Washington Informer and WSHU. See more on their work.


2022 Beacon Cohort 

Five news organizations joined SJN’s inaugural Beacon Cohort in 2022, which was focused on moving solutions journalism from an occasional project to an ongoing practice. They were: the Corpus Christi Caller Times, The Dallas Morning News, Flint Beat, Montana Free Press and Richland Source. They all succeeded in moving the needle in their news organizations, tackling everything from improving workflows to addressing staff turnover. They all published solutions stories at least once a month, and succeeded in attracting new readers and building engaged audiences.

Some highlights:

Corpus Christi Caller Times incorporated solutions journalism into everything from hiring to onboarding new staff to performance reviews and editorial meetings. The paper updated its mission statement to better explain why it does this kind of coverage. And newsroom leaders moved slowly, working first with journalists who had the most interest, then supporting others who were inspired by that work.

“We … wanted staff to see they all could do solutions journalism — that it isn’t this special thing on the top of the shelf that gets dusty because only some people know where the ladder is.”

The Dallas Morning News found that new visitors spent two and a half minutes with its solutions stories, compared with about 30 seconds for typical coverage. The paper said it needs more data from more stories to be confident in those results, but they show that:

"Solutions stories may be bringing in an audience that we now don’t have."

Flint Beat established A Fix for Flint, aimed at communicating more clearly to potential funders and existing and new audiences that Flint Beat was intent on producing solutions journalism. Editors also lowered their expectations for how many stories each reporter would write each week, giving them time to do in-depth solutions stories.  

“Although staff worried that fewer stories would lead to declines in readership, we found that at times our audience was larger in the weeks we published a solutions story yet had fewer stories overall.” 

“Overall, we found that solutions journalism, while it takes time, is worth the effort.”

Montana Free Press published solutions journalism as it expanded into five new markets, and found that local-level solutions reporting has the potential to increase readership at a higher rate than traditional reporting.

“It’s critical to make this approach part of a newsroom’s regular process. We are all busy; if you don’t add this work to your list of priorities, it will likely keep getting pushed to the back burner.”

Richland Source has included solutions journalism in its most recent strategic plan and adjusted its workflow to make sure reporters get the kind of editing and feedback needed to produce meaningful solutions stories.

“Solutions journalism is key to our mission and revenue model, and we want to eventually become a newsroom that trains others in the practice.”