How do I know it's Solutions Journalism?

Here are four criteria to apply when writing or producing a solutions journalism story. These criteria inspire us, and are the foundation of how we define solutions journalism in practice and for the Solutions Story Tracker. These criteria can be applied with flexibility for diverse narrative styles and story formats. Even with flexibility, each solutions story should contain all four pillars to some degree.

A solutions story focuses on a RESPONSE to a social problem — and how that response has worked or why it hasn’t.

If the story doesn’t describe a response, it’s not solutions journalism. That response should be explained in the context of the problem it’s trying to address, and the story should delve into how it works. The narrative is driven by the problem-solving and the tension is located in the inherent difficulty in solving a problem. Documenting the causes of that problem will clarify the opportunity for a solution to create leverage and impact.

The best solutions reporting distills the lessons that makes the response relevant and accessible to others. In other words, it offers INSIGHT.

What makes solutions journalism compelling is the discovery—the journey that brings the reader or viewer to an insight about how the world works and, perhaps, how it could be made to work better.

Solutions journalism looks for EVIDENCE — data or qualitative results that show effectiveness (or lack thereof).

Solutions stories are up front with audiences about that evidence — what it tells us and what it doesn’t. A particularly innovative response can be a good story even without much evidence — but the reporter has to be transparent about the lack, and about why the response is newsworthy anyway.

Reporting on LIMITATIONS is essential.

Solutions stories reveal a response’s shortcomings. No response is perfect, and some work well for one community but may fail in others. A responsible reporter covers what doesn’t work about it, and places the response in context.

I felt a great deal of satisfaction in those stories because I was not just lamenting a problem in Philly, but offering readers some new ideas. And I think the response on social media underscored that people are looking for that type of engagement, because it sparks more of a dialogue.

David Gambacorta  portrait
David Gambacorta
Philadelphia Magazine!