Solutions Journalism in Your Workflow?

Post-It notes on a marker board

Take Note!

Nothing in this course is intended to make this sound easy: Driving organizational change is notoriously difficult. Entire academic journals are devoted to trying to understand why people resist change. Combine that with a news environment in turmoil, sometimes rigid beliefs about the role of journalists and unrelenting time pressures—and it’s easy to see why leading even modest practice change in newsrooms can be difficult. But armed with your new knowledge, you’re well-equipped to start building a robust solutions practice in your newsroom.

Are you ready to bring solutions journalism into your newsroom in a sustained way? Here are some best practices gleaned from Solutions Journalism Network’s collaborations with newsrooms:

Anticipate and head off misconceptions

For many journalists, the idea of solutions journalism resonates immediately. But some are confused by the approach, or even the term solutions journalism; they might worry that it sounds like advocacy, PR puffery or “good news.” Some are just uncomfortable trying something new.

SJN’s Learning Lab should prepare you to dispel these misconceptions about solutions journalism. For more ammunition, visit the Solutions Story Tracker or apply for an in-person workshop in your newsroom.

Be prepared to re-examine your coverage priorities

Problems scream; solutions whisper. Many problem-oriented stories—plane crashes, police shootings, disease epidemics, even a water main break—are in your face; they demand coverage. Quotes are often easy to find. Solutions-oriented stories, on the other hand, are rarely breaking news events (though they can be done as follow-ups to breaking news events). As with much enterprise reporting, newsworthy responses are likely to go undiscovered unless reporters deliberately surface and investigate them.

For editors interested in solutions journalism, the question is when to invest scarce newsroom resources on these stories. Ultimately, it means reckoning with the questions: What are the most relevant, most valuable stories we can bring to our audience? What’s missing from the public conversation? And what stories are we doing just because we’ve always done them?

The resource pressures in journalism today are leading many editors to rethink core assumptions about their coverage needs. In practical terms, this may mean asking questions like: Do we have to cover the school board meeting (again)—or is our reporter’s time better spent examining how schools are changing their approach to discipline? Or: Do we need to focus on the latest local shooting—or should we send our reporter to a nearby city that has an approach to reducing gun violence that seems to be working?

Seek out champions

Identify editors or writers who can encourage colleagues to systematically ask, “Is there a solutions angle to this story? Who’s doing it better?” Find people who feel strongly about bringing solutions journalism into the newsroom. Ask them to keep the momentum going, even amid the crush of daily deadlines. If possible, designate champions at different desks to regularly ask these questions. Over time, as reporters gain experience with solutions journalism, this response will become reflexive. Reporters begin to instinctively ask questions that they hadn’t before, and they naturally become thought partners, or mentors, for others.

Propose a story or series

It helps to have some actionable and relevant story ideas in mind when you’re introducing solutions journalism to newsroom staff. Ideally, these ideas should illuminate the potential for solutions journalism to build on, or round out, priority coverage areas. The idea is to move the discussion from the hypothetical to the operational—from “Should we do solutions journalism?” to “How about this story?” Explain how a story fills a key gap in your coverage. Then: Who will work on it? What’s the social media plan? Encourage journalists to pitch solutions-oriented stories, but don’t wait until then to get started.

Look for openings

As news breaks, as reporters come to you with ideas and as coverage plans unfold in daily staff meetings, be mindful of opportunities to bring the solutions lens into coverage. The simple question, “Is there a solutions angle here?” can quickly turn an editorial conversation toward a richer and more productive news strategy.

Set specific targets

As an editor, the easiest way to integrate solutions into your coverage is to ask reporters to do it and give them the time. Be explicit about what you’d like to see. Maybe it’s at least one solutions-oriented story a month, or maybe it’s that every reporter should include the question, “Who's doing it better?” in an investigation.

Highlight quality solutions reporting

Editors can further support the practice by rewarding reporters who produce quality solutions journalism. Rewards can be as simple as a congratulations for a job well done, front-page billing or recognition within the newsroom for journalists who help others see creative ways to break free of old reporting habits. Sometimes, press associations and other journalism organizations will do the awarding themselves: the Fayetteville Observer’s “Seeking Safety” series won a first-place award in the North Carolina Press Association’s annual contest for enterprise reporting. And The Seattle Times’ “Education Lab” won the Associated Press Media Editors’ inaugural Journalism Excellence award for community engagement.