Why Journalists Need to Complicate the Narrative

Complicating the Narratives Toolkit

Course Content

There is nothing simple about conflict.

Yet news coverage of everything—immigration, gun ownership, the economy, health care—is often broken down into neat soundbites, and the more extreme, the better. Complex ideas and perspectives are reduced to easily digestible but misleading narratives.

Americans actually share far more common ground than we suppose. The problem is that the news media typically dwells on extreme views, rather than exploring the more nuanced motivations and experiences behind those perspectives. The result is a false impression of polarization that perpetuates fear and distrust.

According to Reuters’ 2019 Digital News Report, 41% of Americans sometimes or often avoid the news. Why? Negativity and feelings of powerlessness and helplessness are the main drivers of avoidance. Yet, news outlets have the ability to play a pivotal role in helping audiences not only navigate dissension but also learn about responses to problems challenging their communities.

Complicating the Narratives (CTN), a project launched by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), helps journalists to find new ways to report on controversial issues and polarizing politics. It draws on the experience of experts in conflict mediation. When reporters use these strategies, they listen better, ask more revealing questions, effectively introduce opposing viewpoints, and embrace nuance in their reports. They learn to tell more accurate, richer, and fuller stories.

The Solutions Journalism Network has trained news organizations in the Complicating the Narratives practice. The trainings are centered around the four pillars of CTN which focus on skills and techniques including:

Pillar One

Listening differently through the technique of Looping.

Pillar Two

Going beneath the problem by asking interview questions that probe and uncover motivations rather than positions.

Pillar Three

Framing and covering stories from a different lens; stories that embrace complexity and provide necessary context.

Pillar Four

Countering confirmation bias in our audience and ourselves through infographics, inclusive events and exercises that check journalist blind spots.