Why is asking for money different with solutions journalism?

Revenue Playbook

Course Content

Since 2004, about 1,800 local newspapers in the United States have gone out of business. At least 200 U.S. counties are without a newspaper. The loss of so much local news, due mainly to the decline in advertising revenue, has been described as a national crisis and a threat to democracy.

Today, local news organizations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, are adapting their business models by generating new types of revenue from a variety of stakeholders, including local institutions, businesses and, increasingly, readers in the communities they serve. To do this, local news organizations need to rebuild their relationships with their audiences and demonstrate anew the value of local news for their audiences’ and communities’ well-being.

To achieve that goal, newsrooms can’t just offer the same-old, same-old. We know that traditional problem-focused journalism leads to the rise of “news avoidance,” as audiences around the world increasingly reject the news because it makes them feel depressed and powerless. The proliferation of negative reporting, coupled with the spread of misinformation across platforms and the rise in political polarization, has undercut trust in the press.

Audiences and organizations funding news media are hungry for a change in coverage and are eager to pay for solutions journalism. Explaining what solutions journalism is and how it connects to your newsroom’s values and mission is essential to secure financial support for this type of reporting. While the concept of solutions journalism may seem clear to those with training or reporting experience, many people in the industry and beyond are unfamiliar with the approach.

In our pilot Solutions Journalism Revenue Project and in the work of other SJN newsroom partners, we have seen that potential financial stakeholders can identify with the goals of solutions journalism and its societal impact. In this sense, people see solutions journalism as a medium to catalyze change beyond putting valuable information in the public domain.

So what does the research say about how audiences receive solutions journalism and how much of a priority it should constitute for your newsroom?

Here are the main takeaways we have found through SJN-led research, or work we and others have commissioned:

  • "Solutions journalism stories had greater storytelling appeal, helped distinguish the station from its competitors, and were more likely to inspire viewer engagement. These results held across all ages, geographies and political viewpoints." The secret weapon for any newsroom that wants to be No. 1. SmithGeiger, April 2021
  • "Reading articles with all [solutions journalism] components also inspired heightened interest in the issue and more of a willingness to read future articles about the issue. This could be especially useful for news organizations trying to attract loyal readers to a reporting series." The keys to powerful solutions journalism. Caroline Murray and Natalie Jomini Stroud, Center for Media Engagement, August 2019
  • "The overwhelming trend throughout the data set is that solutions journalism attracts the types of readers we know are more likely to support journalism through reader revenue programs." Forging a path from solutions journalism to reader revenue. Ned Berke and Alec Saelens, Solutions Journalism Network, June 2021
  • "Over 70% of newsroom leaders said solutions journalism has had an impact in their communities or on their audiences." "About one-third of respondents said solutions journalism has helped them generate revenue." Alejandra Venancio and Kyuwon Lee, Solutions Journalism Network 2020 Newsroom Survey, June 2021