When Should I Try a Solutions Approach?

Health Guide

Course Content
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We've come to see solutions journalism as a form of investigative journalism. Traditional investigative journalism exposes new problems; solutions journalism investigates problems that are right in front of your face.

Linda Shaw portrait
Linda Shaw
Seattle Times Education Editor

Solutions journalism is a tool that’s appropriate some of the time. It’s not useful for breaking news, or for stories that are completely sui generis. Here are the tests:

  • Is this a widely shared problem? If so, it’s likely that many different people are trying to solve it, and some of those responses are worth covering.
  • Is the problem already widely known and exhaustively covered? If so, then your audience many be looking for a fresh angle. (And you might be, too.)
  • Is there already outrage or concern about the problem in my community? If so, then it’s time to show responses the community could be trying — but isn’t. Solutions journalism not only introduces these ideas, it helps to hold leaders accountable by taking away their excuses.

As a health reporter, you’ll come across many, many issues that lend themselves to a solutions focus. It’s actually difficult to think of health issues where you couldn’t use this. Very few health problems are seen only in one place – and responses that have been tried and proven in one community probably have value elsewhere.

Stories about the big problems are important to do, of course. But if you don’t vary the menu, your readers are going to burn out — and so will you. If you live in an area hard-hit by opioid addiction, you have likely done story after story about the human toll. Concern and outrage are widespread. What’s missing, though, is knowledge about what people and institutions are doing to solve it.

As those drug ads exhort us: Ask yourself if a solutions approach is right for you!