Journalists make careers out of covering the symptoms and causes of bad things that happen. Usually looking at the negative aspects of the story.
With Solutions-based storytelling, instead of identifying the worst of subjects and why they are failing, it sets out to find the story where things are working, or improving despite poverty, crime, and other challenges. It also looks at the systems that created the problem and what might be done about it.
Solutions Journalism Network
David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network cites three trends that illustrate why solutions journalism has come of age:
- the proliferation of businesses, nonprofits, and other institutions alleviating social ills
- the explosion of online information that allows people tired of negative news to avoid the mainstream media
- journalists’ desire to cover positive social change and reach more readers.
“We need new and better recipes. For society and also for journalism to thrive, it needs to be regularly highlighting with rigor new ideas and models that are showing results against our most pressing problems.” Bornstein
These are not feel-good stories. The Network began from serious concerns about the future of news.
Hardcore investigative reporting is still central to journalism’s role as a watchdog. The Network does not intend to ignore the problems facing the world, but instead to showcase the successes in tackling those problems to jump start conversations.
This is not good news for good news’ sake. Stories have to pass a threshold to qualify as solutions journalism.
At a minimum, they need to identify:
- Social ills and potential remedies to them
- They need to include the voices of people who have seen those remedies at the ground level
- They must include evidence about whether the remedies work, and report any caveats or limitations associated with them
- Journalists must obtain data that shows how a solution is working. Data inoculates reporters against charges they’re giving favorable coverage to a group because of its political affiliation.
Other organizations have attempted this, such as Peace Journalism-A group of scholars and journalists emerged in the 1960s and 1970s to challenge the conventions of news construction, and its reliance on negative references and conflict as a news value. Sociologist Johan Galtung, the driving force behind the movement, advocated for the practice of “peace journalism,” as opposed to the status quo that he called “war journalism.”
Solutions-based Storytelling for Social Awareness
Maybe there is a happy medium here.
Can journalists legitimately give readers stories that are not only positive and solution based but also give them something constructive to do?
Dan Heimpel, talking of Solutions-based Journalism for Social Change says, you will never be effective if you do not have a compendium of information to draw from and a niche specialty. Journalists should be diving deeper and paint, not only problems, but solutions and not only solutions but also ask, what are the institutional barriers to getting those solutions accomplished? The journalist must stay fair and balanced but also must have balance in the solutions.
Where Solutions Journalism gets a bit fuzzy is when the journalist urge readers to act, one way or another. Might Journalists compromise their objectivity if approaching a story with the goal of proving that a specific solution is valid?
Is it the word Journalist that is getting in the way? Could we just be Ethical Storytellers?
According to Heimpel, the vision, that you could be an advocate, might put you at a disadvantage in conveying information, but what it really does is it raises the burden of the journalists fact finding responsibilities to be sure that all points are aired. And in turn, raises the bar.
A recent survey done by the Engage News Project at the University of Texas reveled that readers of solutions stories were more likely to say that they felt inspired and wanted to learn more about the subject. Those readers also said that they were more likely to share these types of stories on social media.
One organization that is doing this is Images and Voices of Hope. IVOH believe that media can create meaningful, positive change in the world. Their global community includes journalists, documentary filmmakers, photographers, social media specialists, gamers and more. IVOH’s common thread as a nonprofit is the desire to effect positive change through their work in media. IVOH is championing a storytelling genre it calls “Restorative Narratives,” which show “how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover in the aftermath, or midst of, difficult times.”
For Social Awareness Storytellers:
Consider these approaches:
- Interview a wide range of stakeholders, including the people enacting the solution, those directly affected, detractors, funders, academics and more.
- Look into what institutional barriers might be out there.
- Look into all sides of the problem and solution
- How does a small organization create change?
- What are the slow, systematic steps they took?
- What are the teachable lessons?
- In what ways is the cause succeeding, and in what ways is it failing?
- Dig deep
Social change is complex. Your storytelling should reflect that complexity.