METHOD

Solutions Journalism

First Submitted By Kam Razavi

Most Recent Changes By Scott Fletcher

Links
https://theconversation.com/how-journalists-can-rebut-trumps-fake-news-claims-110307
Decision Methods
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Solutions journalism casts a spotlight on the ways that people respond to conflict. It is a way for journalists and journalism to paint a more complete picture of the world.

Problems and Purpose 

Solutions journalism is rigorous reporting on ways that people respond to social problems.[1] It is a response to conventional journalism, which mostly emphasizes conflict-oriented frames, or what journalism scholars Karen McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted call the “disease model of the world.” Solutions journalism reports not only on what is wrong, but also how people are responding to make things right. It looks at the news through a “well-being model of the world.”[2] It draws on evidence of what is working – or, conversely, how a solution may be faltering. It eschews hypotheticals and intentions, focusing instead on effectiveness.[3] 

Origins and Development 

Solutions journalism builds on earlier approaches to journalism that tried to better integrate participatory techniques into conventional news reporting.[4] Two of the more prominent of these earlier approaches are peace journalism and public journalism.

Peace journalism, which traces its roots to the 1960s and 1970s, challenges the traditional journalistic approach to conflict as a two-sided struggle. Peace journalism encourages reporters to reach out to people looking for non-violent solutions to conflict, and it encourages journalists to examine underlying causes conflict. Because it reports on ways to resolve conflict, peace journalism has been criticized by traditionalists for straying into advocacy. Peace journalism has also been criticized for its lack of practical use.[5]

In the 1990s, proponents of another alternative journalistic movement -- public journalism (also known as civic journalism) -- argued that journalists not only played a role informing the public, but that journalism was also crucial for engaging people on matters of public importance.[6] Through public journalism, journalists could work collaboratively with members of the community to create a collective baseline for solving problems.[7]

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen was one of the pioneers of the public journalism movement. He says that public journalism can: 

“1) address people as citizens, potential participants in public affairs, rather than victims or spectators; 2) help the political community act upon, rather than simply learn about, its problems; 3) improve the climate of public discussion, rather than simply watching it deteriorate; 4) make public life go well, so that it earns its claim on our attention.”[8]

Public journalism, in particular, envisioned what journalism scholar Peter Bro has called an “active” role for journalists. Bro quotes Thomas E. Patterson, who offers this explanation of “active” and “passive” journalism: 

“...[the] passive journalist is one who acts as the instrument of actors outside the news system, such as government officials, party leaders, and interest group advocates … In contrast, the active journalist is one who is more fully a participant in his or her own right, actively shaping, interpreting, or investigating political subjects.”[9]

The idea that journalists should separate their personal values from the facts is a central theme of American and Anglo-Saxon (including Canadian) journalistic tradition. It is associated with the role of journalism as a watchdog or monitor over government power or social events[10], and, broadly, with the idea of journalistic objectivity. 

But this ‘traditional’ view is not the only interpretation of journalism’s role in a democratic society. According to Christians et al., journalism plays three other roles in a democracy. One of those is the facilitative role – journalism as a mechanism for facilitating informed debate.[11] The public journalism movement was more closely aligned with journalism’s facilitative function. But because public journalism confronted conventional approaches, it faced considerable criticism and ultimately failed to find widespread uptake [12]

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Know how participants are recruited for this method? Help us complete this section! 

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision Making

Solutions journalism is a form of alternative journalism. It makes use of an expanded range of news frames to draw a more complete picture of the world. Frames are “thematic categories that integrate and give meaning to the scene, the characters, their actions and supporting documentation”.[13] Journalism scholar Robert M. Entman has defined four frames in communication studies. Entman says frames can be used to identify a problem; describe its causes; offer moral evaluations of the problem; and produce remedies for dealing with the problem.[14]

Most news stories focus on conflict-oriented frames[15]. Solutions journalism makes remedies a central part of the story’s arc[16], as opposed to just an afterthought at the end of the article, or in the back half of the news program. 

In 1998, Susan Benesch wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review that solutions journalism “differs from other good journalism in one simple way: instead of pointing out what’s wrong in the hope that someone will fix it, solutions journalism points out what’s right, hoping that someone can imitate it”.[17]

Some may perceive solutions journalism as ‘good news stories.’ The Solutions Journalism Network guards against the idea of solutions journalism as ‘positive news.’ The group lists several solutions journalism “imposters”[18] on its website. 

Solutions journalism is hard news reporting on how people respond to social problems. The story pertains to a given conflict (a war, economic downturn, climate change, etc.) – it is still news after all. But, solutions journalism is a way of changing the kind of knowledge journalists create through their work – by identifying and reporting on ways out of problems as opposed to reporting only on the problems themselves. David Bornstein, a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network puts it this way: 

“The feedback system known as journalism is based on the idea that the way to improve society is to show people where we’re going wrong. It’s like pointing out your children’s mistakes every morning and expecting that this will make them into better people. Children need examples. They need to know that different behavior is possible and wins notice. Society needs the same thing. Misdeeds often persist because people are ignorant of ways to address them more successfully.”[19] 

Solutions journalists and solution-oriented news organizations are hard at work producing more of this kind of journalism. The Tyee is a Vancouver-based online news outlet that puts solutions at the heart of the stories it tells. It was a pioneer of solutions reporting in North America.[20] In the US, the Solutions Journalism Network has partnered with 154 news organizations and 17 journalism schools to support solution-oriented storytelling.[21] In France, the organization Reporters d’Espoir (Reporters With Hope) has been supporting rigorous solution-oriented reporting since 2004.[22] Its mission statement talks about piercing through fear and inaction to create a sense of engagement on social, economic and environmental issues. 

In sum, solutions journalism encourages a different type of news reporting. It does this by punching past conflict-oriented frames in news discourse to include solution-oriented ones in that discourse as well.[23] 

Solutions journalism and ‘positive psychology’ 

Solution-oriented reporting applies techniques from “positive psychology” to challenge the discourse of negativity in the news (Karen McIntyre and Catherine Gyldensted use the umbrella term “constructive journalism” to describe journalism that draws on tenets of ‘positive’ psychology).[24] Positive psychology techniques involve finding ways to help readers make positive associations with news events, instead of making only negative connections. 

Negativity and fear are powerful agents for capturing people’s attention. As psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has written, “[i]n a life-threatening situation, a narrowed thought-action repertoire promotes quick and decisive action that carries direct and immediate benefit”.[25] However, such negative thought-action responses also narrow the scope of people’s cognitive processes and abilities, resulting in “narrowed mindsets.”[26] “Narrowed mindsets,” in turn, make it more likely for people to “miss the forest for the trees.”[27] 

There are several ways to use ‘positive psychology’ to report the news. In “Positive psychology as a theoretical foundation for constructive journalism,” journalism scholars Karen McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted talk about six specific strategies, including “constructive interviewing” to draw out solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts[28]

One technique involves constructive interviewing. Instead of asking only linear questions (who, what, where, when and why), solution-oriented journalists can ask questions that draw on their sources’ reasons for thinking the way they do: “How did this affect you?” or “What is your explanation for A or B?”.[29] 

Alternately, solution-oriented journalists can gently steer their interview subjects toward different ways of thinking about an issue. For example, journalists might ask a source how he or she might deal with a certain problem, or they might ask interviewees try to think about an issue from the perspectives of those they might not agree with (“what do you think the other side wants?”).[30]

Solutions Journalism in Practice: The Tyee

In Vancouver, The Tyee, an independent digital news platform, sees solutions reporting as part of its mission of producing rigorous journalism.[31] An affiliated organization called the Tyee Solutions Society has produced solution-oriented reports on issues ranging from housing to energy. On its website, the Tyee Solutions Society says it “produces solutions-oriented reporting that uses traditional investigative techniques to empower citizens with the information needed to seize opportunities for positive change”.[32] 

The Tyee’s founder, publisher and editor is David Beers. In an interview with Simon Fraser University Associate Professor Shane Gunster, Beers discusses how the emphasis of too much reporting has long been on all that is wrong. He says that in most commercial news organizations there was “this weird situation in newsrooms, where you had all these journalists that were trained in the ethos of investigation and finding things out for the common good, but their only mandate was to find out what was just going to hell, what sucked”.[33]

Beers then discusses three specific ways that journalists can produce positive change. First, he argues that journalists can showcase examples of people who are actually working to make a positive difference (or who have had success doing so). Second, he says journalists can play a role to publicize small-scale examples of projects or innovations that have the potential for transformative change (or that are already making a difference). Third, he underscores the importance of discussing how solutions have been sought and implemented in other jurisdictions.[34] 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects 

There is some scholarship on the effect that solutions journalism has on audiences, but more work needs to be done to properly assess its impact. In “Solutions Journalism,” Karen McIntyre describes a survey experiment she carried out that tested audience effects of the approach. She concludes that news audiences who read solutions stories feel a greater sense of optimism about the issue and a greater sense of self-efficacy as well. However, the solutions stories did not result in any change in the degree to which those same readers intended to act. The solutions stories did not change actual behaviours either.[35]

Other experiments examined the effect of solutions journalism at the community level. In “Engaging stigmatized communities through solutions journalism: Residents of South Los Angeles respond,” authors Wenzel et al., used focus groups to test the impact of solution-oriented journalism in a community that has long faced racial discrimination. The researchers found that the groups that read the solutions stories felt more likely that they could make a difference. However, they still believed that the solutions approach was not enough to counter stigmatization and discrimination.[36]

Analysis and Lessons Learned 

Despite the rise in popularity and interest in solutions journalism, there are contesting views about the approach. A clear conceptual definition of the concept is lacking.[37] There is also a debate over solutions journalism’s relationship with advocacy.[38] Because journalism is so often associated with its role as a detached monitor of government power and social events, the idea of journalism-as-advocacy is deeply frowned upon by journalists.[39] To get around the idea that solutions journalism advocates for solutions, the Solutions Journalism Network, for instance, insists that solutions reporting focus on what has worked – as opposed to what could or should work.[40] 

Other interpretations of solutions journalism take a slightly different view. In “The constructive role of journalism,” journalism scholars Tanja Aitamurto and Anita Varma analyze how constructive journalism contests the traditional monitorial role of journalism. Aitamurto and Varma propose a fifth normative category for journalism to go alongside Christian et al.’s four others: “We argue that constructive journalism is not just a genre of news but also constitutes a distinctive normative role for the press that should be added to the widely accepted normative roles of a monitorial, facilitative, radical and collaborative press in Christians et al.”[41] 

Aitamurto and Varma propose a more active role for journalism, in contrast to the traditional passive role[42]. They describe this fifth normative role as a way for journalists to offer “a vision of how society could move forward”.[43] McIntyre and Gyldensted also discuss prospective solutions in their “Positive psychology” paper. The researchers argue that “future orientation” is an effective technique for identifying and defining solutions. In addition to the 5W’s outlined above, journalists can ask their sources (and themselves) a “what now?” question. Such an approach can generate new ideas for thinking about, and better yet, solving a conflict – without turning to direct advocacy.[44]

Whether solutions journalism should constitute an entirely new ‘role’ for journalism, or whether it is simply an add-on to ‘existing’ practice is a point of debate. What is clear, however, is that the approach tries to paint a fuller picture, through journalism that examines solutions alongside conflict. There is evidence that bad news produces cynicism and “news fatigue”[45]. Solution journalism tries to address cynicism, polarization and political apathy by opening up positive ‘pathways’ in news reporting. It is a tool for informing critical journalism through a more complete approach to the news. 

See Also

Civic Journalism

Citizen Journalism

References 

[1] “Who We Are,” Solutions Journalism Network, August 10, 2017, https://www.solutionsjournalism.org/who-we-are/mission. 

[2] Karen McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted, “Positive Psychology as a Theoretical Foundation for Constructive Journalism,” Journalism Practice 12, no. 6 (May 2018): 662, https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2018.1472527

[3] “How Do I Know It’s Solutions Journalism?,” Learning Lab, https://learninglab.solutionsjournalism.org/en/courses/basic-toolkit/introduction/how-do-i-know-its-solutions-journalism

[4] Andrea Wenzel, Daniela Gerson, Evelyn Moreno, Minhee Son, and Breanna Morrison Hawkins, “Engaging Stigmatized Communities through Solutions Journalism: Residents of South Los Angeles Respond,” Journalism 19, no. 5 (May 2018): 649–67. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884917703125

[5] Robert Hackett, “Is Peace Journalism possible? Three frameworks for assessing structure and agency in the news media,” Conflict & Communication Online 5 no. 2, 1-13, http://www.cco.regener-online.de/2006_2/pdf/hackett.pdf

[6] McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted, “Positive Psychology as a Theoretical Foundation, 663.

Theodore L. Glasser, “Introduction: The idea of public journalism,” in The Idea of Public Journalism, ed. T. Glasser (New York, NY: Guildford Press, 1999), 3-18). Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240313947_The_Idea_of_Public_Journalism 

W. Davis Merritt, Public Journalism and Public Life: why telling the news is not enough (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995). 

[7] Jay Rosen, What are journalists for? (Binghampton, NY: Vail-Ballou Press, 1999).

[8] Quoted in Wenzel et al, “Engaging Stigmatized Communities through Solutions Journalism,” 652. 

[9] Patterson, T.E., 1998, cited in Peter Bro, “Normative navigation in the news media,” Journalism, 3 vol. 9 (June 2008), 312. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1464884907089010

[10] Clifford G Christians, Theodore Glasser, Denis McQuail, Kaarle Nordenstreng, Robert A. White, Normative theories of the media: Journalism in democratic societies, (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press: 2009).

[11] Christians et. al, Normative theories of the media, Chapters 5, 7.

[12] Wenzel et al, “Engaging Stigmatized Communities through Solutions Journalism,” 649-667.

[13] W. Lance Bennett, News: The politics of illusion, 9th ed. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press: 2012), 42. 

[14] Robert M. Entman, “Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm,” Journal of Communication 43 vol. 4 December 1993), 51-58. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1993.tb01304.x

[15] Karen McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted, “Positive Psychology as a Theoretical Foundation for Constructive Journalism,” Journalism Practice 12, no. 6 (May 2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2018.1472527

[16] Alexander L Curry and Keith H. Hammonds, The power of solutions journalism, (Online: Solutions Journalism Network and Engaging News Project, 2014), 6 https://mediaengagement.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ENP_SJN-report.pdf 

[17] Benesch, 1998, cited in: Karen McIntyre, “Solutions journalism. The effects of including solution information in news stories about social problems,” Journalism Practice 13, no.1 (January 2019), 2. 

[18] Solutions Journalism, “Solutions Journalism Imposters,” The Whole Story, November 10, 2016, https://thewholestory.solutionsjournalism.org/solutions-journalism-imposters-c4cf72a9354b

[19] Tom Rosenstiel, “Reporting ‘the Whole Story’: 9 Good Questions with David Bornstein of Solutions Journalism Network - American Press Institute,” American Press Institute, January 15, 2014, https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/good-questions/moving-toward-whole-story-9-good-questions-david-bornstein-solutions-journalism-network/

[20] Ian Gill, No news is bad news. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books Ltd. 

[21] “Our Impact,” Solutions Journalism Network,

https://www.solutionsjournalism.org/impact. Data as of February 27, 2019. 

[22] “Accueil,” Reporters d’Espoirs 

http://www.reportersdespoirs.org/

[23] Karen McIntyre, “Solutions journalism. The effects of including solution information in news stories about social problems,” Journalism Practice 13, no.1 (January 2019), 1-19. 

[24] Karen McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted. Constructive journalism: Applying positive psychology techniques to news production. The Journal of Media Innovations, 2 vol. 4 (2017), 20-34.

[25] Barbara Fredrickson, “The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions,” Philosophical transactions: Biological Sciences 359 no. 1449 (September 2004), 1369. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693418/

[26] Barbara Fredrickson, “The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions,” Philosophical transactions: Biological Sciences 359 no. 1449 (September 2004), 1367. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693418/

[27] Barbara Fredrickson, “The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions,” Philosophical transactions: Biological Sciences 359 no. 1449 (September 2004), 1370. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693418/

[28] Karen McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted, “Positive Psychology as a Theoretical Foundation for Constructive Journalism,” Journalism Practice 12, no. 6 (May 2018): https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2018.1472527

[29] McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted, “Positive Psychology as a Theoretical Foundation, 669-670. 

[30] Sandra McCulloch, cited in Ripley, “Complicating the Narratives,” https://thewholestory.solutionsjournalism.org/complicating-the-narratives-b91ea06ddf63

[31] “About us,” The Tyee, https://thetyee.ca/

[32] Tyee Solutions Society, http://www.tyeesolutions.org/

[33] David Beers in Gunster, Shane, Contesting conflict. Efficacy, advocacy and alternative media in British Columbia, 125. In Hackett, Robert A.; Forde, Susan; Gunster, Shane; Foxwell-Norton, Kerry. (2017). Journalism and climate crisis. Public engagement, media alternatives. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. 

[34] Gunster, Shane, Contesting conflict. Efficacy, advocacy and alternative media in British Columbia, 127. In Hackett, Robert A.; Forde, Susan; Gunster, Shane; Foxwell-Norton, Kerry. (2017). Journalism and climate crisis. Public engagement, media alternatives. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

[35] Karen McIntyre, “Solutions journalism. The effects of including solution information in news stories about social problems,” Journalism Practice 13, no.1 (January 2019), 1-19. 

[36] Wenzel et al, “Engaging Stigmatized Communities through Solutions Journalism,” 649-667.

[37] Karen McIntyre & Kyser Lough. “Toward a clearer conceptualization and operationalization of solutions journalism,” Journalism (2019), 1-16. 

[38] Tanja Aitamurto and Anita Varma, “The constructive role of journalism,” Journalism Practice 12, no. 6 (May 2018), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17512786.2018.1473041

[39] Jan Schaffer, “A New Kind of Activist Journalism: When Finding Solutions Are Part of Journalists’ Job, Too,” Nieman Lab, June 4, 2013, http://www.niemanlab.org/2013/06/a-new-kind-of-activist-journalism-when-finding-solutions-are-part-of-journalists-job-too/

[40] “How Do I Know It’s Solutions Journalism?,” Learning Lab, https://learninglab.solutionsjournalism.org/en/courses/basic-toolkit/introduction/how-do-i-know-its-solutions-journalism

[41] Tanja Aitamurto and Anita Varma, “The constructive role of journalism,” Journalism Practice 12, no. 6 (May 2018), 696. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17512786.2018.1473041

[42] Aitamurto and Varma, “The constructive role of journalism,” 708.

[43] Aitamurto and Varma, “The constructive role of journalism,” 698.  

[44] Karen McIntyre and Cathrine Gyldensted. (2018: 668), “Positive Psychology as a Theoretical Foundation,” 662-678.

[45]Wenzel et al, “Engaging Stigmatized Communities through Solutions Journalism,” 653.

Joseph N.Capella, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Spiral of cynicism: The press and the public good (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997). 

External Links

Solutions Journalism Network: https://www.solutionsjournalism.org/

Solutions Journalism on Medium: https://medium.com/@soljourno 

The Whole Story: https://thewholestory.solutionsjournalism.org/ 

Notes

Lead image: Atlas of the Future, https://goo.gl/N9uwFG

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