Story and photos by Brittany Norton
In November, I attended the first-ever Solutions Journalism Summit in Sundance, Utah. While I was there, I was reminded of the qualities of solutions journalism that drew me to the approach in the first place.
Solutions journalism, or “SoJo,” is an in-depth reporting process that covers community responses to systemic issues. The Solutions Journalism Network is the driving force behind the spread of SoJo to newsrooms and universities across the United States.
I first learned about SoJo last spring in a class taught by Kathryn Thier. (The UO School of Journalism and Communication is one of the few journalism programs across the nation that has incorporated solutions journalism into its curriculum.) In Thier’s class, I learned that SoJo can empower readers in a news cycle that seems to be filled with negativity.
I also learned that solutions journalism can be applied to all areas of storytelling. In fact, the SOJC has recently launched the Catalyst Journalism Project in collaboration with the Solutions Journalism Network to teach students how to combine SoJo and investigative journalism.
Here is what I learned about SoJo at the summit and why this approach is important for all journalists to learn:
1. It’s a watchdog investigative process.
Linda Shaw, editor of Seattle Times’ Education Lab — which focuses solutions reporting on public education — used this terminology in a breakout session at the summit. Her description of solutions journalism is one of my favorite I’ve heard yet: They are watchdog stories that challenge the status quo. Shaw stressed the importance of including the limitations of solutions in stories and following up with sources. My own experiences with solutions journalism have shown me that it’s a rigorous process that requires an extensive amount of reporting.
2. It does what journalism is supposed to do.
SoJo also achieves what I believe to be two of the most fundamental goals of journalism: Holding those in power accountable and sparking discussion around social issues. An example of this is “The Poverty Puzzle,” a series of stories in The Chattanooga Times Free Press. Researchers at the Center for Media Engagement found that the public’s tweets about poverty increased in the days after the series was published, but only for a few days. The researchers state they cannot conclude a causal relationship between these two things, but the findings show some support for the idea that solutions stories affect public discussion.
3. It shows both sides of the story.
The Solutions Journalism Network likes to describe SoJo as “the whole story.” In solutions journalism, the problem and the response are important. Traditional journalism tends to explain an issue and leave it at that. But then there’s something missing — what’s being done about it. While most journalism stories only focus on the problem, SoJo provides a community response to it as well. Which brings me to my next point.
4. It engages audiences.
During the summit, I listened to a session on measuring impact led by the president of the Solutions Journalism Network, Keith Hammonds. He said SoJo helps move people from apathy and a mentality of “this problem can’t be solved” to “I can get off the couch” and action.Shaw also said solutions journalism is a way to build relationships with audiences. “When our story is over, that’s the end of the process for us, but that’s the beginning of the process for our audience,” she said.
The Seattle Times Ed Lab has held public events and meetings with parents, students and teachers to hear input from community members.
5. It’s just good journalism.
With a rigorous reporting process, attention to the problem and what's being done, and the ability to spark conversation, solutions journalism is exemplary journalism. And what’s better than that?
Brittany Norton is a senior double-majoring in journalism and media studies with a history minor. She is a member of the SOJC Honors program and the Catalyst Journalism Project. She also writes for the UO student publication Ethos Magazine.