Yesterday I participated in a webinar supported by Poynter News University that covered Solutions Journalism. The host, Stephen Buckley led Co-writer of the New York Times Fixes Column Tina Rosenberg through a series of a Q&A style presentation. So what is solutions journalism? To answer that question it’s easier to first establish what it ISN’T.
Solutions journalism isn’t advocacy, picking winners, making suggestions to readers, it isn’t a movement or civic journalism, and it’s not necessarily “positive or good news”. Solutions journalism is critical and clear-eyed reporting that investigates and explains credible responses to social problems. It’s about ideas, how people are trying to make them work, and the observable or measurable effects they are producing.
What makes solutions journalism compelling is the discovery- the journey that brings the reader to an insight about how the world works, and perhaps how it could be made even better. To quote Rosenberg yesterday, “The purpose of Journalism is to hold a mirror up to society, so society can learn how to change itself and make it better.”
One example of this is the reporting that The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting does. I worked as journalist for The Pulitzer Center covering the student protests leading up to the presidential election in Chile last summer.
At the time I had never heard the term solutions journalism. Yesterday during the webinar I discovered this is exactly what I was doing. I was asking myself the tough questions while working on each piece. Such as, what is the cause of the social problem? What is the response to this problem? How are individuals working as problem solvers, on the ground level? I covered the limitations of the political movement and provided a narrative of various student leaders.
This is what solutions journalism is about. Advancing public discourse and introducing models for change. Of course there are limitations to solutions journalism as there are in all aspects of storytelling. I realized while I was there that while striving for objectivity in my reporting, I couldn’t remove myself from history. My voice was one of the many students there, after studying abroad for six months at Universidad Alberto Hurtado and meeting many of the university students who were affected by this movement. My job wasn’t to remove myself from history, but to shine a light on my own experience without inserting my opinion, giving my readers a chance to think critically on their own, to decide for themselves what was a viable solution in Chile at the time.
In the end, I discovered what I have been striving for at Loyola as Political Section Editor of the LUChameleon and in my many reporting classes. I was covering responses to problems without advocacy, PR, or fluff. This is what makes journalism stronger and has the potential to make society stronger.