Tina Rosenberg: ‘Covering responses to problems … has the potential to make society stronger’
Homeless is one of the social issues that lends itself to good solutions journalism stories. | Stock image
In a Poynter/News University Webinar Wednesday, Tina Rosenberg explained what solutions journalism is (and isn’t), and how it can strengthen storytelling.
Rosenberg, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, said solutions journalism stories aren’t “silver bullet stories,” which go beyond what evidence suggests and make unrealistic claims. They’re also not “afterthought stories,” which focus primarily on problems and include a short snippet about solutions at the end. Rather, they’re stories that largely focus on solutions and draw on evidence to explain why these solutions are working, the impact they’ve had, and more.
Solutions journalism stories have a few defining characteristics. Rosenberg said these stories:
- Explain the causes of a social problem.
- Present an associated response to that problem.
- Get into the problem solving and how-to details.
- Make the problem-solving process central to the narrative.
- Present evidence of results linked to the response.
- Explain the limitations of that response.
- Convey an insight or teachable lesson.
- Avoid reading like a puff piece.
- Draw on sources who have ground-level understanding, not just 30,000 foot expertise.
- Give greater attention to the response than to reader/innovator/do-gooder.
Rosenberg provided a few examples of solutions journalism stories, including Meg Kissinger’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series, “Chronic Crisis,” which highlights solutions to the city’s homeless population.
That particular series took awhile to report, but not all solutions journalism stories have to be long and deeply reported. This story about how New York City is beating its bedbug population, for instance, is just 500 words.
Solutions journalism is important, Rosenberg said, because it “makes journalism stronger and more complete”, it engages readers, and it can be high-impact.
When I asked Rosenberg whether the Solutions Journalism Network has measured solutions journalism’s impact on people and communities, she said “we are struggling with that” and that “it’s hard to measure.” The Network has, however, built some measurements into the project it’s working on with the Seattle Times and hopes to learn something from them.
Rosenberg ended the Webinar by reiterating the need for stories that focus on solutions, not problems:
“Covering responses to problems without advocacy, PR, or fluff makes journalism stronger and has the potential to make society stronger.”
Rosenberg shared a lot more thoughts and tips in the Webinar, which you can replay here.
David Bornstein of the Solutions Journalism Network will lead a workshop at ivoh’s media summit this June. See the speaker lineup and register here.
Related: How solutions journalism can ‘foster a more productive discourse’ || What if journalists covered solutions journalism as rigorously as they covered problems? || To create social change, focus on solutions
Disclosure: The author of this piece used to work for The Poynter Institute.