Journalism Solutions: A New Reporting Style

Photo courtesy of Sabestien Wiertz

Photo courtesy of Flickr Sabestien Wiertz

My media law professor asked students in the class if we thought journalism was ethical. Approximately 60 students were in the lecture hall. Five people raised their hand, and I wasn’t one of them. I wrestled with this for a while after the class. Although I don’t think journalism is completely unethical, I agreed with many students that said journalism focuses too much on sensationalism, ratings, and negative problems.

I started perusing the Twitter chat, #muckedup, and discovered a discussion on Solutions Journalism, a style of reporting that explores social issues and explains credible responses to them.

Samantha McCann, the editor of the Solutions Journalism Twitter and guest speaker for the Twitter chat opened the discussion with the post, “There’s not enough great stories about noteworthy responses to social problems in the world.”

Some people in the #muckedup Twitter chat were skeptical of this new reporting style. They argued that it wasn’t journalist’s job to come up solutions to social issues. It was their job to report what was going on.

Solutions journalism stories are structured differently. A solutions article introduces a problem, but it includes a “how have you done it” section. This alleviates the criticism that journalists only focus on problems and don’t include a way to fix them.

JournalismSolutions.org highlights stories from other news websites  that follow this solutions structure. The New York Times published an article on low-income student‘s inability to afford elite universities. The majority of  the article describes a non-profit organization called QuestBridge that gives full four-year scholarships to high-achieving low-income students. The article introduces a problem and provides a solution.

McCann tweeted at the #muckedup chat,”If we fail to cover the many ways people & institutions are trying to solve problems — successful or not–we fail to do our jobs.”

If solution journalism was more prevalent than there would be less negative bias toward journalism. People could learn about issues affecting our society and read about ideas on how to solve them.

So what do you think of this reporting style? Is it a journalist’s job is find solutions to social issues? Are you interested in covering more stories this way?

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11 responses to “Journalism Solutions: A New Reporting Style

  1. As much as I would love to see more people helping people in the world, I’m not sure if this solution is best for journalism. You discuss ethics at the beginning of your post. Some argue that it’s unethical for journalists to not help fight social issues. But is it ethical for journalists to get involved? I’m wondering how something like this would come into play when people cover partisan issues or ones with two distinct sides. By getting involved, journalists show bias. And I don’t think that’s right.

  2. I like your point here, but I can also understand the issue from Lauren’s standpoint. I think it’s idealistic to have an answer to all of our problems, and yes journalists do spend a lot of time criticizing society, but sometimes we have to just leave it there and let people imagine their own solution if there is not one to offer. That being said, I think that solution journalism would be something I’m interested in reading about, but maybe not so much writing myself. If there’s an answer to the end of every story, then there’s really not any intrigue or excitement. If something’s being solved, then the manner in which a company or individual is doing that should be included for ethical reasons, but if it’s speculation and advice, it might be best to leave it up to the reader.

  3. I think when a journalist inserts a solution at the end of his or her story, it is almost making their piece an opinion piece. Like Lauren said, what if the story had two distinct sides and the journalist gave a solution to one side and not the other. This would cause more uproar than if they had just stated the facts and moved on. I think that this type of journalism, solution journalism, is a cool thing but not necessarily a good thing when it comes to real world news. Maybe lighter news, regarding less serious topics where an opinion and solution would be more accepted. But for now, I think we should stick with regular journalism: state the facts and get the story out there.

  4. I agree with Claudia. I’m absolutely fine with providing the solution to a problem brought up in an opinion column. I have no problem with that. But I don’t think journalists should take sides by providing a solution to a problem. When a journalist comes up with or explains the solution to a problem they’re reporting about, they begin to insert their own voice- and their own opinions- into the article. Especially on hot-button social issues, this could lead some journalists into hot water.

  5. I agree with Tim and Claudia. A journalist’s responsibility is to bring light to the truth. Exploring different solutions to social problems and highlighting individuals that are trying to make changes in the world. However, it’s not a journalist’s responsibilty and ethical obligation to find the answers to all the problems. If they’re inserting their personal solution to the problem, they may not be making factual decisions based on knowledge that experts may be offering.

  6. I agree with the people above me. What will journalism turn into if we start promoting our own ideas in our writing? We need to keep that divide between personal ideas and facts. I think it’s a good idea for a site, but not a new wave of journalism. This sounds to me like an op-ed source with a solution, not a news source. I think what they do is interesting and new, just not as a news website.

  7. I have to agree with the comments already written. I don’t think solution journalism is a good way for the future of news reporting to go because that’s not what journalists are supposed to do: so long as they uncover true facts and share them in as unbiased a way as possible, that’s all we should ask of our journalists. There needs to be a distinction between their writing and their opinion, and if they include their views on how to solve or think about a certain topic, their writing won’t be neutral. While solution journalism may be successful in blog-type platforms, I think traditional journalism has been and will continue to be more effective.

  8. I agree with the other commenters that solution journalism is not the journalists responsibility. I think that journalism pieces are supposed to give an objective and well-rounded view point of the topic at hand. By pointing out a solution the journalist can no longer remain neutral. I think that this is definitely something that can be utilized in opinion writing; however, journalists are supposed to guide people on substantiated facts not opinion.

  9. I agree with a lot of the above ideas. My apologies as I suppose my descriptions of solutions journalism weren’t clear in my post. Solutions journalists don’t come up with their own solutions to problems, and they don’t include their ideas in the stories, they just cover solutions that other people solve (or don’t solve) regarding an issue.
    I mentioned the article about low-income students and the organization that helps them afford elite universities. The writer doesn’t come up with a solution that she thinks would be viable on her own, but she covers a solution to the problem, which is the QuestBridge foundation. Here is a problem, and here is what some people are doing to help combat it.
    I hope this makes more sense!

  10. I understand the idea behind solution journalism, but I still have to agree with most of the above comments. While I like the idea of journalists offering solutions and calling out organizations that are doing good work, I think it’s a slippery slope into extremely biased journalism. Journalists could be offering/citing solutions based on their own political and social views. I think it’s best that they stick to the facts behind the story unless the solution is a crucial part to the article.

  11. This is a very delicate subject that can cause a lot of tension depending on who you talk to about it. Personally, I feel that it is a journalist’s responsibility to provide the public with news and information about the world around us. They should also help the community better themselves and make the world a better place. With that being said, I’m not exactly sure if the way to do that is to write articles telling people exactly how to be better. I feel that solution journalism doesn’t help the public, these articles give them a direct order of what to do, when journalism should give suggestions on how to better yourself and the world around you.

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