In the beginning, journalists wanted to write about what works, but were afraid to try it, lest it come out like advocacy, cheerleading, or PR.
Note from Jeremy Druker, Transitions executive director:
Today is a big day for solutions journalism, more precisely the Solutions Journalism Network, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In the span of a mere decade, SJN has done a remarkable job of spreading the notion throughout the world that we need to do a much better job of reporting on what’s working and not settle for regurgitating the same problem-based stories over and over again.
For Transitions the big day was 4 May 2017 (yes, I dug up the old email) when David Bornstein, a New York Times columnist and SJN co-founder, arrived in Prague and led a workshop on “the ins and outs of solutions journalism,” exploring “why it’s important and how to do it.”
It’s notoriously tough to get Czech journalists to show up for workshops, so our staff filled probably half the seats. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I was immediately hooked. It just made so much sense, and David’s words about the harmful effect on the psyche of perpetually focusing on the many ills of society resonated.
Though we had occasionally practiced something resembling solutions journalism, it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the desperation (and depression) of covering everything going wrong in Central and Eastern Europe since the ’90s.
From that day, we vowed to do things differently, even if it took us some time to develop and then launch a fully-fledged SoJo program, regularly publishing solutions journalism and then training others in Central and Eastern Europe how to do it. The response has been overwhelming: many reporters in this region, as elsewhere, find SoJo gets them back to why they became journalists in the first place: to make an impact, this time through shining a light on effective responses, success stories that show the creativity and innovation at work in their countries – stories that too often lie hidden beneath an avalanche of negative news.
And now, let me introduce Tina Rosenberg, the Pulitzer-prize winning SJN co-founder, describing the origins of solutions journalism and proclaiming Solutions Journalism Day. Tina was my professor many years ago, back when SoJo was perhaps just a twinkle in her eye (you will get the child reference in a moment).
We are so very grateful to SJN for all their support over the years.
I have four children. Three of them are actual human (most of the time, anyway) daughters. If you’re reading this, you know my fourth child.
And I have two husbands. My real one and my work one, whose name you also probably know: David Bornstein.
David’s and my work child turns 10 this week, so on 26 October, we are asking newsrooms and journalists we’ve worked with – past and present – to publish a solutions story, or look back on an earlier story or series and explore its impact.
We’ve also asked them to write a bit about why they do solutions journalism, with the hashtag #SolutionsJournalismDay.
SJN grew out of the Fixes column in The New York Times. Fixes was solutions journalism. That’s it. David, I, and many thoughtful guest writers looked at what works to solve social problems, ranging from universal health insurance in Rwanda to effective mentoring in Baltimore.
David argued from the beginning that we shouldn’t keep this kind of reporting to ourselves. Journalists wanted to write about what works, but were afraid to try it, lest it come out like advocacy, cheerleading, picking winners, fluff, or public relations. David thought it would be good for journalism and society to show how to do strong, compelling reporting on responses to problems.
We didn’t invent solutions journalism. Lots of people have done it (and do it today) without putting a label on it and without us. But SJN has tried to create a system to practice it and teach it and, most important, a network to share it with.
Journalism is going through both economic and existential crises, and that network has blossomed.
Nigeria, Ukraine, and El Salvador have publications dedicated to solutions reporting. Solutions stories are everyday fare at the BBC, The New York Times, and many other leading newsrooms. Journalism training organizations teach or have taught solutions reporting in Abuja, Nairobi, Prague, Toronto, Bonn, Amsterdam, Bogota, and soon, Sydney, Kyiv, and Ulaanbaatar. SJN’s Solutions Story Tracker has collected more than 15,000 published pieces – and that’s only a tiny fraction of what’s out there.
Journalists around the world are inspired to transform their profession, but not just their profession. They want to repair toxic narratives; to provide a fuller, truer picture of society and its challenges, one that empowers people instead of depressing them; to earn the trust of their communities. They are eager to transform their world – through journalism.
Our role, then, has shifted to supporting this network, giving these journalists the skills to lead and train others. We can provide story examples, case studies, and training materials. We can help knit them into a community. But these passionate entrepreneurs are the ones who go teach and spread and innovate.
Any journalist or newsroom can join in this look at the progress of the last 10 years on #SolutionsJournalismDay, sharing what or who has been most valuable to you in the practice. More importantly, any journalist or newsroom can join us going forward. Let us help you transform the world through journalism.
Tina Rosenberg is co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network. She received a Pulitzer Prize for her 1996 book The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism.