Module JG380

Solutions Journalism

Module author

Tanni Haas

City University of New York

Learning objectives

After studying this module, you will be able to:

  • define solutions journalism and explain how this journalistic genre works;
  • explain why it might be helpful for journalism not only to focus on problems, but also on solutions;
  • give an overview of the historic development of solutions journalism;
  • reflect this genre critically and discuss the idealistic und ethical problems of solutions journalism.
Study point 1
Reading extract Solutions Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that solutions journalism is important zu know

Solutions journalism is a journalistic discipline that focuses on reporting and assessing responses to complicated social problems. The discipline of solutions journalism deals with a community's response to social problems and barriers to effective, long-lasting solutions. 

Solutions journalism vs. investigative journalism 

Investigative journalism probes one topic in serious depth. An investigative journalism might look into a recent shooting in Atlanta, Georgia or the corruption of a Democratic candidate in a mid-term election. 

Although the information compiled by an investigative journalist could stretch over many months, the scope of the story is fairly self-contained and the journalism itself tends not to be ongoing or focused on solutions. 

By contrast, solutions journalism has a much broader scope in terms of both time and place. Solutions journalism looks at how well communities, influential people and institutions respond to more abstract problems facing large segments of the population. 

It's often been said that investigative journalism focuses on the "who, what and where" whereas solutions journalism focuses on the "how" aspect of journalism. Solutions journalism looks at how well a wide range of actors respond to entrenched barriers to social justice. 

Solutions journalism in practice 

Solutions-based journalism is inherently data-driven and focused on social factors like how politicians are responding to a pension crisis or how East Asian governments are combating extreme poverty. The style of writing that solutions journalists employ is often more humanistic and lesson-based while still staying true to data and statistics. 

A solutions-based journalist might chronicle the immigration problem in America by discussing how immigration-reform bills could benefit millions of Mexican immigrations. Such a solutions-based narrative might do the following: originally conceptualize the problem, analyze how politicians and voters are bettering or exacerbating the problem, marshall economic data in support of a pro-immigration stance, and put a face to the problem. 

Articles written by solutions journalists are usually ongoing affairs that chronicle a community's response to a large social problem over many years. A solutions journalist would usually craft the narrative by following a few people intimately tied to the social problem and providing statistics and interviews showing how barriers to change have been reinforced or eroded over time. 

Ranking solutions journalism 

Solutions journalism has been shown to raise ratings of reader engagement compared to stories that simply report the facts a la investigative journalism. In this sense, solutions journalism promises benefits to both news organizations and readers alike, although solutions journalism is just getting off the ground as a journalistic discipline. 

Journalists have speculated that a lot of solutions journalism's newfound public appreciation is attributable to the fact that solutions journalism increases public discourse in a way that avoids partisan bickering. In other words, solutions journalism is seen as a more balanced approach towards dealing with intractable social problems. Solutions journalism puts a face to the problem, educates and engages readers on a different level, and soars above partisan bickering by offering data-driven solutions. 

Since there are no shortage of social problems, solutions journalism can cover a huge range of topics and be featured across an array of media. A solutions-based story that focuses on eradicating childhood hunger in America by 2020 could be written by a solutions journalist who has written about efforts to raise the minimum wage in America's heartland. These stories could be shared across different social media or formatted in completely different mediums. 

Added benefits of solutions journalism 

A solutions journalist gives an ongoing account of how communities are faring with social problems that usually cut across racial, socioeconomic and age divides. 

The fact that the social problem under discussion is typically portrayed as a community-wide problem might also explain why solutions journalism contributes to a less biased level of social discourse than traditional, investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is too often about proving oneself right, marshaling evidence to prove the other side wrong or scapegoating one group of people and letting the social problem fester. 

Our times might be the ideal creative framework for solutions journalism to flourish. Traditional journalism and the 24/7 news cycle usually relate stories in a one-sided manner; worse yet, the stories are often negative and fail to raise public discourse or encourage politicians to cross the aisle and compromise. 

Solutions journalism sidesteps many of these problems by broadening the scope of the discussion and raising public discourse in a way that avoids partisan mudslinging. As a journalistic discipline, solutions journalism focuses on a community's response to an intractable social problem and barriers to establishing social justice.