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    David Bornstein

    Just a clarification to this piece from the Solutions Journalism Network.

    We’re trying to establish ‘solutions journalism’ as a category of reporting that focuses on responses to social problems and explains how they work, or why they may be partially working, or failing, but still offer teachable lessons.

    it’s not meant to inspire, or make people feel good, or to get people to be activists; it’s just good reporting looking deeply at people involved in problem solving and what can be learned from their efforts and stories. We would not characterize Upworthy, Humans of New York and South Africa: The Good News as examples of solutions-based journalism.

    These sites tell many great stories, but they have other goals. Solutions Journalism and ‘good news’ are very different things. One is about the question to understand how problems can be solved — the other is often about people doing nice or inspiring things.

    We have a list of 10 questions that we use to help us think about what solutions journalism is. It’s not gospel by any means, but we find it useful to think through what this practice is, and how it can be done rigorously. I include them below.

    Thank you. David Bornstein, Solutions Journalism Network

    1. Does the story explain the causes of a social problem? A
    solution should be explained in the context of the problem it’s trying
    to address. Documenting the causes of that problem will clarify the
    opportunity for a solution to create leverage and impact.

    2. Does the story present an associated response to that problem? The acid test: if the story doesn’t describe a response, it’s not solutions journalism.

    3. Does the story get into the problem solving and how-to details of implementation?
    A great solutions story delves into the how-to’s of problem solving,
    investigating questions like: What models are having success improving
    an educational outcome and how do they actually work?

    4. Is the problem solving process central to the narrative?
    Solutions journalism, like all journalism, is about great story telling.
    It should include characters grappling with challenges, experimenting,
    succeeding, failing, learning. But the narrative is driven by the
    problem solving and the tension is located in the inherent difficulty in
    solving a problem.

    5. Does the story present evidence of results linked to the response?
    Solutions journalism is about ideas – but like all good journalism, the
    determination of what works (or doesn’t) is supported, where possible,
    by solid evidence. For early-stage ideas, where the only “evidence” may
    be the assertions of credible observers, the key is not to overclaim.

    6. Does the story explain the limitations of the response? There
    is no such thing as a perfect solution to a social problem. Every
    response has caveats, limitations, and risks. Good solutions
    journalism does not shy away from imperfection.

    7. Does the story convey an insight or teachable lesson? What
    makes solutions journalism compelling is the discovery — the journey
    that brings the reader or viewer to an insight about how the world works
    and, perhaps, how it could be made to work better.

    8. Does the story avoid reading like a puff piece? Solutions
    journalism is expressly not about advocating for particular models,
    organizations, or ideas.
    Journalists pursuing solutions stories are
    bringing their discernment to explore ideas and methods, not to advance
    an agenda or make people feel good.

    9. Does the story draw on sources who have a ground-level understanding, not just 30,000-foot expertise? Solutions
    journalism comes alive when it draws on practical how-to insights from
    people working in the trenches, who are knowledgeable about
    on-the-ground realities and the details of implementation.

    10. Does the story give greater attention to the response than to a leader/innovator/do-gooder?
    We see a clear distinction between solutions journalism and what is
    often called “good news.” “Good news” stories tend to celebrate
    individuals and inspirational acts. Solutions journalism is about ideas,
    how people are trying to make them work, and their observable effects.

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    Karen McIntyre

    Thank you for this important and interesting series on constructive and solutions journalism. I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I am in the middle of studying the effects of constructive/solutions journalism for my dissertation. I hope to make a valuable contribution to this field by providing some empirical research to support the growing pool of anecdotal evidence regarding the positive effects of this emerging form of journalism. Happy to talk further if anyone is interested!

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