Using Solutions Journalism to empower communities with solutions


By Ashley Bunton - Staff Columnist



Last week I traveled to Mansfield, Ohio to participate in a workshop with Solutions Journalism Network at MT Technologies. Reporters from the Mansfield News Journal and Richland Source participated in the workshop. I love connecting with people who share common interests and it was nice to learn from reporters across Ohio who have been using Solutions Journalism tools in their newsrooms.

What I love about Solutions Journalism (SOJO) is the idea of developing stories that go beyond reporting on problems to focusing on the solutions to the problems being reported. By focusing stories on the solution and how to look at many different perspectives within one problem, SOJO offers a fresh way to help readers gain insights into the problems that they face in order to positively shift change in communities.

SOJO won’t always be possible to do when covering hard news, crime, court, and public meetings but is an opportunistic tool for developing fuller, more comprehensive stories from issues that arise out of news, courts and public meetings.

Solutions-oriented reporting has been successful across the world.

A recent SOJO story example by High Country News shows how people are working to address food waste and agriculture problems in rural areas. The story isn’t a written article, but is a digital recording that can be streamed and listened to.

“Two of every five plates go uneaten in the US every year,” the High Country News reporter says in the report. “That means that 40 percent of the food supply goes to waste. Food waste stored in landfills emits methane, among other greenhouse gases. That means that the carbon footprint of our national food waste is the equivalent of the gases that 33 million cars emit.”

The story dialogue continues on with a discussion with people leading local projects to solutions for both climate change and hunger in rural areas.

That’s just one example of solutions-oriented journalism, but there are thousands of SOJO articles out there. A searchable database at storytracker.solutionsjournalism.org puts those stories into categories such as agriculture, fishing and forestry, community and economic development, education, health, human services, public safety, religion, science and more. The site is comprehensive, just as all reporting needs to be. These stories are examples of SOJO — reporting that addresses the problems and looks further into solutions and attempts at change.

Holding government accountable, being complete when shining a light on problems, seeking different perspectives and suggesting solutions necessitates the public outrage that drives change, and this is a main principle and ethical duty behind reporting. In the beginning the reporter breaks the news with the basics of the situation and the minimum facts of the story, then continues to dive back into the issue over time, staying with the story to develop deeper analysis and commentary. SOJO offers tools for journalists to do this.

The Listening Post is just one of many SOJO tools developed for solutions-oriented reporting. It’s a remote recording device that can be set up in any location with a sign that asks a question. People can talk into the device to give their answer to the question being asked. Those recordings can help to shape the conversations produced in the news and bring different perspectives into play, especially in places where there aren’t enough reporters to cover all areas.

By raising awareness about problems and offering solutions, journalists can help empower people in communities to take charge. Journalism is a hard job and the best stories require tedious and challenging work. Journalists don’t have all the answers, but as Jay Allred, the publisher of the Richland Source, said during the workshop, “If you get the conversation started then you’ve accomplished something.”

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By Ashley Bunton

Staff Columnist

Ashley can be contacted by email at abunton@civitasmedia.com, by phone at (740) 313-0355, or by searching Twitter for @ashbunton

Ashley can be contacted by email at abunton@civitasmedia.com, by phone at (740) 313-0355, or by searching Twitter for @ashbunton