Is Solutions Journalism the Future of Media News?

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Cover image for  article: Is Solutions Journalism the Future of Media News?

Once upon a time I had a physical newsletter that was subscribed to by media giants, like many of my readers today. In one of my first print issues, I began a theme that would recur frequently in my writings from that point on, the idea that media news spends all of its time on the bad news, and that it would be good for the world and for sponsors to be involved with news that sought to also cover the solution directions being explored.

"In 1971, the first edition of Handbook of Children and the Media by Dorothy and Jerome Singer told the world that heavy viewers of television news are more likely to distrust the next stranger they met. In today's agitprop circus of openly biased 'news' channels and foulmouthed, vicious, people-cancelling social media, the distrust creation by media has gone way through the roof." I wrote that in this column on June 18, 2021.

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"Perhaps the energy companies create the Energy Network, a full-time channel devoted to intensive in-depth coverage of the energy problem and its solution process." That was in the July 1979 issue of my Media Science Newsletter.

Fast forward more than 40 years; on November 25, 2020, I sent President Elect Biden a proposalfor a television series We the People: Solutions that he would host, aimed at the interactive crowdsourcing of solutions for all of the world's problems.

Along the way I pitched similar concepts on dozens of occasions.

Imagine my horror when the initial reaction to my ideas in the 20th Century was the worsening of a phenomenon that came to be known as Happy Talk, in which TV news journalists wore happy faces and bantered in a friendly way. Quite missing the point.

Imagine my joy to recently discover a non-profit organization called Solutions Journalism Network, consisting of top journalists, and actually functioning to train, so far, thousands of journalists how to inject solutions journalism into their work.

Inspired by Amanda Ripley's article "Complicating the Narratives" which appeared in June, 2018, award-winning journalists David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg co-founded the nonprofit and assembled a larger team of exceptional journalists and universities.

The four hubs are: Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication; Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications; Stony Brook University's School of Communication and Journalism, and the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

In its first few years of operation this movement has already produced over 13,600 news stories by 6000 journalists at 1700 news organizations in more than 187 countries, growing every day. The aim is that by 2025, the majority of U.S. news consumers and increasing numbers globally will have access to solutions journalism.

Using methods of conflict resolution, the movement aims to depolarize the conversation, restore trust and engage more citizens in taking positive actions toward solving the problems now tearing us apart yet making insufficient progress toward problem solutions.

The objective research shows that it is working.

The University of Texas at Austin's Center for Media Engagement found that stories with the core components of solutions journalism increased readers' interest and knowledge, boosted readers' positivity and intent to learn more, and led readers to believe there were ways to effectively address the issue.

The Institute for Applied Positive Research found that solutions-oriented reporting increased news readers' problem-solving skills and increased their connection to the community. It made people feel less anxious, more energized and more confident that they could come up with solutions.

Solutions journalism increased viewers' loyalty to their TV station. Solutions journalism stories had greater storytelling appeal, helped distinguish stations from their competitors, and were more likely to inspire viewers to take action. The media research firm SmithGeiger's conclusions did not differ by age, geography or -- especially notable -- political ideology.

SmithGeiger chose six markets in which to conduct its experiment, which involved exposing samples of viewers to two television news stories, one treated in what we have all gotten used to as the "normal" problem-centric way, and the other treated from the standpoint of how people are attempting to solve the problem and the results they are getting. The stories were customized to each market, although some of the solutions presented were actually being pursued in other markets. One of the findings was that there was significant interest in how other people were making some headway by innovative means. The main conclusion was that a majority of respondents prefer the solution-oriented approach to news coverage, with this pattern strongest among younger viewers -- the people it has been hardest to get to watch the news.

As we have been backsliding for years now as a nation and as a species, with the bad news norm contributing significantly to this decay, this group of foresighted journalists and their idea represent the beginning of a second renaissance in world culture, led by solution-oriented people with respect for everyone's constructive ideas. Let's all see what each of us personally can do -- since we are all in this together, and we are all in the media business -- to amplify the work and success of solutions journalism.

There is more material around for solutions journalism than one might suppose given the massive dose of downers we are gorging on in the media of the current period. A stellar example is what the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, just did, announcing that all the profits of Patagonia will go to saving the world. Paul Newman's and A.E. Hotchner's food company Newman's Own made a similar announcement in 1982 when the company started. It has since donated more than $570 million to charitable causes. Talk about brand love. Who can hate a company that does such things?

All it takes is for a journalist to look around, dig and research as journalists do, talk to the people involved to make sure of their sincerity, and let the muse do the rest. If you're a journalist, you may find that this ups your positive feelings by an order of magnitude. Don't do it for that selfish reason, but there is no reason to deny yourself the satisfaction once you start bringing solution thinking and feeling into your work.

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