Solutions Journalism

Last week, I was in Portland attending the Solutions Journalism Educators’ Academy, a two-day conference put on by the University of Oregon. I suspect that should provide enough context clues as to which of the two “Portlands” I might have been.

This was the capstone to my two-week journey across the country, starting in Chicago and heading via Amtrak on a two-and-a-half day train trip to Emeryville. It was a wonderful time, and I took a bunch of photos, most of which can be found on my Instagram page. But, following a trip through the comically tiny Santa Rosa County airport, it was time to get back to work.

Though I’ll need to get more into the details of the conference a bit later, the concept of Solutions Journalism is to focus on how an issue is being resolved — or at least, an attempt to get it resolved — rather than simply focusing on the issue itself. Much of impactful journalism is about a problem or a failure of someone (or something) in power to do the right thing. I use the word “impactful” because I want to differentiate it from more process-oriented pieces (e.g., dutifully reporting on a city council vote), entertainment news or commentary. Other synonyms might be “watchdog, “investigative” or “news analysis.” The Solutions Journalism folks tend to call this type of piece “problems journalism.”

Though incredibly important for the profession and American democracy, such pieces tend to make readers or viewers feel hopeless. Reading a 4,000 word piece about how the local foster care system turns a blind eye to 8-year-olds addicted to heron, for example, is likely to put you in a foul mood all week. The same story that shows how a neighboring state successfully got its third graders off smack — and asking pointed questions to the local folks about following its example — (hopefully) has the opposite affect.

That is, reading how a problem may get resolved may reduce so-called news fatigue. Now, mind you, there are a lot of “ifs” in these statements. There isn’t a whole lot of research showing that people are more likely to watch or read the news if it includes solution journalism-type pieces. Or, really, if the amount of “problem journalism” is the true cause of news fatigue, or even if news fatigue is a main (or major) cause of media distrust and declining circulation rates.

OK, that’s it for now. More later.

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