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Opinion

Fixing the News: The Power of Solutions Journalism

Changing your media diet is like changing your food diet. To make it sustainable, it is not enough to leave out unhealthy items. Much more important is to focus on what is actually good for us. Which are the nutritious elements, the superfoods, the things we can mindfully enjoy and feel energised by? It is not about getting away from ‘bad food’ all together, but about knowing what it does to us, and how to balance it with healthier options.

In a world so overrun with bad news, we need a healthy dose of solutions journalism in our media diet. It’s not a hype, not a trend, and certainly not some form of escapism. Reporting on solutions as well as problems stops us from sitting at home feeling stuck in time and trapped in a state of overwhelming chaos. It does not require us to ignore negative news; in fact quite the opposite. For a solution to exist, there must be a problem to begin with. They are two halves of the same story. But we can’t wait for the world to be rid of problems before we start reporting solutions.

So, what is solutions-focused news? It typically includes reports on innovation, initiative, peace-building progress and positive responses to social problems. There are a growing number of definitions for solutions journalism; I define it to be ‘rigorous journalism that reports critically on tangible progress being made in order for us to understand how issues are being dealt with’. It has all of the characteristics of serious and well-respected journalism. The advocacy of solutions journalism is based on the assumption that inspiration is an important part of development.

There have been some powerful examples of solutions focused journalism emerging as the idea takes hold in newsrooms in the US and beyond. The BBC World Service survey of digital audiences found that 64 per cent of under-thirty-fives want news programmes to show solutions to the world’s problems. In fact, it was their top content request. The BBC listened. Their podcast The Inquiry featured a twenty-five minute segment on ‘What went right’ this year, in which they said that the ‘good news had been buried under the bad news’ and that they were going to uncover it and ‘gift’ it to us. They said they had selected ‘four amazing stories united by one thing – the ambition of a small number of extraordinary people to achieve the seemingly impossible’.

While the broadcasting of these stories represents huge progress for solutions journalism in the mainstream news, there is still a way to go. First, solutions news is not a ‘gift’ any more so than any other news story is a gift. Second, it is not a feat of a small number of ‘extraordinary people’, as the BBC described; it takes an enormous number of people to actually implement these kinds of solutions, even if they are instigated by a small group. We must remember this in order to remain empowered when we hear about such tales of courage, accomplishment and resourcefulness.

When we hear about these seemingly awesome acts, it is easy to think they are miracles performed by superhumans to whom we could never match up. This is usually not the case, and while we could admire and be inspired by their courage and initiative, we should not talk about them as if their achievements are beyond what we are capable of ourselves. It is instead perhaps better to think of them as ordinary people who achieved extraordinary things. It is, therefore, important to give prominence to the approach and method and not just to the person instigating it.

Think of it like a magic trick: if you just see the outcome it looks impressive, maybe even impossible. However, if you are let in on the process of the trick, rather than dazzled by the person performing it, it may not seem so impossible after all. Once you know it was a group of one hundred people who achieved a particular feat, or that it took fifteen years to accomplish rather than a week, you may feel more empowered – which is one of the central aims of the news, after all.

Keen to change your own media diet? My book ‘You Are What You Read’ gives you a step by step guide. To get started immediately, use my Starter Kit to start including some solutions-focused news sources into your news diet today.

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