At the Solutions Journalism Network, we spend nearly all our time working closely with journalists and newsrooms to support the practice of solutions reporting. We incorporate all the great feedback they give us along the way — because we learn as much as we teach in this work. In addition, we stop once a year to formally ask how we are doing.
This past year, we sent a survey to 407 newsroom leaders in our growing network, up from 217 in 2019. A little under a quarter responded, about the same percentage as last year. We asked them 19 questions on everything from the level of support for solutions journalism within the newsroom to each newsroom's vision for how it wants to contribute to the media landscape. Here are some highlights from what we have learned:
We are seeing more support for solutions journalism — and more practice of it
The first question we asked — a bellwether for the kind of change we are hoping to see: "Is there institutional and/or editorial support for solutions journalism within your newsroom?" Three years ago, 78.9 per cent of the leaders responded yes. This year, 94 per cent did.
In addition, more than 95 per cent of newsroom leaders reported their newsrooms produced at least one solutions journalism story in 2020, while 64 per cent said they produced six or more, and 15 per cent produced more than 20. That is a big increase from 2017, when just 59 per cent of newsrooms reported producing one or more solutions stories.
We also asked editors and publishers whether their newsrooms would continue to practice solutions journalism in the upcoming year. In the past, we asked for a simple yes or no answer — and the percentage who said yes went from 73 per cent in 2017 to 100 per cent in 2019.
For 2020, in an attempt to capture more nuance, we instead asked them to respond on a scale of 1 to 10. The average score was 8.5.
To us, those numbers show that journalists increasingly see the value of bringing a solutions lens to their work. The survey results also are consistent with a big research project this year that demonstrated that the public also places great value on solutions coverage.
In the newsroom survey, nearly 65 per cent of the newsroom leaders said they have seen attitudes about solutions journalism change within their organisations in 2020. "Most of the journalists I speak to love the solutions angle and are inspired by this different approach to journalism," said Camille Padilla Dalmau, founder of 9 Millones, a news organisation based in Puerto Rico. "I see that it gives them hope and makes them motivated."
Impact from the field
Even more important, a growing percentage of newsrooms report that solutions coverage has yielded impact in their communities and/or with their audiences.
We received a dozen responses about community impact, which ranged from improved community services to increased civic engagement and policy changes. For example, Christiaan Mader, executive editor at The Current in Lafayette, Louisiana, told us:
"I credit our solutions reporting in spearheading coverage of housing and the use of federal funds to stem a rising housing instability crisis in Lafayette. The change was modest but real. After first planning to commit an entire pool of federal relief dollars to a business grant program and none to housing, local government relented and shifted $760,000 to rent and utility relief during the pandemic."
Christine McLaren, co-editor at Reasons to be Cheerful, a non-profit online magazine focused on solutions stories, said her staff is seeing a positive response from their audience:
"[S]ojo reporting helps them thaw from the paralysis that comes with the negative news cycle, and helps them remain engaged in the news and in the issues they care about."
Ken Schneck, editor of The Buckeye Flame, a digital LGBTQ+ publication in Ohio and a member of the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, said one of its solutions stories led to increased awareness about a local organisation:
"One of our stories on a transgender online voice clinic resulted in a huge uptick in inquiries/enrollment for that clinic. This was wonderful to see."
How we connected
When asked what SJN resources newsrooms used during 2020, nearly 60 per cent of the leaders reported they had conversations with one of our staff members, and about 53 per cent had received one of our grants. About half had used our Solutions Story Tracker, or submitted stories to it. (The Solutions Story Tracker, our public database of solutions stories published worldwide, reached 10,000 stories as of September 2020.)
To help newsrooms achieve their coverage goals, SJN led multiple initiatives and trainings in 2020, including ones focused on Economic Mobility, Business & Sustainability, and Complicating the Narratives. In 2020, SJN also supported roughly 160 newsroom projects with grants for solutions-focused coverage.
$olutions journalism …?
We also asked about money — largely because we launched the Solutions Journalism Revenue Project in early 2020 with the goal of examining how newsrooms could use their solutions journalism reporting to develop new revenue streams. That project included about a dozen newsrooms, and we wondered whether other newsrooms in our network also had generated revenue tied to solutions journalism. So we asked: "Have you generated revenue from your solutions journalism stories or projects?"
More than one-third of respondents said yes. For some, the new revenue came through increased readership. For others, solutions journalism helped them get grants, new advertising deals or sponsorships.
What is next?
We also wanted to know what subjects newsroom leaders see as top priorities for solutions journalism. Almost 70 per cent said they intend to cover education issues through a solutions lens. Community and economic development tied for second with health, at nearly 66 per cent.
These editorial priorities differed from those of previous years. From 2017 to 2019, environment and climate change was the top coverage priority, tied with economic development in 2017 and with education in 2019. However, the responses also show there is interest in applying a solutions lens to a variety of issues, from religion to the arts to sports.
Despite all the challenges and uncertainties in 2020, our newsroom survey shows that news leaders continue to see a need for solutions stories — some say more than ever. They also noted the challenges of finding time and resources to do in-depth reporting, including solutions reporting. But when asked, on a scale of one to 10, how likely they were to continue to practice solutions journalism in 2021, more than three-quarters said they were very likely to do so — choosing eight or higher.
Questions or comments about our annual survey?
Alejandra Venancio is the operations associate at the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) where she primarily focuses on strengthening processes, data and systems.
Kyuwon Lee is an international associate at SJN, where he stewards the organisation's international relationships and opportunities. This article first appeared on the SJN Medium account on 30 June 2020 and has been republished with the authors' permission.