Credit: Photo by Brandon Jacoby on Unsplash

‘Solutions journalism on journalism itself’ is the mission statement of a joint project between the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Solutions Journalism Network.

Solution Set, led by editor Joseph Lichterman, is a solutions-orientated take on the latest innovations and breakthroughs in local news.

"Just because it’s solutions journalism doesn’t mean it's cheerleading," said Lichterman, adding that he aims to provide real-world solutions to ongoing newsroom struggles by looking at case examples in the US, but also widening his gaze overseas for inspiration.

Since launching in 2018, the scope of content has ranged from how a Philadelphia-based Chinese newsletter built an audience on WeChat, to how an Argentine newspaper used its comment section to drive its membership.

But transferring these learning curves over cultures is not as simple as copying-and-pasting.

"Acknowledging not everything is going to work in your newsroom is important. Before you do anything, you need to understand your audience and understand what resonates and is ultimately to the benefit of your business.

"Solutions Set is trying to segment things. Journalists can break it up into components and see the overarching themes but pick out what is relevant and applicable to their business models.”

Community engagement

Lichterman sees community engagement as a big emerging force in local news, recalling his first story on a Taco Tour led by Texas-based news organisation Tyler Loop, as a way to introduce people to new parts of town and experience different businesses.

Checking back in with the publisher a year later, he found that it spent a year and a half getting to know the community and going to talk to people.

"They stopped thinking about it from a daily output and research and development perspective, how you think about organising your work to serve the reader."

Reader revenue

A dive into The Seattle Times morning newsletter showed how to meet vital audience needs, while underpinning a revenue strategy. Lichterman said this is crucial in the wake of diminishing traditional advertising models.

"What has stuck out to me is how, in order to succeed, there needs to be a strong inner-connection between the sales and marketing, the product, the platform and the editorial coverage. It’s seeing where those circles intersect and how publishers are changing their operations to maximise those intentions," said Lichterman.

"This was the news which helped readers start their day, but also informed Seattle residents. In each newsletter they had at least 30 links to stories because people wanted to be informed, but the publisher also wanted to drive the audience to the website where they would run up the free-article meter, leading them to ultimately subscribe."

Product development

Something else which caught his eye was when The Minneapolis Star Tribune employed a similar tactic previously seen by The New York Times, by using calendar alerts to send users reminders about local elections and debates.

Collaborative projects

Lichterman picked out collaboration as a key focal point in how historic competitors are putting that aside for common goals: mutually amplifying their reach and having greater local impact.

"There is a tonne of logistical challenges with that. It’s hard enough to do reporting in one newsroom, but when you add in multiple partners, what does that look and how do you help publishers navigating those challenges?" he asked.

A collaborative fact-checking project between 90 Mexican news outlets looks at the pitfalls in pulling off collaborative efforts but also why it is worth the effort.

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