The Solutions Journalism Network has run an annual Lede Fellowship since 2020, designed to fund and foster solutions journalism projects around the world. But when the training and funding runs out, how do you continue doing solutions journalism? In this short series, we speak to some of the top graduates about the lessons of the fellowship and sustaining them in the real world.
Assunta Corbo is an Italian freelance journalist with 15 years' experience. She set up the Constructive Network in 2019 with six colleagues, which currently has 152 member journalists across Italy dedicated to promoting constructive journalism.
With grant funding from the Lede Fellowship in 2020, she launched the independent, non-profit news outlet News48 where she serves as the editor-in-chief. News48 features articles written by members of the Constructive Network primarily in Italian and then translated into English. This gives a platform to solutions journalism stories on tourism, employment, youth, neurodiversity, society and more.
The website has a loyal following given its size and age. It attracts 10,000 unique visitors per month with 65 per cent of readers returning to the website. All this by publishing just one article a week and a monthly editorial reflection piece.
The demand for more is also there. A recent audience survey brought in 234 responses, indicating people want to hear more solutions about improving tourist attractions, practical applications of Artificial Intelligence, and breakthroughs in medical and scientific research.
Corbo chats to us about the new opportunities solutions journalism has presented, sharing her knowledge with other journalists and doing solutions journalism beyond a grant programme.
Q: How seriously were you pursuing solutions journalism before the LEDE fellowship?
AC: I discovered solutions journalism in 2013 when I realised that I wanted to pursue a type of journalism that was of high quality and respectful of the audience.
For several years, I studied extensively, conducted research, and engaged in discussions with those who practiced it. I started choosing this approach while working with major national publications, but I struggled to make this type of journalism more widely understood. At that time, solutions journalism was not talked about in Italy, and its aspects were not widely known.
After the Lede Fellowship, I truly understood how to practice solutions journalism, and I began selecting journalistic outlets to work with more consciously. Then, News48 was born, and I had the opportunity to engage in solutions journalism more seriously.
Q: What did you work on and what did you want to achieve?
AC: I wanted to understand all aspects of solutions journalism, to promote it in Italy as a trainer, and to write solutions stories. In particular, I wanted to explore how to address the biases I encountered in Italy, such as the belief that solutions journalism is about positive or feel-good news. My goal was to provide the best training for Italian journalists and to offer the Italian audience a magazine where they could read stories of solutions.
I also had a bigger goal: to write a book. In June, "Inversion to U: How constructive journalism can change society" was published, which I co-wrote with Mariagrazia Villa, the president of the Ethics Committee of the Constructive Network and a professor of journalism and communication ethics.
At the moment, it is only available in Italian, but we are working with the publisher to create an English ebook version. It is both an essay and a manual: we tell the story of solutions journalism and provide useful tools for working with this approach: 500 pages to read and study.
Q: What influence has the fellowship had on you?
AC: A significant influence on my work. I have been able to provide new opportunities to many fellow journalists who are part of the Constructive Network, plus all the necessary tools to train Italian journalists in collaboration with the Association of Journalists. Since I started the Fellowship, I have trained 560 journalists throughout Italy, from the North to the South. Now, the new challenge I have set for myself is to work with a newsroom to showcase Italian case studies, in addition to News48.
I have been invited to universities to share this approach with students, as well as journalism events to conduct masterclasses dedicated to both journalists and the general public. Last year, the first thesis on constructive journalism was completed in Italy at the University of Parma, thanks (again) to Professor Mariagrazia Villa's support.
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Q: What does the data say about solutions journalism at News 48?
AC: The most-read articles on News48 are those related to solutions journalism, as two thirds (63 per cent) of our readers prefer these articles. All our articles are available for free, and the audience has the option to make voluntary donations to support our work.
As a non-profit organisation, all donations are used to pay the journalists working for News48 and cover the magazine's expenses. Our audience is growing by approximately 9 per cent each month.
Q: What are the barriers to doing solutions journalism beyond a scheme like the Lede Fellowship?
The first is time: solutions journalism requires care, dedication, in-depth investigation, and significant effort from the journalist, even for producing shorter pieces. This is the objection raised by newsrooms when we propose these types of articles.
Simply avoid specifying you are doing solutions journalism but working according to its criteria. The effect, after seeing the article, is very interesting: journalists are often called back for other articles with the same approach. At that point, with a clear example, we can explain how we worked and how we intend to do it for each other article.
The second challenge is to make people understand that we are not talking about good news, but rather what works without forgetting the context and limitations of the solution itself.
This prejudice is still very strong in Italy because unfortunately, there are media outlets that deal with positive journalism and present it as solutions journalism. Many create "Good News" sections and claim that it is solutions journalism. Here, the work of dissemination is still important: we are using social networks to educate the audience and provide practical training for professionals.
The third challenge is to convince newsrooms that it is possible to organise the work to favour solutions journalism even within teams. We are still working on this aspect, and we would like to start with an independent and local newsroom, which proves to be a good starting point. I am convinced that having successful case studies can be of great help in this process.
Q: What’s one piece of advice that has stuck with you for doing long-term solutions journalism?
Study extensively, stay constantly updated, and create an international network of contacts to stay connected and influence one another positively.
Being connected to an organisation like the Solutions Journalism Network is essential because it provides valuable tools for our work and keeps the enthusiasm high. Consult the Solutions Story Tracker to find inspiring solutions stories from all over the world.
Embrace any criticism as a challenge to do better and more. Often, people criticise what they do not understand. Lastly, people are eager to know how journalists work, and this can increase credibility and trust. Engaging with your audience through social networks, a personal newsletter, or a blog is a good way to understand people's information needs, which provides us with many inspirations for our solutions stories.