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 run 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.
Nieves Zúñiga is a Spanish freelance research consultant and journalist. As part of her Lede Fellowship proposal, she pitched to collaborate with Land Portal, a global platform specialising in land governance, for a project centred around environmental solutions. She saw an opportunity to increase their content and journalistic connections, while her work would reach an active audience with the power to affect change.
She has worked abroad for a large part of her career, 13 years in the UK and Germany, before returning to her home country, Spain, in 2021. Media conditions have not improved much, with freelancers struggling to find work and to get paid correctly, or even at all. Solutions journalism is therefore still in a nascent stage.
She is now aiming to spread awareness about solutions journalism in Spain with new connections and collaborators at her side. Environmental and restorative justice solutions stories are among her top priority topics, which she can pursue as a journalist, researcher or consultant specialising in anti-corruption and land governance.
Q: How seriously were you pursuing solutions journalism before the Lede fellowship?
NZ: I have been working as a researcher in academia and civil society organisations since I moved to the UK in 2008. In 2020, I decided to switch and work as a freelance researcher.
Part of my ambition was to combine both research and journalism. I realised that very few people outside academia access its work, and the work done in civil society organisations should also be accessible to more people, not only activists.
I saw journalism as a solution. But I wanted to do a kind of journalism that had a positive impact on society, that empowered and inspired people to be and do better. I was very serious about pursuing solutions journalism for a long time (even if I did not have the name for it) but I did not know how and the Solutions Journalism Network gave me the articulation and structure to make it real.
Q: What did you work on and what did you want to achieve?
NZ: My project was to produce and disseminate stories on solutions to repair the damage caused to the environment. In addition, I introduced the solutions journalism approach to journalists and content producers working on environmental and land issues by facilitating spaces of exchange through the Land Portal. The thought that sparked my project was that human action is often the problem regarding the health of our planet, but it can also be the solution.
We produced six environmental solutions stories published in local media and disseminated them globally through the Land Portal. For me, it was important that the stories were published in local media first because the idea was to inform and inspire the local population about what people were doing close to them.
Three of the stories were from Africa (Nigeria and Zimbabwe), one from Asia (the Philippines) and two from Latin America (Costa Rica and Brazil). It was also important that the solutions came from individuals or communities rather than from governments. We, as journalists, can be the messengers of those stories that do not get to the mainstream media.
Q: What lessons have you taken from the fellowship and use every day?
NZ: At first, I thought of the big initiatives with the potential to change the world in big ways as worthy solutions to report on. This fellowship made me humble and taught me that efforts to solve problems or make things better from organised societies or individuals can have a lot of value, depth and impact.
Another lesson I learned is how much we can achieve when we collaborate. This is something that the Lede Fellowship encourages but in a way that does not mean compromising goals and purpose, but to collaborate and help each other in achieving our goals.
Q: What influence has the fellowship had on you?
NZ: This fellowship put me on the track for doing journalism again. After I finished, I was offered to collaborate regularly in Revista Haz, an online magazine with a section on solutions - one of the few (if not the only) publications in Spain with a section specially devoted to solutions. My first story with them will be published soon and there are more to come.
Thanks to the fellowship I met a former fellow that was from my hometown in Spain. It was incredible to know that the two Spaniards that got the fellowship are from the same city, which is not a big one – Pamplona.
His name is Alfredo Casares and he created the Instituto de Periodismo Constructivo (Constructive Journalism Institute) during his Lede fellowship. He is promoting solutions journalism in Spain. It is not easy, but more media and people are getting interested. They like the idea; the difficult part is to make them invest in it.
Having Alfredo close by is great to share ideas, motivation and opportunities. I got involved in a programme on restorative justice and solutions journalism organised by the Institute and the Asociación Hablamos (they do mediation in the justice system). As part of the programme, I wrote a piece on restorative justice that I am still trying to publish. I offered it to several publications but it is hard to get a reply (even if it is a ‘no’) from them.
Q: What does the data say about solutions journalism?
NZ: The webinar we organised together sparked a lot of interest in Land Project followers (researchers, activists, policy-makers and implementers). We got 361 registrations from all over the world, of which 121 were journalists. That told me that there is interest in solutions journalism beyond journalists. We should talk about solutions journalism with anyone producing content - not just journalists.
Q: What are the barriers to doing solutions journalism beyond a scheme like the Lede Fellowship?
NZ: The barriers I am facing as a freelance journalist are not due to solutions journalism but in general the barriers of being a freelance journalist in Spain.
For example, publications do not answer when you pitch an article, or they do not pay it or they pay very little. It is difficult to fight the system and becomes a mentality issue. Perhaps it is also about knowing how to move in the larger media environment.
Q: What’s one piece of advice that has stuck with you for doing long-term solutions journalism?
NZ: Adapt to available opportunities (for example, to adapt the topic of the project to environmental solutions related to land so I could collaborate with Land Portal), and recognise the importance of collaborations.
Another tip is expanding our view of what is important to report on: to do solutions journalism requires a change of perspective from what we are told in journalism studies of what should make a headline. Society appreciates and wants solutions journalism, and so do journalists.
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