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.
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar was a busy, camera-shy freelance journalist and content marketer before joining the SJN's Lede Fellowship in 2022. The scheme gave her the means and confidence to launch some new projects: the Earth Solutions Network YouTube Channel and a solutions journalism newsletter, The Sojo-ist.
She launched the YouTube channel during the fellowship, as an outlet for solutions-focused content about climate and the environment. As someone who speaks in schools in her homeland, India, she saw a gap for inspirational, explainer content on an urgent topic that appeals to young audiences. The newsletter has just been launched, posting highlights from her training and workshops.
She says that the fellowship helped her rediscover herself as a creator and artist. It has been hard to keep up the channel post-fellowship, she admits, as mentoring and training gigs have taken over. The videos serve more as training material right now. But "watch this space" is her message, as The Earth Solutions Network has fresh plans in store for October.
Q: How seriously were you pursuing solutions journalism before the SJN’s LEDE fellowship?
SST: I started freelancing while I was still in college studying for my Master's. But within a couple of years of joining mainstream media, I was disillusioned and burnt out, getting into quicksand of endless meaningless chores.
I ran into the e-learning industry, which was comparatively new in India, designing curriculum and interactive courses for more than a dozen years in various capacities, and thoroughly enjoyed my time. I missed journalism though.
Around 2014-15, I decided to get back into journalism but with a few boundaries - I decided to work on projects that seemed meaningful, that newsrooms usually would not cover and that did not involve any deadline chasing like in breaking news. I also decided to cover stories that would inspire people to know, learn or do something. This was not exactly solutions journalism that I was doing, but this certainly was on the way to it. When I came across solutions journalism, I simply found my ocean.
Q: What lessons have you taken from the fellowship and use every day?
SST: India is a loud country but more than that, Indian journalism is now all about political agendas and prime-time screaming. SJN’s quiet listening made such an impact on me, personally, that I went on to get trained in their 'complicating the narratives' methodology, which revolves around a listening technique called looping.
The second thing that I took home was the fun of collaboration. As freelance journalists, we battle for commissions, space and money. But collaboration can make both journalists and their work stronger.
Q: What influence has the fellowship had on you?
Accreditation as a solutions journalism trainer from SJN has greatly helped me continue the work, and work globally. I conduct workshops and training for both students and professional journalists and communicators, helping them with solutions journalism stories and editorial pitches.
Almost every month since May 2022, I host #SoJoParties, which are free, virtual workshops for people new to solutions journalism. For these, I receive interest from professionals in the neighbouring countries, all through the Asia Pacific and African region, and get several repeat participants. I try to deliver these workshops in Hindi and other Indian languages as well in order to reach as many journalists as I possibly can.
I am considering levelling up these parties to accommodate an advanced version where we can get deeper into solutions journalism later this year. Apart from this, I had the good fortune to co-host multiple international webinars with SJN - such as for CCNow and OCJN - and also a "train-the-trainers" event for SJN.
I work with the European Journalism Centre to mentor grantee journalists and newsrooms under the Solutions Journalism Accelerator (SJA) program; this year I was also on their selection jury. I was a co-trainer at the Knights Center For Journalism in the Americas. In June, I got trained in SJN’s complicating the narrative philosophy of journalism, which is a method of promoting and practising inclusive journalism, and now I plan to start workshops on this. I also just launched my newsletter, The Sojo-ist, for journalists who are willing to work on the craft of solutions journalism.
Q: What are the barriers to doing solutions journalism beyond a scheme like the Lede Fellowship?
SST: Motivation and support. But solutions journalism has the potential to bring to light more stories of climate change impact in the Indian subcontinent, to demonstrate functional to-dos for social justice issues, provide livelihood opportunities to journalists working in the grassroots and under threat in these regions. This motivates me to continue my work.
Q: What is one piece of advice that has stuck with you for doing long-term solutions journalism?
SST: One sentence that sticks with me comes from David Bornstein [co-founder, SJN]. In one of his TED talks, he says - and I am paraphrasing - that we all know now that disciplining children through harsh punishments does not work; it probably never brought about any change of heart.
Rather, what might motivate one to correct their behaviour is the hope of a positive outcome. This metaphor seems so appropriate considering watchdog journalism has its place but it cannot organically bring about change in the society and administration like solutions journalism does through demonstration of the good work.
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