Reflections on Solutions Journalism

Maggie Bushway

The concept of solutions journalism is new to me but opens up a whole new world of the way we can report on stories. So often we are tempted to be advocates instead of objective, but solutions journalism gives us the special opportunity to highlight the subject’s humanity, and also the humanity of those who are making a change to help these people. Solutions journalism in general is very powerful, but visuals make it much more compelling. Whether it’s done in a video or photo form, it can make a big impact on the audience or reader.

Kriston Jaee Bethel explains the process of reporting on a sensitive topic in his article “What This Photojournalist Thinks of Solutions Journalism.” He was asked to report on female prisoners who can pump breastmilk for their babies. It’s a sensitive story in every aspect, so he had to be careful in how he went about reporting on it, especially as a man. He asked for advice from an expert, who gave him some valuable advice that really stood out and will always stick with me. Vox visual editor Kainaz Amaria said, 

“If you’re trying to cover a solution, don’t become part of the problem.” 

There would be so many opportunities for photos that portray them as sad and traumatized, but that would add to the problem and portraying the women in that light would be dehumanizing, especially when the actual story is about giving them the freedom to care for their babies in some way while incarcerated. 

In “Thinking Inclusion + Equity in Solutions Photojournalism,” Tara Pixley gives an interesting definition of solutions journalism. 

“Exemplary journalism highlights the commonalities between human struggles. Solutions journalism unpacks attempts to mitigate those struggles.” 

She reminds us that we all have some biases, privileges, or even life experiences and how that could affect the way that we tell stories. It’s not a matter of getting rid of them, but finding a way to not tell your stories through those frameworks. In visual solutions journalism these can show themselves through symbolism in the photos and videos we take. She also encourages visual solution journalists to see their subjects as more than victims, and also to portray them as holistic beings. 

“We’re telling their stories; in order to do so accurately and truthfully, we need to move beyond their victimization.” 

The solutions journalism article I chose is called “Paralyzed Patients Walk Again With Help From Pain Stimulator.” The University of Louisville developed a pain stimulator and therapy program which so far is helping 5 paralyzed people walk again. The pain stimulator is implanted on their spinal cords and sends signals to a bundle of nerves in the epidural layer. With the help of specialized therapy, the spinal cord can relearn how to walk. 

This article demonstrates solutions journalism by focusing more on the device and the therapy techniques. The writer did talk about the 5 people who were paralyzed and now able to walk, but they weren’t the main focus of the story. What really made the story interesting to me was the visual aspects. It is published with 4 photos and a video. Most of the photos show what the patients can do and the therapists helping them, as opposed to what they couldn’t do. One of the photos was a close up of a therapist’s hands holding the device, and it really made me think about whether or not it was considered solutions journalism. The whole story collectively is, but this particular photo isn’t since it doesn’t clearly show the problem and solution in a way that the audience can understand. 

The video, however, doesn’t rely on raw emotions and dehumanizing moments to tell the story, but on the solution itself and that it’s a medical miracle. It humanizes the patients by showing how they can walk and why, not how sad it is that they were paralyzed. 

Another Solutions Journalism story example comes from Vox, written by David Roberts, and is part of a series of stories about Barcelona building 500 superblocks. Nine blocks, which blocked off traffic from these spaces. It was originally done to help air pollution, but they found that it gave people more space to walk through the streets and it gave bicyclists more room. The solutions journalism visuals in this story are vital, as it’s a confusing concept to just read about. The photos show ordinary people going about their ordinary life, but with large open spaces in the streets that are utilized in useful ways. The video was very helpful in understanding the layout of these superblocks, but I felt like it also crossed a line in solutions journalism. My understanding is that solution journalists can show solutions and the problem, but not outright suggest that the audience do something. The journalist in this video suggests that the United States try this model. It is a good suggestion, but may not be the solutions journalism standard.

Kyser Lough sums up studies done on this topic in his article, “The Research Behind Visuals and Solutions Journalism.” He gives two categories of solutions journalism visuals: the images, and the image effects. The takeaways from the studies on images is that it’s important to have internal photographers work on a story instead of using stock photos, and that images should show both the problem and the response. It makes sense to me that photographers who already know the story would have better photos because they have a framework to use when taking the photos.

The takeaways from the image effect studies were that solutions journalism images tend to have a positive effect on the audience, though it often varies by topic. This is understandable because not every solution story can be positive enough to invoke a positive effect on an audience. 

Lisa Waanen Jones teaches a visual communications class at Washington State University and experimented with implementing solutions journalism into her curriculum, and shared some of her findings in her article titled “Lessons from one semester of solutions journalism photo essays.” One of her findings that really stood out to me is that solutions journalism is emphasizes the “howdunnit” narrative. It should not only show that there needs to be a change-making reaction, it should also show how to do it. Another point she brought up is that it’s difficult to show the evidence of impact. Jones said,

 “Photography is about the symbolic moment rather than the full perspective, which is both a strength and a weakness.” 

She also noted that learning solutions journalism was useful for many different majors, such as nonprofits, public health campaigns, crisis communications, and corporate storytelling. After reading her experience, I think teaching solutions journalism earlier on in undergrad classes would be helpful. 

My overall takeaway from these articles is that, although it’s a new concept to me for journalism, it’s also just a basic mentality in how we should treat other people. We should always seek to empathize with people and to find solutions to the political, social, and environmental issues.

Solutions Journalism

What is Solutions Journalism?

“Solutions journalism is an approach to news reporting that focuses on the responses to social issues as well as the problems themselves. Solutions stories, anchored in credible evidence, explain how and why responses are working, or not working” (Wikipedia, Solutions Journalism). This style of reporting gives a way for viewers to reflect on the issues they face, and debate if this same solution would be effective in their lives. I believe that this form of journalism is extremely important because there are many creative ideas happening all around the world but might not always be known to the public. Solutions journalism highlights those innovative plans and can help others evaluate if it can benefit them as well. The great way about the approach of these stories is that viewers do not feel like it is mandatory for them to change what they are doing, it is simply an idea for them to ponder. No one likes to be told what to do, and often times when they are, people chose to do the opposite. Solutions journalism is a way to get to conversation started about a topic, so that the juices are flowing for those watching, and ultimately decide if it would make there issue better. I have always been drawn to this style of journalism, but funny enough, I never knew what it was called. I now know that I love to highlight ways that people can improve their lives, and shed light on issues that do not get enough ink. The most important thing I have to remember is that not everyone has to agree with the solution that I bring up. It is very likely that there are multiple ways to improve a situation, I can not take things personally.

Why solutions journalism can help news organisations improve their  reporting | Media news
In order to create a solution, we must first understand what the problem is. Photo found on the internet.
https://images.app.goo.gl/c4g7RZvir65cAW1P7

What is the impact?

After reading/watching each of the five articles relating to solutions journalism, I gained a new found respect for the impact that this form of storytelling has for impacting viewers. Each story was explaining a different issue and solution that has been found, and is currently helping the people in each article. I did not have personal ties to any of the main points in each article, yet I was still extremely moved. I have never been incarcerated, but the story on woman in jail who are nursing there babies struck me to the core. It made me think of the benefits for allowing mothers to nurse their babies and still create a relationship with their infant. This article is a prime example of impacting those who are not directly effected with what they are suggesting in the solution. The woman that this solution helps are obviously in jail so they would not be able to find out and ask for this change in their building, but if someone knows a mother in jail who is nursing they can bring the idea up to the jail they are living at. This is something that can possibly happen with many different issues and articles read by individuals. If an article speaks to someones and they know something that the solution could impact in a positive way, they can share the article and get traction with the topic.

Helping others can be too much effort | University of Oxford
Speaking for those who do not having a voice; Acknowledging solutions for those who need it
Photo found on the internet.
https://images.app.goo.gl/eSnVRmSTQEiYyRucA

Possible Outcomes: Positives and Negatives

People have made the debate that solutions journalism makes it extremely difficult to stay unbiased when trying to explain a specific solution. Having a pre-existing notion of what you believe to be the correct idea for a current problem can cause issues with viewers trusting what you are documenting to be honest. Viewers have to trust the interviewees statements and sources in order to buy-in to the documentary for truth. On the flip side, allowing someone to shed light on a solution that is working for many people can change the lives of those who are involved in similar problems. I chose an article relating to sea pollution in Greece and divers who are looking to lower the number of plastic waste. This is again an article that is talking about a completely different country than the one that I live in, but it created such a topic of conversation in my head that I sent the article to many of my family and friends. Sea pollution is something that happens everywhere in the world and the solution that they have created in order to minimize single use plastic in Greece is something to speak about in all different countries. I believe that dwelling on issues in the world without having a solution in mind is pointless, and solution journalism is the epitome of putting thoughts to action. The number one benefit of speaking up about positive changes being made for issues around the world is documenting them for millions of people to watch/read.

People-Talking-with-Speech-Bubbles-877x432 | Geoff holsclaw
Flow of ideas
Photo found on the internet
https://images.app.goo.gl/SfJesxs415kBtgzi7

Isn’t always going to be perfect

One of the main points that I got from reading each of the articles is that nothing is perfect, and these documentaries are not trying to state that this is the end all-be all solution. There is room for debate in any topic, and just because a solution works for one group of people does not mean that it will go perfectly for everyone who tries it out. For example, the roadways in Barcelona and cutting the amount of cars in the city so that people can walk instead. This works extremely well for that city and they are loving the results, but in the reading it specifically brought up the understanding that this might not be a magic solution for cities in the United States. I think that being impartial and knowing that this is one solution, not the solution brings in viewers appeal that the producers are trying to be unbiased. At the end of the day, bringing light to solutions that people have found in the world is a step in the right direction rather than keeping it quiet. This form of journalism allows masses of people to make the decision for themselves and those around them if the solution would be beneficial, instead of having to hear is from word of mouth. If we were to wait for solution topics to be spoke about in person, then that would take much longer, and possibly be detrimental.

2018 country reports – A step in the right direction | Social Platform
Whether people agree or disagree, shedding light on a topic you feel drawn to is a step in the right direction for change.
Photo found on the internet.
https://images.app.goo.gl/RrUwQJgGVcYvoXf7A

Links for Provided information:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/02/666296302/meet-greeces-marine-trash-collectors-diving-to-keep-their-sea-beautiful?utm_source=Solutions+Story+Tracker

https://images.app.goo.gl/c4g7RZvir65cAW1P7

https://images.app.goo.gl/eSnVRmSTQEiYyRucA

https://images.app.goo.gl/SfJesxs415kBtgzi7

https://images.app.goo.gl/RrUwQJgGVcYvoXf7A

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solutions_journalism

Solutions Journalism

In undergrad, I spent four years trying to master the art of becoming a journalist. I majored in broadcast journalism, so naturally my desire was to vocally tell stories. So, in other words, I wanted to be a news reporter. Therefore, everything I learned in class I soaked in and said, “how can this make me a better reporter.” The takeaway for me was to always follow my 5Ws (Who, what, when, where, why.) Get the facts and report the facts! Nothing more nothing less! 


After graduating and landing a reporting job at WTVA in Tupelo MS, I can wholeheartedly say that everything I learned in undergrad as a journalist is still relevant. I go to work knowing that I’m on a tight deadline. It’s important that I get the facts; which can come in A-roll and B-roll and I tell the story in an unbiased manner. Most importantly, I get the story done in time. Don’t waste my time on anything else that “Doesn’t matter.”

That’s just how journalism is shaped for a news reporter. 

But, it wasn’t until my graduate level classes that I realized there is so much more to journalism. Journalists come in many different forms in how they choose to express stories. More importantly, every journalist doesn’t think like how a news reporter would think.

I say that to say, solutions journalism may not have a superior role in local news (what I am used to), but it surely has a place in society and I believe more journalists should take that approach in storytelling.

As journalists, we have a responsibility to tell accurate stories, with a great deal of leeway in what we choose to show or not show. It is our responsibility to tell the tough stories that people don’t want to talk about.

But, all journalists don’t get the chance to spend time on imaging the world as a better place like solutions journalist do.

Solutions journalism offers a way to report on the key issues of our time and to imagine a better future.

Journalism rarely answers the question of “how did we get here?”  But once again, solutions journalism looks to report on answers to “how do we fix this problem,” “How can we be comprehensible to the public and thoroughly address how proposed solutions understand the problem at its core?” Tell me More:

Solutions journalism has an advantage that many other forms of journalism does not have.  Many journalist don’t always have the opportunity to spend an excessive amount of time with the people they photograph or interview, especially for those working at a daily publication with multiple assignments per day. Yet solutions journalism provides a bigger picture than solely just looking at the problem.

For Example. 

In “What this Photojournalist thinks about when creating Solutions Journalism stories” the photographer was assigned a solutions story on incarcerated women who are allowed to pump breast milk and have it delivered to their infants outside of prison.  Instead of focusing on the obvious, the focus was more generated to working to better connect a mother and child. If I were focusing on the story, my story would be very different from the photographer.

Who: The incarcerated mom and daughter 

What: Delivering breast milk outside of prison to daughter 

When: January 2019

Where:  Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional Facility,

Why: Wants to make sure  her daughter is fed while she is locked away

While I would have reported the facts of the story accurately, I would be missing key pieces of information that could focus the story into something bigger. I could have made the story more of a thinking piece and more relatable to mothers. I could have raised questions about what correctional facilities are doing to make sure moms can still be moms while incarcerated. 

Reading the several solutions articles made me reevaluate how I conduct my work as a reporter. I know some people feel as if the media only reports on negative situations and that the media is biased. In recent years, it has caused many people to stir away from the media. However, what if solutions journalism was the solution? 

What if journalists flipped the script? Take education reporting for example. Instead of identifying the worst schools in the region and explaining why they were failing, the reporters set out to find the schools that were improving and asked how their educators and students excelled despite poverty, crime, and other challenges. By doing this, it allows for a complete 180 to the story. It allows the story focus to go from something negative to a story that offers a way to move forward.

My main takeaway from the articles is that solutions journalism could play major role in media. It would:

  1. Put a spotlight on ways that problems are being addressed

2) Increase engagement among audiences

3) Foster constructive discourse around controversial issues.


****Along with putting solutions journalism on a pedestal, it is just as important that visual components align within solutions journalism. Research shows that it’s crucial to consider the visual message you are sending in your work.

As journalists, we have the power to control what the world sees. If we want to build trust and respect in our communities, we must strive to tell stories from ALL viewpoints that don’t force our perspectives on others. That can be done with visuals.  Images have the power to highlight stories that aren’t gaining sufficient traction and to amplify a diversity of perspectives. Tell Me More:

Photojournalists play a key role in creating solutions journalism. Some things can be very hard to explain in words, therefore pictures show the things we can’t put into words. The photos should be compelling photos that connect readers to the story. However, All photojournalists should be journalists first, photographers second.

My argument is not that traditional journalism should be cancelled but to add another layer.  It is not a whole new approach to journalism; it is an important addition to what good, critical reporters should be doing. It is not about avoiding or ignoring problems and dealing only with response or finding everyday heroes, it is just an approach to telling stories that puts problem-solving at the center of the narrative.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Reading these articles based on solutions journalism challenged me to see how solutions journalism could transform things for the better for all types of journalist.

In closing I say, even if people are not interested in journalism, a solutions-oriented approach is a useful guide for effective public communication.

In today’s world, we deal with a lot of issues surrounding racism and police brutality.  In “Giving Police Departments Money to buy Body Cameras will never end brutality” this article is a perfect example of an article that proposes a problem, solution, and raises a question that requires people to talk. 

That’s how this world should operate. 

-Report the worldly issues 

-State the facts 

-Propose the problem 

-Raise a conversation. 

Propose a solution!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In a nutshell, solutions journalism could be the solution. 

—————————————————————————–

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

*What it means to be a Journalist

*What is Solutions Journalism

*How is Solutions Journalism Different from other forms of journalism

*Journalism + Solutions Journalism

*How can Solutions Journalism help move the world forward.

My View on Solutions Journalism

Wiyot Tribe, CA

From in-class discussion, to each particular reading, I’ve gained a better understanding of Solutions Journalism and come to greatly appreciate this art form and those who choose to make a difference in the world. Most of the articles we were instructed to read provided not only good content, but emotional visuals as well. They tapped into the human psyche and engaged the reader, especially the stories of incarcerated mothers and those of the Wiyot people.

The article entitled “What this Photojournalist thinks about when creating Solutions Journalism stories,” focused on  incarcerated women who are allowed to pump breast milk. The Maternity Care Coalition is the organization that runs the MOMobile pumping program. Their job is to provide education on childcare and health. These topics are difficult in terms of how to tell the story accurately. Photographer, Kriston Jae Bethel does and excellent job of capturing these women a respectful manner. He wanted to “create portraits that dignified them.”

The very first imaged presented shows Theresa Reid feeding her five-month-old niece, Ummayyah. Ummayyah’s mother, Ciara Jackson, is serving time in a correctional facility in Philadelphia. With a strong opening image and a descriptive caption, this article makes the reader want to know more in-depth information. Another image Bethel chose to capture shows three women, Ciara Jackson, Tynette Opner, and Germane Opner, all part of the lactation program. With bright smiles it shows the reader that though incarcerated, they are stilll optimistic individuals, appreciative of life itself.

“Thinking Inclusion + Equity in Solutions Photojournalism” gives us a brief introduction into the life of 18-year-old Terineka Maxwell who is in search of affordable housing after a foot injury. Photojounalist, Tara Pixley captures Maxwell in her natural habitat, along with her specialist, Cindy Walker. Throughout this article, Pixley focuses on the logistics of solutions journalism. The mission is to “inspire deep empathy between audiences and lived experiences of those photographed. Ultimately, the goal is to empower further change making. She provides steps on how to address and respond to social, environmental, and political problems. By checking our biases and privileges, understanding the problem, and engaging people and communities, we as people can create drastic change.

Lisa Waananen Jones, professor at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, offered a solutions journalism course during the fall semester of 2019. Not only did students learn valuable information, but so did she. Jones explained elements to be included in a solutions story and her students used those elements to create compelling images inspired by the theme, “Look for the Helpers.”

The solutions story that interested me was a entitled “A Native American Tribe’s Quest: Give Us Back Our Island.” The story is about the Wiyot Tribe, located in Eureka, California, and their efforts to gain back their stolen land. In 1860, on the day of an important ceremony, Duluwat Island experience a brutal massacre, killing about 100-250 tribal members. In 2019, the city of Eureka returned stolen lands to the tribe. The Wiyot people worked vigorously, cleaning up the land which had said to be uninhabitable. Now that they owned their property again, the Wiyot people can begin the healing process.

This article by Sarah Holder is a great example of persistence and preparation. Though the Wiyot people faced many challenges, they did not give up. They lobbied for decades and finally were success in their attempts. Although America can not change history, it can make things right in today’s society by correcting wrong doings and supporting communities like the Wiyot people.

What I’ve learned is that solutions-oriented photos engage viewers more than problems-oriented photos. Photography explains much needed information and captions add even more information. It can be difficult to show impact visually, but I believe each article does a good job of doing just that. Solutions journalism is an important element and should be viewed as such. It answers problems to existing questions we may not even know we had.