A “Flying Seminar” on Solutions Journalism

In today’s New York Times there is a piece by David Bornstein entitled “Why ‘Solutions Journalism’ Matters, Too.” Here is a clip:

“Journalism is a feedback mechanism to help society self-correct. We know from behavioral science that information about a problem alone is rarely sufficient to generate corrective action. People need to know what they can do ― and how. That doesn’t mean including a little “good news” now and them, but regularly presenting people with innovative ideas and realistic pathways and possibilities that remain outside their view frame. In this sense, solutions journalism needs to be interwoven with traditional journalism ― it rounds out the story, so to speak.”

There are a lot of reasons I think this idea is important, which I get into more below, but in general I think it’s vital that those of us who are working to remake journalism are able to describe the kind of diverse news ecosystem we want to create. As Bornstein points out, it is not enough to simply describe the challenges and problems facing journalism, we need to also be exploring and experimenting with the solutions.

A few years back Jay Rosen published a “flying seminar on the future of news,” a short round-up of one conversation from one month in March 2009. Today, I want to offer my own flying seminar on “Solutions Journalism.” Consider it a reading list for those who want to dive deep into this idea and continue the conversation in the new year. There are quotes from each post below, but be sure to read each post in full and add your voice to the conversation.

Journalism for makers (By Jonathan Stray)

“The modern world is built on a series of vast systems, intricate combinations of people and machines, but our journalism isn’t really built to help us understand them. It’s not a journalism for the people who will put together the next generation of civic institutions… There is a journalism to be done here, but it’s not the journalism of making people money, penning morality tales, or interesting articles in the Sunday paper. It’s a techno-social investigative journalism for those who have chosen to use their specialized knowledge in the interests of the rest of us.”

The Next Iteration of Journalism: Shifting From a “Problem Frame” To A “Solution Frame” (by Blair Hickman)

“To really help society re-route, the press also has to investigate solution strategies that are already in play. Right now, that’s not happening with consistent quality… Solution journalism is simply the yin to muckraking’s yang. For people and systems to change, people have to know both what’s broken and what’s working. Doing anything less stunts growth.”

A Systems Approach to Remaking Journalism (by me)

“A shift towards systems thinking in journalism may inspire more of the kind of journalism that Stray advocates for in his piece, but it may have another unintended consequence. I agree with Stray that as a society we need journalism that better understands, reports on and responds to social, political, economic, ecological and other systems. But for those of us concerned with the future of journalism, we have to also understand that the media is also just one such system. And in fact, even a single news organization is a complex system itself.”

Beware of Journalists Bearing Solutions? (by C.W. Anderson)

“The challenge: By what right, and on what grounds, do journalists claim the authority to offer solutions to any particularly difficult problem? Journalists are neither elected, nor particularly accountable, nor all that expert in anything in particular.”

What newsrooms can learn from open-source and maker culture (by Nikki Usher and Seth C. Lewis)

“So if we think about the story as code, what happens? It might seem radical, but try to imagine it: Journalists writing code as the building blocks for the story. And while they write this code, it can be commented on, shared, fact-checked, or augmented with additional information such as photos, tweets, and the like. This doesn’t have to mean that a journalist loses control over the story. But it opens up the story, and puts it on a platform where all kinds of communities can actively participating as co-makers.”

And then I would book-end this short seminar with Jonathan Stray’s more recent piece which I think also gets at what a concrete vision of the media we want to see might look like: What should the digital public sphere do?

“I began writing this essay because I wanted to say something very simple: all of these things — journalism, search engines, Wikipedia, social media and the lot — have to work together to common ends. There is today no one profession which encompasses the entirety of the public sphere. Journalism used to be the primary bearer of these responsibilities — or perhaps that was a well-meaning illusion sprung from near monopolies on mass information distribution channels. Either way, that era is now approaching two decades gone. Now what we have is an ecosystem, and in true networked fashion there may not ever again be a central authority. From algorithm designers to dedicated curators to, yes, traditional on-the-scene pro journalists, a great many people in different fields now have a part in shaping the digital public sphere. I wanted try to understand what all of us are working toward.”

This conversation is in process, so consider this seminar a starting place, not the last word. As Rosen says in his seminar from 2009 “The ‘flying’ part is simple: go ahead, steal these links. Spread the seminar. Get your people up to speed.” Please add your voice here in the comments or on your own blog and let me know. I’ll add responses below.


*Notes and responses:

1) Blair Hickman offers a few more resources for this discussion including a list of books that informed solutions journalism and an actual syllabus on solutions journalism for those of you who want more than a “flying seminar.”


  1. Josh says:

    See also: The Digital Public Sphere: What About Art? by Emily Cunningham (http://cunningham-emily.tumblr.com/post/13607887974/the-digital-public-sphere-what-about-art) which extends the public sphere discussion more than the solutions journalism conversation, but is a useful post to consider in this debate nonetheless.

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