Once students understand what solutions journalism is then teach them types of stories often mistaken for solutions journalism so they can avoid common mistakes in solutions reporting. Unlike professional journalists who may be initially concerned that solutions journalism is advocacy, student journalists may need more grounding in how to frame, find and source solutions stories before tackling what solutions journalism isn’t. When to teach the “impostors” depends on your students’ openness to solutions journalism, their understanding of journalism generally and the overall nature and scope of your course.
In addition to identifying what solutions journalism isn’t, teaching the solutions “impostors” overlaps with another course objective: discriminate between solutions journalism, advocacy and soft news.
Solutions Journalism’s “Four Qualities”
Finding the Four Qualities
Objectives: Introduce students to solutions journalism’s Four Qualities
Delivery method: Instructor modeling and facilitated discussion
Materials: Display facility
Room setup: Course leader by display, Student work areas
Time: One to one and one-half hours (depends on numbers)
Activity 1: Introducing the Four Qualities
- Instructor displays a slide delineating the four qualities. Instructor explains these are the essential features of all solutions stories.
- Students read (or have pre-read) a solutions journalism story.
Activity Note: This works best when students read stories with a good balance of each of the four qualities, that include quantitative evidence, that are comparatively straightforward (more newspaper-style writing than magazine-style writing, solution is working on some level, history of the issue is less pronounced). An example: Hawaii’s trailblazing healthcare underscores disparity (The Los Angeles Times).
- Instructor displays story on central screen, highlighting sections of text and modeling identifying it. For example, “This sentence – ‘Hawaiians live longer than their counterparts on the mainland.’ – is evidence because it shows the result of the solution. This sentence – ‘Hawaii’s success owes much to the state’s trailblazing health system and its long history of near-universal health insurance.’ – is insight because it reveals what is behind the solution’s success. As instructor works through text, she points out differences within qualities. For example, “This evidence in the text – ‘Nearly 99% of the patients at the cancer center at Queen’s have health coverage, a level unheard of at most urban medical centers on the mainland.’ – is quantitative. This evidence – ‘He rarely needs to discuss skipping care with a patient just because the person doesn’t have adequate insurance.’ – is qualitative.”Depending on students’ journalism knowledge, instructor can point out which quality is present, if at all, in various structural elements – the lede, nut graf, kicker. Instructor and students discuss what this reveals about how solutions journalism is the same as and different from traditional journalism.
- Instructor switches to facilitated discussion when she feels students are ready, asking students to identify qualities in text. If students misidentify a quality instructor asks student to justify/qualify response and classmates to offer alternative answers.
- If time allows, instructors can have students repeat the process in groups with another story.
Activity Notes: A common student stumbling block is students mistaking information about the underlying problem as one of the qualities, usually “evidence.” The four qualities only describe elements of the solution or the response; information about the problem is necessary background or context, but not one of the four qualities. The quality students typically struggle to understand or identify is “insight.” Insight can overlap with the response itself, but it is always the big picture reason the response works or is different or newsworthy. The insight elevates the response above a feature story; it provides critical information. Some students need multiple explanations and practice identifying it.
Instructors can substitute examples of broadcast solutions journalism or repeat the exercise over the term using text, audio and TV stories to deepen students’ understanding of the four qualities and/or examine with students how medium affects solutions storytelling. Here are some story examples: Amidst Drought and Famine, Niger Leads West Africa in Addressing Crisis (PBS. org), This Iraqi Couple Fled ISIS But Still Face Another Danger in the US: Diabetes (PRI.org) and Utah Reduced Chronic Homelessness By 91 Percent; Here’s How (NPR.org).
Print and audio comparison: The Floating Gardens of Bangladesh (print, The New York Times) and