Journalists have a reputation of being the bearers of bad news, but a new movement shows journalism can be the source of solutions to societal problems.
The Solutions Journalism Network is an organization focused on a journalistic style that presents solutions to social issues rather than just the issues themselves. The idea, piloted by David Bornstein, a columnist for The New York Times, focuses on what people are doing to solve social problems, how their solution works, why it is working or continuing challenges.
Sarika Bansal, director of the network’s Partnerships division and a journalist at the Solutions Journalism Network, said solutions journalism is an avenue where people can find inspiration to change the society they live in.
“I think that the important thing is that people focus more on the idea than on the institution. That is the important part so they can think about applying it in other places,” Bansal said.
While the phrase “solutions journalism” isn’t commonly used, residents of Utah are exposed to it every day. The Deseret News has made solutions journalism a focus of its reporting for the past year according to Mercedes White, a reporter for the newspaper.
White said the paper has received positive reactions from readers who want to take action on some of the solutions they have reported on. She also said while solutions journalism can create a positive spin on social problems, it is important to note that solutions don’t make sense unless there is awareness of the problem and an understanding that these problems aren’t always simple.
“The truth is, these problems are complex and sometimes I worry if I’m doing justice to the problem,” White said.
Using the Deseret News as a model, BYU interns for the Solutions Journalism Network are working to create awareness of solutions journalism. By creating a survey and info graphics, they hope to promote more general knowledge of the organization and its purpose, while also showing journalism can be used to change the world.
Kaylie Dickinson, a sophomore studying sociology and an intern for the Solutions Journalism Network, said too much bad news can be overwhelming, causing her to tune it out.
“I think there’s this perception, especially in America, that people are indifferent to a lot of the problems in the world,” Dickinson said. “I don’t think that’s true at all, I think people care a lot.”
Dickinson said presenting applicable solutions to problems makes these issues more manageable to news consumers.
Dickinson also said solutions journalism fits well with BYU’s motto, “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” It can pique students’ interests in how they can solve social problems and better serve their fellow men.
“I think that especially here at BYU, everyone’s so capable and willing to do service activities or to use the skills that they’re learning here to go out and make a contribution to society and to the world,” Dickinson said. “I think that solutions journalism is a way to broaden our horizons.”
Brian Zundel, a junior studying economics and a team leader for the internship, said he had never heard of solutions journalism before his internship. After becoming more acquainted with the concept, he said he believes solutions journalism should be involved in every facet of journalism.
“Solutions journalism is important because it shows both sides of critical problems,” Zundel said. “Showing both sides of the problem allows people to begin thinking about possible solutions and how they can personally get involved.”
Zundel said he believes negative news that only focuses on problems presents a feeling of hopelessness. He said solutions can help create unity as people come together to solve problems in their communities.
“Everyone wants to change the world, and sometimes knowing how to do that is not an easy thing,” Zundel said. “The spirit of innovation and collaboration that’s involved in reaction to solutions journalism is a needed component for our generation.”