What solutions journalism can bring to the international community during a pandemic

Constructive media is needed more than ever to find the way forward in the Covid-19 era (Shutterstock / Abscent)

Here at Geneva Solutions, we're tackling the news from a constructive angle. As we’re about to launch on August 24, we'd like to share with you some information and insights on our approach.

Suffice it to say, the year 2020 has caught everyone by surprise, revealing so much about the world’s longstanding ills, as well as people’s creative and effective responses. With people in many parts of the world stuck at home for a large part of the last four months, more people have turned towards the news media to provide reliable information — from up-to-date reporting on what’s happening to much-needed guidelines on how to safely navigate life in the Covid-19 era.

As the global situation remains uncertain for an indefinite period, the current state of affairs easily lends to coverage that can get stuck to reporting only the world’s problems — leading to news fatigue. As such, taking a solutions-based approach is “not only helpful but essential” to the work that journalists do, mentions Linda Shaw, editorial director at the New York City-based Solutions Journalism Network, to the International Journalist Network (IJNet).

Why is this important? There is no singular agreed-upon definition of the term solutions-based journalism - also known as constructive journalism. On the one hand, the Solutions Journalism Network in New York simply describes it as rigorous and compelling reporting that focuses on society’s responses to the problems it is facing. It goes against the old news adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” In another vein, the Danish-based Constructive Institute characterizes constructive journalism as a response to the tabloidization, sensationalism, and negativity prevalent in the news, by contextualizing issues and answering the question, “What now?”

What makes solutions journalism? Stories from this kind of journalism are often mistaken for, and even accused of, simply reporting positive news, or serving as advertisements for certain people and organizations. However, a good solutions-based story should have the following qualities:

  • Contextualized, in-depth reporting on what has worked and how the approach has worked to solve the problem being addressed;

  • Rigorous in its approach, and focuses on effectiveness, not good intentions, by providing available evidence of results;

  • Discusses the limitations and gaps of the approach; and,

  • Provides insights that others can use.

Building back better. With trust levels of media in decline prior to the pandemic, a crisis of such a scale has also been a pivotal moment "to rebuild bridges” between journalists and the communities that they serve, demonstrating enhanced reliability, says Maria Esperanza Casullo, Associate Professor at the National University in Rio Negro, Argentina, speaking in an online webinar.

An approach that “completes” the narrative by highlighting the different ways society has responded to problems can offer a more hopeful and realistic approach to grappling with issues, as compared to only focusing on the problems themselves. Going behind and beyond the news of what has happened, to explore how governments, communities, and societies could best respond, can be an effective way of fighting a global crisis: through clear and rigorous storytelling backed by strong evidence.

As our Editorial Director, Serge Michel, has mentioned,

“For me, solutions journalism is a solution for journalism… It will be more work: it takes more time to look for ways to solve a problem than to take offense at its existence…

But this effort is essential. Investigating solutions means fighting defeatism, enabling commitment and action, taking hold to change things. It also means opening up a dialogue with readers who, more than journalists, know, for a given problem, which solutions work and which solutions do not.”