What Can Solutions Journalism Do for Your Publication?

This interview has been edited to reduce its length. Disclosure: The author has received professional recognition from Solutions Journalism Network for two of her news projects.

Can trade press journalists use an analytical reporting style called “solutions journalism” to help our industry audiences solve the tough problems of businesses and society?

Absolutely, according to travel writer and consultant JoAnna Haugen. Haugen is the founder of a company called Rooted Storytelling that focuses on solutions-based, community-oriented storytelling in the tourism industry. She is also a member of Solutions Journalism Network, a media organization that provides resources and advice for reporters.

According to the Solutions Journalism Lego Assembly Kit, “Solutions journalism is reporting on a response to a problem — successful, partially successful, or failed — and the associated results, usually with a narrative that seeks to reveal how the results were produced and explore what can be learned from the effort. Many ‘good news’ stories are misidentified as solutions journalism.” SJN’s online training contains educational resources on how to report on complex or divisive problems.

The kit says, “A good solutions story has four key qualities:

  1. It reports on a response to a problem,
  2. It reports on the evidence available to substantiate success or failure,
  3. It discusses the limitations of the response, and
  4. It takes a clear-eyed view and avoids reading like a puff piece.”

In a trade press context, these problems can include challenges faced by corporations and industries. These ideas can align with approaches to business leadership recommended by Steven Covey and other management thinkers. It is common for marketers to position their products as creating solutions. So critically evaluating proposed solutions can be a regular part of business journalists’ work.

Business journalists who are curious about solutions journalism can read many examples of it in the Solutions Story Tracker. SJN says this tracker contains “16,200 stories produced by 9,200 journalists and 2,000 news outlets from 92 countries.”

They can also look through the gallery of Azbee Award-winning stories from this year. One data-based story from K-12 Dive evaluated an attempt to reduce racial disparities in special education. A piece from WebMD explored what it would take to reform the medical system. And a series of articles from S&P Global Market Intelligence used data journalism techniques to explore the pros and cons of new battery chemistries.

Kat Friedrich, editor in chief of Solar Today: JoAnna, as a journalist who covers the travel industry, how did you find out about solutions journalism?

JoAnna Haugen: I’ve always been interested in local solutions to global challenges. I’ve encountered local solutions on my own travels before, and it was never part of the storytelling that I saw in travel, even though I could see it when I traveled. I just didn’t read about it or hear about these kinds of stories. Obviously, a lot of travel stories historically have been the great beaches to visit, the top places to see, and the cafes to eat at.

So I began writing for industry-based publications in deep seriousness [in] 2016, although I was dabbling in it before then. I wanted to learn more about how to tell these kinds of stories, so I went looking for resources, and that’s when I found solutions journalism. I was really drawn to the idea and the tenets behind solutions journalism. So I did some research. I attended a conference. I thought a lot about how to apply what I was learning there to tourism and my writing in the travel industry.

KF: If you were going to describe solutions journalism to a trade press journalist who is new to the subject, what would you say?

JH: That the value of solutions journalism in the trade space comes from the fact that we can learn from other people and other companies or organizations working within our industries and sectors, but also that there is room for us to learn from what is happening in tangential industries and sectors.

That’s where the value in solutions journalism comes –  because we often work in the silo we are very focused on. There’s a lot to be learned [from] what others are doing both in our own professional ecosystems and within other ecosystems.

KF: Would you like to say more about what value solutions journalism holds for trade publications?

JH: I just think it’s an untapped area of journalism that we’ve not really explored before. I can really only speak for tourism and hospitality because those are spaces that I’m in. The kind of publications and writing that I’m working in, it’s not really something that has been explored in trade journalism.

And so there is a lot of opportunity because again, we have a lot that we can learn from the changemakers who are working in these spaces.

KF: How can solutions journalism give trade press journalists an opportunity to address social responsibility?

JH: We’ve really worked in a silo in the past, and in tourism, our stories have very much avoided the hard questions. We have thought about tourism as being something that is ideal, accessible and beautiful – a very sanitized thing that we’ve been offering to the world.

But the truth is that in tourism, as in a lot of industries and sectors, we can’t ignore the fact that the climate crisis [is] happening, that the work we’re doing is impacting housing security and homelessness, that there [are] women’s rights and gender issues at play when we’re working in our spaces.

All of these global challenges and social issues that are alive and well in society today bump up against the industries that we work in. It is entirely relevant that we’re talking about how various industries and trades are addressing or acknowledging these challenges.

None of us live in a silo. None of us work in a silo. That’s where our opportunity comes in to acknowledge that we all have a responsibility in this space when we are working in our professional spheres.

KF: How can solutions journalism improve audience engagement and reduce news avoidance?

JH: I think that solutions journalism shows a path forward. It shows us that there is something that we can do in our respective work to address these global challenges through our industry [and] through the actions we take every day working in our industries.

Going back to those global challenges, I just acknowledge that climate crisis, biodiversity collapse, homelessness, political divisiveness, all these things that we’re living with … we aren’t paralyzed in the face of this.

There are organizations and people in communities around the world who are addressing these things on [a] local level that, in my case, tourism can support and can learn from … so that tourism then is not doing ongoing harm, is not exacerbating these challenges, but [is] actually a partner and a vehicle to address those harms and can actually have a positive impact.

Solutions journalism is the vehicle to share that story with people who are working in tourism so that they can model those things in their own spaces or they can learn from that.

KF: What solutions stories have you written that you are particularly proud of?

JH: The one I have revisited in a couple different capacities because I’m so intrigued by it is a company called [Natural Habitat Adventures] which several years ago ran the first zero-waste tour. It was a challenging experience, and they learned a lot. They worked to integrate different kinds of carbon-cutting and environmental actions in other tours.

That’s a story that I feel keeps on giving because the tour happened once, but the learnings that came out of that and that have been shared around the tourism industry have encouraged and inspired other companies to embrace zero-waste challenges.

When we think about the number of tours and the number of travelers that are around the world, if we can infuse solutions journalism to inspire cutting waste, cutting plastic, cutting emissions, anything like this, that’s a huge footprint that is being reduced.

Kat Friedrich

Kat Friedrich is the editor in chief of Solar Today. She is also a contributor at Ars Technica, Supercluster, The Bent and Offsite Builder. She has edited seven news publications, has two degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is a former mechanical engineer.

Please share this page with your friends and colleagues.