Partner Spotlight: Solutions Journalism Network

When did your organization launch and why?

The Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) launched in 2013 to combat the most pervasive bias in news reporting: the bias towards the negative. Put simply, journalists define “news” as “what’s wrong.” But this definition gives a distorted picture of the world, and the focus is harmful to journalism and to society.

Co-founders David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg had been writing Fixes, a weekly column in the New York Times about responses to social problems since 2010. They felt that ALL journalists needed to expand their definition of news to include responses to problems. They founded SJN to make the news tell the whole story.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

SJN works with individual journalists (thousands of them) and news organizations (hundreds) in the U.S and around the world to help them do stories about responses to problems — not as cheerleading, advocacy or fluff, but as rigorous journalism.

SJN vets, summarizes and tags solutions stories in our Solutions Story Tracker, which has more than 11,000 stories and grows every day.

SJN also works with educators. Dozens of journalism school professors teach solutions journalism using our resources.

SJN also has useful tools for teachers of urban planning, or environment, or the history of civil rights movements — almost any subject. We collect solutions stories on a relevant topic, adding discussion questions and teaching notes. (See our teaching collections here.) And with our “Journalist in the Classroom” program, educators can bring in reporters that cover those stories, to talk about both the subject and the journalism behind it.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

While SJN didn’t invent solutions journalism, the organization has named it, legitimized it as a part of news, and created teaching methods, tools and guidelines for doing it with rigor.

Many organizations are working to transform journalism, but almost all focus on new ways to deliver the news. SJN is one of the few organizations concerned with the content. We are trying to improve journalism and society by rebalancing the news to include coverage of what works.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

SJN’s Solutions Story Tracker is a fantastic resource for anyone looking for high-quality solutions journalism — on any issue. This database is searchable by issue area, sustainable development goal, location, secret sauce (what makes the intervention work?) and many other tags. Users can also create and share their own curated lists of stories.

To reduce journalism’s contribution to polarization and division, SJN’s Complicating the Narratives project teaches journalists how to cover contentious issues in ways that promote real understanding and build trust. Our resources are also useful for non-journalists who crave better civic conversations — or simply a more peaceful Thanksgiving dinner.

We are now preparing to teach Asset-Framing, which helps journalists abandon stereotypes when they cover marginalized communities, such as stories on gun violence in communities of color, or coverage of overweight and undereducation in rural America. If journalists looked at assets as well as deficits, imagine how the national narratives around marginalized communities could change.

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

Journalism’s bias towards the negative is so pervasive and accepted that many people do not see it as a bias — journalists included. But it is.

Here’s an example: Journalists covered the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in 2014 — loudly and alarmingly. Here’s what journalists covered nearly not at all: What neighboring Senegal, Mali and Nigeria did that successfully kept Ebola cases in the single or double digits. The development of an Ebola vaccine that’s virtually 100% successful. The development of an Ebola cure. These are all true stories very few people know about.

This is considered “normal” journalism. It’s actually a very pronounced distortion of reality.  And that distortion can have tragic consequences: the focus on the negative in marginalized communities is the racial injustice that makes all other racial injustice possible. 

SJN helps journalists and news consumers identify and correct for this distortion.

Why is media literacy important to your organization?

Solutions journalism is not an end in itself. SJN spreads the idea because we believe it’s crucial for healthy journalism and a healthy political culture. We do a form of media literacy education, but one that exposes the bias of “good” journalism — done by journalists who believe they are simply sticking to the facts. 

As for news consumers, we help them learn to interact with the news critically and thoughtfully, so they understand how journalists choose stories and what most often gets left out. This is also a form of media literacy education.

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

If you’re considering adding solutions journalism to your media literacy offerings, or just want to know more about solutions journalism and its intersection with media literacy, please contact us.  

The views and opinions expressed in the Organizational Spotlight blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the Organizational Spotlight blog is to highlight our Organizational Partners and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.