Solutions Journalism Network celebrated its third birthday this year. As we look ahead to the next three years we want to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come. We’ve trained dozens of news outlets across the country, and increasingly, we’re seeing the solutions journalism approach spread overseas to the BBC and beyond. Thousands of journalists have taken our workshop or used our toolkits, and our new Solutions Story Trackerrecently surpassed 1,500 stories, with hundreds more that have crossed our radar but not been captured yet.
In 2015, we said solutions journalism had gained serious momentum. In 2016 — with partners like the PBS NewsHour, Ms., Detroit Free Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Baltimore Sun, WNYC, and our “Small Towns, Big Change” partner newsrooms in the mountain West, not to mention over 2,000 members in our online Hub — we’re seeing it becoming mainstream. Below are our top picks for this year: 12 beautifully-crafted solutions journalism pieces on how people around the world are responding to social problems.
- Saving Babies Means Thinking Inside the Box by Brittany Schock (Richland Source): Infant mortality is a heartbreaking crisis that, with evidence-based intervention, education and endless hope for the future, is continually closer to being eradicated. This story is all the more remarkable given the Source’s size, location and access to resources: a small team of young reporters who write for and publish a 7-day-a-week online newspaper. We especially like the way they weave in coverage of solutions (many from nearby locations), using a very engaging narrative style with first-rate multimedia presentations.
- A Push to Make Cops Carry Liability Insurance in Minneapolis by Carla Murphy (Chicago Reporter): Police misconduct suits and six-figure settlements have made improving law enforcement accountability a pressing issue across the country. Minneapolis is floating the idea of requiring individual police officers to carry their own liability insurance, à la malpractice insurance for doctors and lawyers. A fantastic solutions pieces on using market forces to motivate a change in police conduct — as well as in the power balance between community, law enforcement and city government.
- As Seattle Eyes Supervised Drug-Injection Sites, is Vancouver a Good Model? by JoNel Aleccia (Seattle Times): Insite, a supervised drug-injection center in Vancouver offers sterilized supplies for users and watches over them as they use. The focus is on harm reduction, minimizing the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, and monitoring visitors in case of overdose. The centers are controversial, but King County now plans to open two and test their approach in the Seattle area.
- From Institution to Inclusion by Martin Austermuhle (WAMU 88.5 News): This series examines the history of Forest Haven, the 1976 lawsuit (still ongoing) that led to its closure, and how communities like D.C. are working — sometimes struggling — to integrate people with developmental disabilities into the workforce. See our case study for more on this project.
- Busting the billion-dollar myth: how to slash the cost of drug development by Amy Maxman (Nature): Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) has managed to put 26 drugs into development with about a quarter of what average pharmaceutical companies spend on a single drug. By partnering with government and universities, as well as pharmaceutical companies, it’s proving that drug development can be done just as effectively at a significantly smaller scale. Policymakers are taking note.
- How High Point, N.C., Solved Its Domestic Violence Problem by John Buntin (Governing): For years, High Point had the highest rate of domestic violence in North Carolina. In 2011, its police department decided to try using focused deterrence in domestic violence cases, applying an approach developed to combat youth gun violence. Its model is showing impressive results, and being replicated across the country.
- The Poverty Puzzle by Joan Garrett McClane and Joy Lukachick Smith (Chattanooga Times Free Press): This series takes a comprehensive look at how stagnating economies and low mobility have trapped communities across the Southeast in poverty. From jobs and education to church, it examines the issue through a variety of local lenses, with an eye to solutions. Check out our case study on the series here.
- Kids in Prison: Racial Disparities, Longer Sentences and a Better Way by Sarah Gonzalez (WNYC): Black teenagers in New Jersey are tried as adults more often than any other racial or ethnic group, resulting in harsher treatment and longer sentences. This SJN-supported series compares New Jersey’s approach (and the U.S. approach as a whole) to that of Germany, examining what prison guards in Germany do differently (a greater focus on rehabilitation than punishment; lighter sentences; more leniency) and get better outcomes (i.e. a much lower recidivism rate).
- The Massive Land Deal that Could Change the West Forever by Christopher Solomon (Outside Magazine): An intricate, detail-driven story about how a group of lawmakers, dealing with a heavy, conflict-ridden subject, actually achieved an elusive political ideal: compromise.
- A Community Curbs Pain Pill Abuse, but Heroin Addiction Grows by Paige Blankenbuehler (High Country News): This story for the “Small Towns, Big Change” project explains how a southern Colorado community managed to nearly cut in half prescriptions for opiate painkillers, and investigates a huge unintended consequence. It conveys a universal truth that we think good solutions stories should: solutions are complicated.
- Española: The Town that Tried Everything to Fight Addiction by Leah Todd (The Santa Fe New Mexican): This one isn’t a conventional solutions story; it investigates why decades of expensive interventions haven’t curbed drug overdoses in a small New Mexican community — a cautionary tale, of sorts, for how even the most well-intentioned approaches to treating substance abuse can’t work if they don’t address underlying economic forces. A great example of the fact that solutions journalism isn’t just about success stories.
- San Francisco Homelessness Project: On Feb. 29, 2016, nearly one hundred news organizations joined together for an extraordinary collaboration in which, on a single day, they all published stories covering the issue of homelessness, its effects and its causes. The scope of the project was by itself pretty amazing, but what really made the project special — in our humble opinion — was its explicit focus on responses to the problem of homelessness. See our case study on the project here.