1. Why Motivation Matters

    August 26, 2014

    This is the third installment in “How Does it Feel to be a Solution,” SJN’s new blog series on solutions journalism and social inequity. The series is exploring the ways in which race, class, gender, and a host of other intersections affect how we think about and cover responses to social problems. Read more about the series here and find all the pieces in the series on the right, under the Category “Be a Solution.”


    Some journalists choose their profession because they want to change the world.

    Sure, for some reporters, editors and producers, the thrill of breaking stories or a passion for the process of storytelling led to their career choice. For others, a personal interest or concern, like the environment or mental health, became a beat.

    Similarly, for more than a few people of color, the opportunity to be of service to one’s community is a major factor that calls them to this work.

    I get it. I’m a black woman who is most fulfilled as a journalist when writing about issues that affect people of African descent. I am not suggesting that journalists of color should feel as if it’s their duty to cover their own racial or ethnic group. And they certainly shouldn’t be assigned to do Asian, Latino, Native, Middle Eastern or black stories because they happen to share a particular identity.

    But if reporting about your community motivates you, more power to you.

    Because I know I’m not the only journalist of color who feels this way, I’d love to introduce solutions journalism to as many others as possible. Frankly, one of the reasons I was excited to discover the Solutions Journalism Network and its mission was that I immediately recognized its potential to positively impact historically disadvantaged populations. As defined on this website, “Solutions journalism is critical and clear-eyed reporting that investigates and explains credible responses to social problems.”

    The coverage of responses to problems that exist among particular groups is already happening. It’s no secret that some racial and ethnic groups experience disproportionately high levels of poverty, poor health and myriad other standard-of-living indicators. Not surprisingly, when journalists report on solutions to common societal problems, by default they often cover responses relevant to people of color.

    What’s not happening to any significant degree so far in the short history of solutions journalism is coverage of responses to racial inequality itself. In addition to reporting on solutions to specific problems, I’d love to see reporting on the broader issues of inequity and institutional racism that created many of these conditions in the first place.

    There are organizations and initiatives addressing racism that may have interesting, important stories worth telling. A quick Google search turns up groups like the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites in Seattle and Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing and Training in Matteson, Ill. The 15th annual White Privilege Conference was held over five days in March of this year. It’s easy to identify reputable scholars who are potential expert sources like Joe Feagin, and other resources such as Racial Equity Tools and World Trust.

    [Read more...]

  2. When a Health System Delivers: Highlights from Zambia

    August 25, 2014

    The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is rightfully on everyone’s minds these days, especially as stories of tragedy, faltering efforts, and depleting supplies emerge from the countries affected by the deadly virus. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s also greater attention on national health systems and their responsiveness. Headlines have announced  that Liberia’s health system is collapsing under the strain of Ebola, and now  Nigeria’s health system is being tested as more cases are found in Lagos. BBC Africa just published a piece on how Western African countries could learn from Uganda’s past successes in halting the spread of Ebola.

    Photo Credit: Nancy Fullman, Child Health Week in Katete, Zambia, July 2010

    In many ways, a country’s health system is very similar to the human immune system – it’s incredibly complex, it can be strengthened through deliberate actions (similar to eating well to improve response to illnesses) such as building health facilities and educating health workers), and it can easily be weakened – or worse – by disease or neglect. And like the human immune system, what we don’t know about health systems and the factors that make them thrive or collapse far exceeds what we do  know.

    Understanding how well a health system functions  is not a simple task – it requires assessing specific initiatives and piecing together their efficiencies, costs, and impact in rigorous, data-driven ways. Research projects such as the Disease Control Priorities Network (DCPN) are tackling these important questions.

    Globally, a comprehensive assessment of health system performance across countries hasn’t occurred since The World Health Report 2000. Nonetheless, we’ve learned a lot about how different places are improving the ways that health services are delivered – and in regions of the world where people infrequently look to for stories of progress and success. Here, we take a deeper dive into Zambia’s health landscape, and how the country has improved its delivery of health interventions.

    [Read more...]

  3. The Journalist’s Mirror: An Argument for Self-Examination

    August 19, 2014

    This is the second installment in “How Does it Feel to be a Solution,” SJN’s new blog series on solutions journalism and social inequity. The series is exploring the ways in which race, class, gender, and a host of other intersections affect how we think about and cover responses to social problems. Read more about the series here and find all the pieces in the series on the right, under the Category “Be a Solution.”


    diverse-ideas-lightbulb-300x300Journalists, it’s said, are in the business of holding up a mirror to society and reflecting it back to itself. The idea is that we enable readers, who are really citizens, to self-correct, to make the world better, through our insistence on shining a glaring light on what needs improving.

    Here at the Solutions Journalism Network, we take issue with the premise that society self-corrects based on being told how bad it is. Convincing research tells us otherwise: people change because they see real pathways to get there. Which is why we argue that rigorous, compelling reporting on responses to social problems is a critical way for us to fulfill our duty as journalists.

    But lately, I’ve been thinking more about this mirror we’re holding up. Sure, we need to hold it up to the viable solutions, but it’s also imperative that we turn it towards ourselves. And further, the act of self-examination, of really sitting with and investigating the implications of our own privilege, will make us better at investigating solutions.

    These days, I watch my twitter feed stream by with so many well-intentioned white dudes who make six plus figures a year talking about how horrifying they find the latest statistics on the growing gap between rich and poor. And I wonder, how much do they think about their own privilege in the context of that growing gap? Did they read Ta-Nehisi Coates latest tour de force (not, incidentally an argument for reparations as much as an argument for a more complex conversation about race) and share it on Facebook as an intellectual exercise? Or did they consider their complicity in the continued legacy of slavery in this horrible, beautiful country? What do they know of structural and systemic racism? Of the way that class and gender interweave with the most subtle and profound of life determinants? [Read more...]