1. Avoiding Hero Worship Isn’t Avoiding Character-Driven Stories

    September 12, 2014

    When we’re not giving fantastic webinars, and creating news partnerships, and connecting journalists to positive deviant news stories on improved health outcomes, and helping newsrooms better connect with their audience, the SJN team spends a fair amount of time thinking about the nuances of what makes a good solutions journalism piece–and, likewise, what doesn’t. Last year, we created a list of seven solutions journalism “imposters,” types of stories that to some might appear to be solutions journalism, but in the end, aren’t what we’re talking about when we talk about SoJo.

    Hero WorshipOne of these imposters is what we call “hero worship”: These are stories that celebrate or glorify an individual, often at the expense of explaining the idea the individual exemplifies. Instead of talking about the merits of an approach an individual is advancing, the piece will gush about the person’s decision to leave a high-paying job to save the world. For instance, CNN Heroes often focus more on an individual than on his/her ideas.

    But many journalists we talk with seem to interpret this as stories without characters, that focusing on a person is in some way idealizing their work and that solutions stories should just focus on organizations and groups to avoid any semblance of hero worshipping. This is anything but the truth. Solutions stories certainly have characters and focus on how people’s actions are leading to positive changes; it’s just that solutions stories are centered more on the tangible work they do to advance solutions, and less on their (heroic) personal traits.

    In an email exchange with SJN team members, award-winning journalist and SJN economic equity story fund recipient Jean Friedman-Rudovsky reflected on this difference. She also points out, in reference to the Somaly Mam affair, that the need for embellishment decreases when a journalist’s focus is on solving a problem, as opposed to just focusing on a “hero”. We have reposted the email here with Jean’s permission: [Read more...]

  2. Epilepsy successes show how we might spend that ice bucket money

    September 10, 2014

    A lot of people have strong feelings about this summer’s #IceBucketChallenge to raise funding for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

    Critiques aside, it has catalyzed a deluge (pun intended) of cold-hard cash  for and heightened awareness of the currently incurable neurodegenerative disease. This kind of awareness explosion is what all disease-specific advocacy organizations dream of, especially when you’re dealing with a disease that, statistically speaking, affects relatively few people when compared to the conditions that typically draw large amounts of donations.

    According to the ALS Association, about 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS each year in the United States, with a fatality rate of about two deaths per 100,000 annually. In the US and globally, ALS certainly claims fewer lives each year than more common diseases. Cancer, for example, caused 204 deaths per 100,000 in the US in 2010. At the same time, these more common diseases generally have much better treatment options and longer-term prognoses – and many of them can even be prevented.

    But today’s poor prognosis for ALS doesn’t mean that will always be the case. If you want to see what the future could look like for ALS, it’s worth examining what has happened with epilepsy.

    Epilepsy is a neurological disorder like ALS, and it used to derail people’s lives. People with epilepsy had to quit working. Kids had to drop out of school. Often, people with epilepsy were institutionalized. Injuries or complications from sudden seizures frequently claimed lives.

    Because of advances in the science around the disease, epilepsy now can be managed by medication, dietary changes, and other interventions. After decades of research and development, the 1990s marked a time when many new and effective antiepileptic drugs became available to help control or prevent seizures from occurring – a game changer for the millions who suffer from the disease.

    While these new drugs stood to help people throughout the world, the challenge was that nearly 80% of all epilepsy cases occurred in developing countries – places where the delivery of life-saving medications, testing, and disease management is often an uphill battle for far less complex conditions. The Global Campaign Against Epilepsy estimates that 60% to 90% of people with epilepsy in these resource-poor settings do not receive adequate treatment for their condition. And disease burden data support this unsettling statistic: between 1990 and 2010, rates of early death and disability from epilepsy remained relatively unchanged in developing countries. [Read more...]

  3. Two Essential Ingredients in a Recipe for Better Journalism

    September 10, 2014

    This is the fifth 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.”


    Media is undergoing a major transformation. We can choose to frame this phenomenon as something to be dreaded and feared. Or we can get busy recreating the news. One way to do so is to incorporate more solutions-focused journalism into your newsroom or your own work. This will result in doing a better job of serving news consumers.

    Race, gender, income and other categories of inequality are alive and well. We can ignore them or decide to complain. Another option is to deepen our understanding of these problems and, as journalists, apply this knowledge to our work. The result will be, again, journalism that better serves our audiences.

    Imagine if a critical mass of journalists prioritized both.

    Why solutions journalism is good for journalism

    We believe solutions journalism is an important innovation that can attract and retain news consumers. By rigorously investigating responses to societal problems, explaining what works and how, as well as what doesn’t work, media outlets may be providing news that’s more useful to consumers than is traditional news, and will likely engage them more deeply.

    A recent study conducted by the Engaging News Project and Solutions Journalism network compared how readers responded to solutions-focused and problem-focused articles. According to the report summary, “Study results showed that readers of solutions journalism finished their article feeling more informed and interested than non-solutions readers. Solutions readers had an increased desire to share what they read, to read more about the issue, and to seek out more articles by news organizations covering stories in a solutions-focused manner.”

    Why paying attention to inequality is good for journalism

    Here are four ways in which journalists becoming knowledgeable about inequality can improve the news. [Read more...]