Solutions journalism consists of rigorous, compelling, evidence-based stories about responses to pressing social problems. Solutions journalism goes beyond the traditional five Ws of journalism—who, what, when, where, why—to the missing H, the how. Model stories will contextualize a problem, analyze a response, and use compelling narratives to bring it to life. If possible, it will also discuss an idea’s limitations and draw out teachable lessons.

We encourage you to browse these examples of solutions journalism stories, separated across different types of media and different topics. The examples we list vary in how completely and how well they hit these marks, but all have at least a few of the core elements of solutions journalism.

  1. The Best Solutions Journalism of 2014

    December 19, 2014

    Drew Selby

    Throughout the year, we’ve featured examples of quality solutions journalism here on our website, illustrating critical, evidence-rich, and compelling reporting on responses to social problems. The pieces varied in their ability to successfully integrate the most important elements of SoJo, but all had teachable lessons. With 2014 drawing to a close, we bring you a compilation of our favorite solutions-oriented stories. Enjoy, and join us in 2015 as we continue to showcase journalists around the world who are highlighting important responses to some of society’s most pressing problems.

    1. Wrestling with a Texas County’s Mental Health System by Jenny Gold (KHN): This piece explains how Bexar County in Texas dramatically revamped its approach to mental illness. They used an approach that could offer valuable lessons to similar communities.
    2. ‘A National Admissions Office’ for Low-Income Strivers by David Leonhardt (New York Times): This article, which appeared the the New York Times‘ “Upshot” column, explains the approach QuestBridge uses to tackle the problem of low college admission rates for low-income high school students. The author uses a rigorous problem-solving approach to address this issue.  For more on this piece, see our blog post.
    3. Suspending Kids Doesn’t Fix Bad Behavior; Schools Look for Answers by Claudia Rowe (Seattle Times): Rowe explores attempts in one school district to move away from suspending or expelling troubled students — and finds that the solution creates a new set of issues. The foundational piece for an ongoing series on discipline.
    4. Life & Liberty by Lois M. Collins (Deseret News): Fantastic piece on how service dogs are helping set veterans free from aftermath of war.
    5. Treating the ‘Throw-Away’ Members of Society by Olivier Uyttebrouck (Albuquerque Journal): How a University of New Mexico program called ECHO Care is improving care and preventing costly hospital visits for chronically ill Medicaid patients through intensive, personalized care.
    6. Can Biomimicry Tackle our Toughest Water Problems? by Ben Goldfarb (High Country News): Goldfarb’s beautifully written profile explains how “floating islands” can clean ponds (and remove de-icing chemicals from an airport storm water pond in Maine; slow the erosion of salt marshes in Louisiana; and eliminate BPA from a tank full of betta fish in Montana).
    7. Salt Lake City a Model for S.F. on Homeless Solutions by Kevin Fagan (San Francisco Gate): The first sentence says it all:  “This city has all but ended chronic homelessness, and San Francisco could learn a lot from how that happened.”
    8. Criminal Courts Tailored to Veterans Multiply as Wars Wind Down by Liz Goodwin (Yahoo! News): Through the compelling story of one vet’s journey through the legal system, Goodwin tells the story —warts and all — of a new form of justice that recognizes vets’ particular needs, and focuses on treatment instead of punishment.
    9. Demystifying the MOOC by Jeffrey J. Selingo (New York Times): Selingo managed to explore how MOOCs have not lived up to the world’s over-inflated expectations and still focus on the ways in which they are a promising strategy for enriching education in more narrow ways.
    10. Can You Fight Poverty by Paying Kids to Go to School? by Glenn Thrush (Politico): This story is part of Politico magazine’s “What Works” series.  All the stories in the series are great, and this one is a classic model of how to write unromantically about important new ideas.
    11. In Healthcare, What Makes Maine Different? by Noam N. Levey (Los Angeles Times): Part of an excellent series on the inequalities of health care in America, Levey’s story explores how a region in Maine ensures that poverty doesn’t have to mean ill health.

  2. SoJo Example: National Geographic on the CA Water Crisis

    September 30, 2014

    Photo Credit: Ana Zacapa

    Photo Credit: Ana Zacapa

    Author: Peyton Fleming

    Published In: National Geographic, August 6 & 12, 2014

    Summary: This series looks at how California businesses are innovating to mitigate the effects of the state’s devastating drought. 

    Why We’re Highlighting These Articles: This story are part of a series exploring how California’s companies are innovating to protect depleting groundwater supplies. They are solid solutions journalism pieces because they both focus on programs that are attempting to solve a serious societal problem, both rely heavily on data, and in each, the author, Peyton Fleming, refuses to paint the “solution” as a silver bullet, instead including important caveats to the programs’ effectiveness—most importantly that at their current scale, they’re too small to make any meaningful difference.

    The first article explores how Driscoll berry producer is encouraging its farmers to reduce water usage in their fields.

    Fleming puts the problem in context, noting the severity of the drought and the implications it could have on farming in the future. He then explains how the changes have reduced water usage, helped farmers save money, and produced the same quality of berries as before the changes were implemented. Farmers around the valley are implementing technology like drip irrigation, water moisture probes, and more efficient water pumps, and saving on their electric bills for the water that they don’t have to pump anymore. Fleming is careful, however, not to paint the efforts by the farmers as something that is solving the water crisis. These changes aren’t negating the effects of the state’s drought:

    “Water-saving actions by all of the region’s farmers are no match for getting only a few inches of rain in all of 2013 and below-average rainfall so far this year.”

    Still, the behavior change is having a significant effect. Fleming cites data showing that pumping in 2013 was the same as what was pumped in 2008, “despite there being significantly less rainfall.” He also notes the importance of the lessons learned by these initiatives—namely that collaborative efforts and locally oriented solutions will have to play a larger role in statewide efforts to reduce water use. It’s not just about what’s working in the Central Valley, but what can work throughout the state to have the most meaningful impact. [Read more…]

  3. SoJo Example: “‘A National Admissions Office’ for Low-Income Strivers”

    September 29, 2014

    Photo Credit: Michael Kirby Smith/New York Times

    Photo Credit: Michael Kirby Smith/New York Times

    Author: David Leonhardt

    Published In: New York Times, September 16, 2014

    Summary:  QuestBridge helps low-income, college-ready teenagers around the country apply for college. If they get in, QuestBridge will help them figure out how to pay.

    Why We’re Highlighting This Article: This is a great solutions journalism piece, with problem-solving at its core. The story follows QuestBridge, an organization that helps low-income students get into college by encouraging them to apply, “a national admissions office” of sorts, says Catharine Bond Hill, the president of Vassar. 11% of Amherst’s student body came through QuestBridge’s efforts, along with 9% of Pomona’s, and 4% of Stanford’s.

    The piece defines the problem—the growing achievement gap between rich and poor students: “That gap is one of the biggest reasons that moving up the economic ladder is so hard in the United States today.”

    But the bulk of it focuses on how QuestBridge is overcoming this problem and is finding so much success in placement, matching, and the winning of scholarships for these low-income students:

    “College admissions officers attribute the organization’s success to the simplicity of its approach to students. It avoids mind-numbingly complex talk of financial-aid forms and formulas that scare away so many low-income families (and frustrate so many middle-income families, like my own when I was applying to college). QuestBridge instead gives students a simple message: If you get in, you can go.”

    Leonhardt deep dives into the organization’s smart and effective problem-solving approach. Besides connecting students to scholarship money and notifying under-informed teenagers and their families that financial assistance is available to them, QuestBridge is also working with organizations and foundations that offer annually $3 billion in scholarships to move the process earlier in the school year. The organization sees these scholarships as a wasted opportunity: “it comes too late to affect whether and where students go to college,” Leonhardt writes. “Any private scholarship given at the end of senior year is intrinsically disconnected from the college application process,” Dr. McCullough said, “and it doesn’t have to be.”

    [Read more…]