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. SoJo Example: Migration Outlier: How Nicaragua Escaped Neighbors’ Deadly Spiral

    September 1, 2014

    Photo Credit: Jorge Cabrera

    Author: Ivan Castro

    Published In: Reuters, August 28, 2014

    Summary: Nicaragua is poorer than Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, but it has escaped the severe violence of these neighboring countries and has few migrants fleeing north to the United States. Why?

    Why We’re Highlighting This Article: This Reuters article is a good example of positive deviant  journalism, highlighting and explaining a place where data outcomes are better than expected.

    The issue of illegal child migration from Central America to the United States has been front page news this summer. More than 57,000 unaccompanied young Central Americans fleeing gang violence and lack of job opportunities, have arrived at the southern border of the United States in the past nine months. These migrants come primarily from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. But one Central American country has largely avoided a mass exodus, and, in fact, is attracting migrants from its neighboring Central American countries: Nicaragua. In the past year, nearly 16,000 of these child migrants were from Honduras, while just 194 were from Nicaragua.

    Nicaragua is the Western Hemisphere’s second poorest nation, after Haiti. But the country has managed to escape high levels of gang violence (the country’s homicide rate is 1/8 that of neighboring Honduras) and to create opportunities that are encouraging Nicaraguans to stay put.

    So why has Nicaragua escaped the high levels of violence that have plagued neighboring countries?

    The author quotes Jose Luis Rocha, an expert on Central American youth gangs and migration: “What really made the difference is what the Nicaraguan police have not done. They have been much less repressive in dealing with gangs.”

    “In El Salvador and Honduras, governments adopted “iron fist” policies and jailed thousands of youths as gang members, often on flimsy evidence of gang association. Experts blame the crackdowns for deepening violence.”

    [Read more...]

  2. SoJo Example: Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net in San Antonio

    August 28, 2014

    Photo Credit: Jenny Gold

    Photo Credit: Jenny Gold

    Reporter: Jenny Gold

    Published In: NPR, August 19, 2014

    Summary: By diverting mentally ill patients from jail into treatment, San Antonio and Bexar Counties are reducing prison populations and saving tens of millions of dollars.

    Why We’re Highlighting This Article: Reporter Jenny Gold’s radio piece does a nice job of covering a new mental health/crime reduction program in San Antonio. The problem, Gold notes at the outset, is that the area has a weak safety net for citizens with mental illnesses. Ten times the number of people with serious mental illness reside in jails compared to mental institutions. Police arrest the same people over and over again, for problems related to addiction and homelessness. Instead of being diverted to treatment, mentally ill people cycle through the system, usually ending up behind bars, and almost always lacking the care they need. Prisons in the San Antonio area face serious overcrowding, to the point that courts were considering levying fines instead of allotting jail time. Whether they ended up in jail or in the ER, the result “was expensive for everyone.”

    Gold explains the solution, San Antonio’s “mental health squads,” through the narrative of one of the police officers on the squad. Her radio piece follows Officer Ned Bandoske around in his patrol car as he encounters mentally ill people throughout the city. Gold does a good job of getting at how this policy shift differs from the norm and why it’s had success. Speaking of the police, she says “They seem more like social workers than cops.” They are now required to receive 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training, helping them properly manage mental health crises on the streets. [Read more...]

  3. SoJo Example: Criminal Courts Tailored to Veterans Multiply as Wars Wind Down

    July 3, 2014

    Photo Credit: Doug Benz
    Liz Goodwin

    Published In: Yahoo News, June 30, 2014

    Summary: Special vets-only justice system gives second chances to those who served.

    Why We’re Highlighting This Story: This piece from Yahoo News is one of the best solutions stories we’ve seen yet. Goodwin hits on every important element that a solutions story should have, and at the same time uses a powerful narrative and moving characters to drive the well-written story forward.

    The problem is laid out powerfully in the first section of the piece. Veterans go to war, endure unspeakable horrors, and come back with related physical and mental impairments. When they run into problems with the law, a lot of them don’t know what resources are available to veterans, or feel uncomfortable mentioning that they might need additional assistance. They cycle through the legal system, prison, and rehab programs, often never letting anyone know, and never being asked, of their military history.

    The response to the social problem: veteran-focused treatment courts, now in every state. Goodwin takes us through a detailed description of why and how the court was started: (1) judges noticed an increase of veterans appearing before them in court for drug or mental-health related issues stemming from their years in service, and (2) the VA’s newfound goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, something predicted by incarceration. She then explores how they address these veteran-specific issues within the legal system: [Read more...]