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: 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…]

  2. 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…]

  3. SoJo Example: “How Cincinnati Revitalized Police-Community Relations”

    September 26, 2014

    Photo Credit: Mike Simmons/Getty Images

    Photo Credit: Mike Simmons/Getty Images

    Reporter: John Hockenberry

    Published In: The TakeAway, June 25, 2014

    Summary: Following serious riots in 2001, Cincinnati significantly improved relations between its police force and its citizens. How did they achieve this and what can other cities learn from it?

    Why We’re Highlighting This Article: After riots erupted in Ferguson, Missouri this past August following the shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black male, relationships between police forces and their communities have been at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Unfortunately, that relationship is often fraught. Earlier this summer before events unfolded in Ferguson, the Takeaway did a week-long series on this dynamic between police departments and their surrounding communities. After the series looked at several problem-based stories (e.g. a recent police shoot-out in Cleveland), this 6-minute radio piece by John Hockenberry focused on what one nearby city, Cincinnati, is doing right.

    Changes in Cincinnati’s community-police relations began following 2001 riots over police shooting and killing a 19-year-old African American man. Riots erupted, costing the city  $13.7 million. Hockenberry explores the history of the relationship between the two groups, interviewing a 27-year veteran of the police department, Councilman Cecil Thomas, who was there at the time of the riots and has an on-the-ground understanding of the issue. Hockenberry does a great job exploring the political and social context behind the problem, the breaking point (the riots), and then the context in which the relationship improved, something that’s always important as you seek to understand whether a solution is replicable in other places (and contexts).

    The success of the solution basically comes down to one decision: that Cincinnati opted to have the Department of Justice operate as a mediator between the citizens and the police, as opposed to issuing recommendations about what the city should do to repair relations. [Read more…]