Here are a few articles we believe adhere to the principles of solutions journalism especially well. These stories use a combination of narrative and data to flesh out pressing social problems, focus on answering the “how,” and explain the limitations and teachable lessons of a response.
Prisons Rethink Isolation, Saving Money, Lives and Sanity
By ERICA GOODE
Published in the New York Times on March 10, 2012
Topic: Criminal justice, United States
Summary: Reducing the number of inmates kept in solitary confinement leads to better outcomes and smaller prison bills.
What makes this a good solutions story? This story is as hard-hitting and investigative as any story on the criminal justice system. The difference is that while the majority of crime-related feature stories focus on how broken the system is, this begins with the premise that something can be done to improve it—and in some states, is already being implemented with promising results. Throughout the piece, Goode uses a variety of quotes and numbers to convince the reader that solitary confinement is both expensive and often detrimental to prisoners’ health. Halfway through the piece, she also offers some historical context, which helps the reader see that the issues related to solitary confinement are not new. She then presents a viable model for changing the existing prison system. A key advantage to her article is that it has a large potential audience: it appeals to prison reform advocates as well as people interested in reducing their taxes.
The Writing Revolution
By PEG TYRE
Published in the Atlantic on October 2011
Topic: Education, New York
Summary: For years, nothing seemed capable of turning around New Dorp High School’s dismal performance. So, faced with closure, the school’s principal placed an overwhelming focus on teaching the basics of analytical writing. What followed was an extraordinary blossoming of student potential, across nearly every subject – one that has made New Dorp a model for educational reform.
What makes this a good solutions story? The article shows how a poorly performing school in Staten Island, New York, was able to turn its academic record around through teaching analytical writing. The solution outlined is unexpected, inexpensive, and easily replicable. In telling the story, Tyre blends narrative and data well. She uses quantitative indicators that are important to education professionals but not incomprehensible to the general public (e.g., pass rates, graduation rates). She also shows progress in individual students (“Monica DiBella had trouble writing a coherent paragraph as a freshman, and her future seemed limited. Now a senior, she is applying to colleges”) and gives examples of writing assignments, so the reader can decide for himself whether this reform is tenable.
Shame of the City
By KEVIN FAGAN
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 2011
Topic: Homelessness, San Francisco
Summary: Analysis of efforts in San Francisco to combat homelessness.
What makes this a good solutions story? This article is good in its specificity. It begins by proclaiming that there is a way to get the chronically homeless off of San Francisco’s streets, and then mentions some reasons why it will be difficult to actualize. It then mentions some successful, though limited, efforts at combating homelessness, and compares these efforts with other cities. Fagan has a few good lines that could be replicated by other outlets (e.g., “San Francisco knows what works” and “The irony of homelessness in San Francisco is that it is as visible a problem as anywhere in the country, but the city has some of the most creative and innovative programs for handling it”).