Solutions Journalism Network 2015-09-01T15:27:27Z Elizabeth Tompkins <![CDATA[Taunya English: How I Got That Story]]> 2015-08-26T16:39:12Z 2015-08-28T13:35:23Z hpvblog

With support from the Solutions Journalism Network, Taunya English reported on Chicago’s success boosting human papillomavirus vaccine coverage. Her story, “How Chicago is improving HPV vaccination rates,” aired on the health-science show “The Pulse” in Philadelphia on August 3, 2015.

How I found this story:  

I’ve been covering health and the healthcare system since before the human papillomavirus vaccine was approved in the United States in 2006. I saw the initial excitement among public health experts, who were pleased to have a tool to prevent, not just a sexually transmitted disease, but cancer later in life.

It’s been fascinating to follow the vaccine conversation ever since. Fights erupted over efforts to make the vaccine mandatory. Parents and politicians raised concerns about safety. The vaccine was originally approved only for girls and young women. Then, in 2009 as more research on HPV-related cancers emerged, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also cleared the vaccine for boys and young men. Vaccine rates remained stubbornly low. In recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began using grant money and other levers of influence to nudge state and city health departments to increase coverage.

Along the way, I covered local iterations of the story from my home base—first in Baltimore, then Philadelphia. This year, nearly a decade after the vaccine was first approved in the U.S., it was a great time to check in on the story again.

Searching for Positive Deviants: 

Early in my reporting, it was clear that a city or state would be a major character in any solutions approach to the story—but which one?

Because early debates over the HPV vaccine were often tussles between liberals and conservatives, I suspected that public health departments with a reputation as “progressive” might have the highest coverage rates. Other reporters assumed that cities with large public-health budgets are inching fastest toward the CDC’s Healthy People goals.

To cast the right character, I needed information—and a bit of time away from the grind of daily reporting—to dig into those numbers. The data team at the Solutions Journalism Network offered me both. The analysts pointed me to data sources I wasn’t aware of before and helped me synthesize the information. With their help I was able to shoot down some theories and back up others.

Houston, Delaware and Washington, D.C., all had strong vaccine coverage rates and became contenders as a focus for my story. But with more analysis, it became clear that Chicago was doing something different.

Chicago somehow boosted its vaccine levels significantly from 2011 to 2013.  The city posted a near 23 percent increase during a time when the rest of the state had an average 6 percent decrease. In public health change rarely happens so fast.

To find out more, I booked my flight to Chicago’s Midway—and start making calls to map out my reporting trip.

Reporting Strategy: 

The pattern doesn’t hold everywhere, but in some parts of the country, HPV vaccine coverage levels are particularly low among low-income families and racial minorities. HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer. And that cancer disproportionately affects African American and Latina women. Those two insights helped focus my search for solutions: What works to increase HPV vaccine rates especially among poor black and Latino adolescents?

In Chicago, I asked that question in my interview with the health commissioner. I also spent half a day shadowing a pediatrician whose practice includes many Latino families in the Medicaid program.

The CDC awarded Philadelphia and Chicago hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost vaccine rates, but many communities will never receive such a large infusion of money to work on the problem. I wanted my reporting to be useful for them too. So I made sure to highlight low-cost initiatives in Chicago that could be duplicated.

That’s a solutions approach to journalism that I’ll carry with me into my future reporting.

Chicago health planners are still sorting out which strategies have been most effective. But, the health commissioner said even before her city received a grant, she began to recognize and hold up as role models the physicians and other clinicians who have higher vaccine coverage levels.



Rikha Sharma Rani <![CDATA[From the Editor’s Toolkit: Look for Openings]]> 2015-08-28T11:47:57Z 2015-08-28T11:44:12Z editorstoolkitcoverThe solutions journalism “Starter Guide,” featured in our new Editor’s Toolkit, offers seven best practices for how to implement solutions journalism in the newsroom. For the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of these practices on our blog. Where possible, we’ll illustrate how to implement them with examples from actual newsrooms. We hope these tips bring you a few steps closer to making solutions journalism a regular part of your coverage.

Look for openings

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 7.35.46 AMAs news breaks, as reporters come to you with ideas, and as coverage plans unfold in daily staff meetings, be mindful of opportunities to bring the solutions lens into coverage. The simple question, “Is there a solutions angle here?” can quickly turn an editorial conversation toward a richer and more productive news strategy.

At Southern California Public Radio (KPCC), the search for solutions underpins much of the journalism that comes out of the newsroom. An example: the issue of how police deal with the mentally ill has garnered a lot of attention across the country, as more and more stories about people with mental illness being jailed–and even killed–by police have come to light. KPCC covered the problem extensively. But as part of their reporting, they also asked the question: “Who’s doing it better?” Reporter Stephanie O’Neill found out that a police unit in their own backyard–the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit–was doing it better. Considered a model of mental health policing, the unit has diverted hundreds of people who would have otherwise landed in jail into treatment. She wrote this story about it (and reflected on the story here). Soon after, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office announced the creation of a mental evaluation bureau modeled after the LAPD unit. Shifting the line of inquiry and applying a solutions lens to the problem brought new insight to the issue that led to real change.

We’ll be hosting a webinar on September 8 at 13:00 ET focusing on how to apply the solutions journalism lens to a law enforcement beat. Featured guests include Stephanie O’Neill, and author of Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, Joe Domanick. You can register here.

Samantha McCann <![CDATA[Webinar: On the Police Beat (9/8)]]> 2015-08-27T20:49:32Z 2015-08-27T20:32:37Z Joe and StephanieIn September’s webinar, we’ll be looking at journalism and the law enforcement beat. How is it covering policing different than other beats? What’s the biggest challenge? How have recent events like the police shootings in Baltimore, Ferguson, and Staten Island changed (or not changed) how the media covers law enforcement? What are effective programs relating to policing that we haven’t heard about? How can a reporter find programs that are working? Is policing an area where many solutions abound?


We’ll be joined by award-winning investigative journalist, Associate Director of John Jay’s Center for Media, Crime and Justice, and author of Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing Joe Domanick. We’ll also be joined by Health Care Correspondent for Southern California’s Stephanie O’Neill, whose recent piece “Police and the mentally ill: LAPD unit praised as a model for the nation” investigates how the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit is annually diverting hundreds of people away from jail and into treatment, and saving the city millions. SJN’s Network Curator Samantha McCann will moderate the discussion.

Learnings Objectives:
(1) Get a necessary overview of covering the police beat from experts in the field.
(2) Learn about how to incorporate solutions journalism into a law enforcement beat.
(3) Learn how to navigate the challenges of reporting on law enforcement.


Samantha McCann <![CDATA[Join us for the first in a series of Bay Area events! ]]> 2015-08-27T19:19:45Z 2015-08-25T15:39:07Z
Courtney Martin
Courtney Martin
Solutions Journalism Network
Andy Donohue
Senior Editor,
Reveal for the Center for
Investigative Reporting
jsk16-powellTracie Powell
Founder and Editor,
All Digitocracy

: Solutions Journalism Network co-founder (and journalist/author) Courtney Martin, Senior editor at the Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting Andy Donohue, founder and editor of All Digitocracy Tracie Powell, & you (obviously)

WHAT: Solutions Journalism Network’s kick-off reception in San Francisco.

WHEN: Wednesday, September 9, 2015; 5:30-7:30 pm

WHERE: KQED, 2601 Mariposa St., San Francisco, CA 94110

WHY: Because you want to reinvigorate your beat; learn new frameworks for reporting and an old story; or make a meaningful impact with your journalism.

HOW: We’ll explore over drinks and discussion!

Space is limited. RSVP for the event here (or just sign up to hear about future Bay Area events) by September 7.


Rikha Sharma Rani <![CDATA[From the Editor’s Toolkit: Seek out champions]]> 2015-08-19T16:28:22Z 2015-08-19T14:28:10Z editorstoolkitcoverThe solutions journalism “Starter Guide,” featured in our new Editor’s Toolkit, offers seven best practices for how to implement solutions journalism in the newsroom. For the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of these practices on our blog. Where possible, we’ll illustrate how to implement them with examples from actual newsrooms. We hope these tips bring you a few steps closer to making solutions journalism a regular part of your coverage.

Seek out champions

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.23.45 AMOne way to facilitate the uptake of solutions journalism into the newsroom is to identify other editors or writers who can encourage colleagues to systematically ask, “Is there a solutions angle to this story? Who’s doing it better?” Editors should find people who feel strongly about bringing solutions journalism into the newsroom. Ask them to keep the momentum going amidst the crush of daily deadlines. If possible, designate champions at different desks to regularly ask these questions. We’ve found that, over time, as reporters gain experience with solutions journalism, this reflex starts to set in organically. Reporters begin to instinctively ask questions that they hadn’t before, and they naturally become thought partners, or mentors, for others.

We’ve seen this shift happen at The Seattle Times since the launch of “Education Lab,” a solutions-oriented series on education that is now in its third year. “Education Lab” editors and reporters say they now regularly ask “who’s doing it better?” in editorial meetings–a question that may not have come up before–and find themselves championing the approach with their colleagues in the newsroom. They’ve been called upon to share their experiences outside of the newsroom, and have even been visited by reporters from other newsrooms interested in the solutions approach. The solutions mind set has seeped into the news culture at The Times, as staff from across beats have seen firsthand what solutions journalism really is–rigorous, hard-hitting reporting about responses to pressing social problems–and what it can do. Solutions journalism is now being integrated into The Times’ coverage of health, the environment, and economic development.

Samantha McCann <![CDATA[Solutions journalism is biased! (And other myths)]]> 2015-08-19T17:57:47Z 2015-08-19T02:23:03Z lead_large

Image Credit: igor kisselev/Shutterstock

We were recently featured on MuckRack’s #MuckedUp twitter chat. This was the second time we’ve joined forces—the first time in October to discuss the basics of solutions journalism and earlier this month to discuss our recently released Editor’s Toolkit (available for free download here). Participants from around the world logged into Twitter to learn about solutions journalism and how to introduce it into their newsrooms. During the chat (and in many encounters we have had with journalists in newsrooms and elsewhere), a few commonly held misconceptions repeatedly came up about what solutions journalism is (and isn’t). Here, we lay out the top three myths about solutions journalism and why they don’t hold water:

  1. Solutions journalism is biased. It asks journalists to suggest or advocate for solutions to problems.

One of the top misconceptions about solutions journalism is that it advocates for a specific solution or proposes a solution that doesn’t yet exist. Solutions journalism does neither of these things. In fact, while stories that do these things have their place in journalism, we consider them to be solutions journalism “impostors.” Stories that propose solutions that don’t yet exist (what we call “think-tank journalism”) don’t have the quantitative or qualitative evidence to show that the response is really working; solutions journalism stories, in contrast, are about programs and policies that are already being implemented, and rely heavily on evidence to show how effective the program/policy has been. Stories that advocate for a specific solution (e.g. use the word “should”), are usually found in the opinion section of the paper. Authors take a stand and argue why a specific program is the best choice. Solutions journalism stories, on the other hand, could appear on the front page of any newspaper as well-reported, investigative pieces that allow the reader to come to her own conclusions based on the evidence. The reporter doesn’t argue for one side or the other, but simply reports on how a group, individual, or institution is responding to a social problem and what the results have been. (Check out our full list of impostors here.)

  1. It’s either solutions journalism or more traditional watchdog reporting; you can’t have both.

Some think that doing solutions journalism is an “either/or” proposition, and that doing it means covering solutions instead of covering problems. It doesn’t. Solutions journalism is one tool in a journalist’s toolkit, and it should be used when there is a significant gap in the public consciousness about what is being done to address a problem. The trick is to ask: “What’s missing from the public conversation?” Sometimes, it’s awareness or outrage about the problem, in which case it might be premature to start reporting on solutions. There should always be up-to-date reporting about what’s broken in order to hold people accountable. But at times what is most needed is awareness about potential solutions. This is where solutions journalism comes in. A solutions angle can be integrated into almost any story or series, even a problem-oriented one. Within a single story, for example, you can first hone in on the problem (briefly, if the problem is well-known) and then spend the rest of the story focusing on how people or organizations are responding to it. Or in a series, you can include a solutions segment as the last part (or two) of an in-depth investigation into a problem. In other words, solutions journalism is one lens through which to view an issue and, when used alongside other lenses, it makes for a fuller and more accurate picture.

  1. What you’re reporting on has to be The Solution.

Solutions journalism pieces are well-researched, in-depth investigative pieces about responses to social problems. They look at the nitty-gritty details of how and why a policy or program is working in a certain area. But sometimes the response isn’t actually working. Or it’s only working partially, or it’s only working under certain conditions, or it addresses only one facet of the problem. The point is, it doesn’t have to be 100 percent effective. Good solutions reporting will point out limitations, and never overclaim about the effectiveness of a solution. Solutions journalism doesn’t shy away from caveats, and it always highlight areas where the response may be failing. (See our “Solutions journalism and failure” section from our core toolkit for more on reporting on failure.)

But isn’t this problem-oriented journalism, you ask? Aren’t many problem-oriented stories just old solutions that have failed? The important distinction here is that solutions articles are agnostic about the outcome. For example: If you are at a newspaper like The Detroit Free Press, and Ford is instituting a wellness program that Boeing already tried, a solutions focus means you report on the Boeing program. You do that story no matter whether you find it works well, partially, or not at all. With a problem-focused story, you’d likely only publish if it were an exposé of a program that hasn’t worked. In this way, the solutions focus is liberating: you don’t have to worry that it’s not a story, no matter what you find. As long as it brings the reader/viewer/listener to an insight about a response to a problem, it counts. It’s also important to remember that there is no one solution to any problem. Lots of things can work; solutions journalism can highlight the many different potential responses to a problem.


Rikha Sharma Rani <![CDATA[From the Editor’s Toolkit: Re-examining Coverage Priorities]]> 2015-08-13T17:40:21Z 2015-08-13T13:00:36Z editorstoolkitcoverThe solutions journalism “Starter Guide,” featured in our new Editor’s Toolkit, offers seven best practices for how to implement solutions journalism in the newsroom. For the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of these practices on our blog. Where possible, we’ll illustrate how to implement them with examples from actual newsrooms. We hope these tips bring you a few steps closer to making solutions journalism a regular part of your coverage.


Be prepared to re-examine coverage priorities

We often say that problems scream while solutions whisper. Many problem-oriented stories—plane crashes, police shootings, disease epidemics, even a water main break—are in your face; they demand coverage. Solutions-oriented stories, on the other hand, are rarely breaking news events. As with much enterprise reporting, newsworthy responses are likely to go undiscovered unless reporters deliberately surface and investigate them.

The question is when to invest scarce newsroom resources on these stories. For editors, it means reckoning with the questions:

  • What are the most relevant, most valuable stories we can bring to our audience?
  • What’s missing from the public conversation?
  • And what stories are we doing just because we’ve always done them?

In practical terms, this may mean rethinking core assumptions about coverage needs, and asking questions like: Do we have to cover the school board meeting (again)—or is our reporter’s time better spent examining how schools are changing their approach to discipline? Or: Do we need to do yet another variation of the high crime-rates story—or should we send our reporter to a nearby city that has an approach to reducing gun violence that seems to be working?


Michael Adams, Executive Editor of The Fayetteville Observer, grappled with these questions as he reflected on his paper’s coverage of crime in Fayetteville, N.C. The city has some of the highest crime rates in the country and The Observer had covered the issue extensively, almost always from the perspective of what was going wrong. Awareness of the problem was high, and Adams was searching for a fresh way to cover the issue.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 5.19.23 PMAfter a chance meeting with SJN co-founder Tina Rosenberg, Adams began thinking about how he could apply the solutions approach to the crime problem. He conceived “Seeking Safety,” a yearlong, solutions-oriented series about what was working to address crime elsewhere in the country. The series was the launch pad for ongoing community discussions about crime in Fayetteville. “I could not even have envisioned it becoming what it has developed into over the past year,” said publisher Charles Broadwell at the conclusion of the series. By re-examining coverage priorities and reflecting on what was missing from the public conversation, Adams and The Observer were able to engage readers in a new and powerful way.

Check out more tips from The Editor’s Toolkit (free PDF download)!

Samantha McCann <![CDATA[The Whole Story (in an Instant): Featuring Greg Barnes]]> 2015-08-11T15:18:15Z 2015-08-11T15:18:15Z We’re asking journalists the big questions: How can journalism help create a better world? Where do you see solutions journalism in ten years? What kind of stories and information can help the world self-correct? What’s your vision for a better journalism?

Today we’re featuring Greg Barnes, Sunday Editor for the Fayetteville Observer and lead reporter on Seeking Safety, a year-long project that looked at responses to issues of crime and public safety in the southeast.

Rikha Sharma Rani <![CDATA[Want to bring solutions journalism to your newsroom? There’s a toolkit for that.]]> 2015-08-13T16:44:50Z 2015-08-04T13:00:36Z Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 11.29.48 AMAs of this morning, that is. That’s because today we proudly launch the newest addition to our growing arsenal of resources for media makers: The Editor’s Toolkit. This guide for editors is a follow-up to our recently released Solutions Journalism Toolkit, which walks through the process of producing solutions journalism from the first step to the last. With The Editor’s Toolkit, we turn our attention from giving journalists the skills they need to produce top-notch solutions journalism to giving editors the tools they need to implement it across the entire newsroom.

Change is hard. So hard, in fact, that 60-70 percent of organizations that attempt it fail. While we’re thrilled to see how many newsrooms are expanding their coverage to include solutions, we know that solutions journalism–like any new practice–can’t be sustained by enthusiasm alone. It takes work to make it part of the modus operandi of a newsroom. We’ve spent months surveying editors and identifying best practices from across our network to understand how editors have successfully infused solutions into their newsrooms’ day-to-day coverage.

It turns out that some simple strategies can greatly increase the odds of success. We’ve compiled them in this toolkit, along with practical advice from editors who have successfully implemented the practice. We present examples, frameworks, and tools that editors can use to think through strategic questions like: Is it the right time to make the transition to more solutions-oriented coverage? What impact can solutions journalism have, and what benefits can it bring to the newsroom? What barriers might emerge from within the newsroom, and how have editors overcome them?

As always, we invite your feedback to help us make this as useful a resource as possible. Tell us what helped, and what’s missing. If your newsroom does solutions journalism, tell us how that happened. Who was involved? How was it received? What worked to embed the practice and what didn’t? We want to hear about your experiences so others can learn from them in future iterations of The Editor’s Toolkit. In the meantime, we hope it makes the job of introducing change a little easier.

Take me to the kit!

Samantha McCann <![CDATA[Want to go to PopTech? We’re buying.]]> 2015-09-01T15:27:27Z 2015-08-03T21:14:36Z You, hopefully.

What? Attend PopTech Hybrid conference, for free. PopTech is a non-profit that explores and catalyzes social impact through global Fellows programs, incubated projects, and an annual conference in Camden, Maine. PopTech draws on the eclecticism, diversity and expertise of this network to foster collaborative approaches to some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Named a gathering “for real thinkers” by WIRED magazine, we’re sponsoring one journalist to go to PopTech Hybrid in October. The conference brings together around 600 entrepreneurs, designers, technologists and social innovators for three days of stage presentations, workshops, happy hours, and parties. The theme this year, Hybrid, is about looking at new ideas, projects, and movements that are created when disciplinary boundaries fall by the wayside. In what ways, PopTech asks, can we use hybridity to solve complex social, business, and global problems? “Today’s critical issues and potential areas of discovery are too big to handle with just one or the other. Instead, we need thoughtful and at times, unexpected combinations. Progress requires a new kind of people and approach: the ‘slash generation.'”

What else? I know, it’s too good to be true. But you do have to do a little work: we want you to use your experience at the conference to report on the ideas or models that you find most promising; how people are talking about seemingly stale issues differently; how people are trying to solve complex problems with innovative new thinking; advances in different fields; and whatever moves you. The Huffington Post will publish these posts in What’s Working, their new vertical aimed at highlighting responses to social problems. Win win win, we think.

When? October 22-October 24.

Where? Camden, Maine (a seaside village named by Forbes as one of “America’s Prettiest Towns”).

Why? Conferences can be excellent places to network, meet leaders in the field, and hear about the latest research in a field. But so many of those important findings (think effective programs, or the most successful interventions) remain within the confines of the conference and its rather elite network, hidden from public view. We want to surface this knowledge and spread it around, showing how companies and organizations are responding to societal problems, or thinking about them differently. And we want a smart, curious, enthusiastic journalist to do just that.

How? Ahh…our most important question in journalism!! By filling out the below form, of course!

Deadline: August 28, 5pm ET.