Solutions Journalism Network 2015-07-28T15:55:32Z Samantha McCann <![CDATA[The Whole Story (in an Instant): Featuring John Higgins]]> 2015-07-28T15:55:32Z 2015-07-28T15:55:32Z We’re asking journalists in our network 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 John Higgins, a reporter for the Seattle Times’ Education Lab who covers on responses to challenges in public education.

Eric French <![CDATA[5 excellent video solutions stories]]> 2015-07-27T16:08:26Z 2015-07-27T13:00:35Z We’re always getting asked if solutions stories are just written pieces. In a word: nope! We’ve compiled here 5 great examples of solutions journalism on video on varying topics, some short, some long, but all taking a look at what’s working, and how people are responding to widely-shared challenges. Enjoy!

1. Norwegian Prisons

Vice News, August 2011
Ryan Duffy

The U.S has 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of its prisoners. The federal prison population has spiked almost 800% since 1980, and its recidivism rate is about 70%. Something’s not working. Vice News traveled to Norway’s Bastoey Prison to explore what they do differently. To start, the longest prison sentence is 21 years, so almost everyone is eventually released back into society. This reality effects their approach in the prisons: instead of retribution, Norway’s prison system focuses on rehabilitation and socialization so they can be more easily reintegrated upon release. Norway’s recidivism rate? 40%.


2. Maine exploring alternative models of justice

Al Jazeera America, July 16, 2015

The Restorative Justice Project of the Mid Coast in Belfast, Maine, is experimenting with traditional Native-American methods of criminal justice. Prisoners are being let out from prison early, so long as they attend meetings with other offenders and reflect on what they did. The short video from Al Jazeera explains the process and it gives data on how the program has been successful at reducing recidivism rates.

3. Can ‘neighborhoods of last resort’ be lifted out of poverty?

PBS NewsHour, May 9, 2015
Megan Thompson

Concentrated poverty continues to be a problem in cities across the country. Atlanta is no exception, as this NewHour segment details. But this piece focuses most of its attention on trying to find an effective response to that poverty, showing how the Atlanta neighborhood of East Lake dealt with it, offering a model for other new initiatives, like Warren Buffet’s Purpose Built Communities.


4. Beekeepers in Seattle find unusual way to breed them

Al Jazeera America, April 7, 2015
Marita Davison

The Flight Path Project is a unique solution for a big problem. Colony collapse disorder is decimating the number of bees across the world. A conservation group in Seattle called Common Acres is using vacant land near SeaTac airport to try to rebuild colonies. Though it’s not a silver bullet solution, it is helping revive the local bee community (which pollinates 1/3 of the food that we eat).


5. Mexico City on the road to cleaner air

The Guardian, October 4, 2012
Deborah Bonello

Once the most polluted city in the world, Mexico City has been able to cut its contamination by providing alternative public methods of transportation. The Guardian reports on how the city prioritized these environmental policies that reduced traffic and increased air quality.

Samantha McCann <![CDATA[The Whole Story (in an Instant): Featuring Liz Goodwin]]> 2015-07-21T13:55:44Z 2015-07-21T13:55:44Z We’re asking journalists in our network 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 Liz Goodwin, a reporter for Yahoo! News who reports on criminal justice issues.

Samantha McCann <![CDATA[In the Spotlight: Michael Hobbes on development]]> 2015-07-20T17:53:49Z 2015-07-20T14:00:23Z
Steve Raymer_Corbis

Photo Credit: Steve Raymer, Corbis

We stumbled across Michael Hobbes last November when his New Republic piece,  “How big ideas are ruining development aid” (and his follow-up piece to it, “International development is broken; here are two ways to fix it“), went viral.  The piece critiqued so-called “big ideas” in development–“that once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket.” The problem is, in short, “Exciting new development idea, huge impact in one location, influx of donor dollars, quick expansion, failure.”  The article had meaningful implications for reporters covering responses to social problems: Sometimes solutions aren’t big and glamorous and new and all-encompassing, but rather tedious and ugly and small and old–but they work, and we should pay attention to what really works.

His most recent piece, “The Myth of the Ethical Shopper” (published last week in the Huffington Post), critiques the idea that we can change harmful labor practices in foreign countries by changing the way we buy. The whole “global apparatus of manufacturing” has shifted drastically in the last twenty years, but we still operate in the mindset of 1995. We should no longer be worried about conditions in top clothing companies like Nike or Adidas, he argues, but rather smaller companies who outsource to poorly regulated factories in developing nations. (“Those small-batch, hemp-woven Daisy Dukes you bought in Dumbo are far more likely to be made in a sweatshop than your $7 H&M gym shorts,” he quips.) Brazil, however, is one positive deviant, a country that has managed to successfully regulate labor conditions. What have they done differently?

We got a hold of Hobbes, a human rights consultant in Berlin, to chat about how journalists cover development, how he incorporates solutions into his work, and why Brazil’s model has succeeded. (You can find him on Twitter (@RottenInDenmark) and see more of his work on his website.)

Samantha McCann: How have potential solutions or responses to problems in development traditionally been covered (or not covered)?

Michael Hobbes: People always say that the media is bad at reporting on good news, but I think that’s too simple. The media is bad at telling stories that happen more than once. Take this great program in Salt Lake City, where they provided free housing to their homeless population, no questions asked, and found it cost less than all the ad hoc emergency services they were providing. Homelessness fell by 72 percent.

It was written up in the New Yorker, and I’m sure mayors from all over the country read it and sent delegations to Utah to study the idea and take it back home. But if, say, Pittsburgh runs the same program, gets the same results, it’s much less sexy for the media. It’s dog-bites-man now, it’s a program that people think will work—because it’s been reported in a big fancy magazine—and it’s working. Big woop. It’s only if it doesn’t work in Pittsburgh that it will be newsworthy.

In development, we have a ton of ideas that aren’t world-changers, but provide modest gains if you roll them out right. Microcredit went through this lifecycle where when we first found out about it, it was going to SAVE THE WORLD. Then all these other NGOs jumped on the bandwagon and they didn’t know what they were doing and the results faltered. Then microcredit became A USELESS SCAM.

These are both stories the media is really good at telling. In the last few years, microcredit has levelled out to just this one tool among many that works under certain circumstances but not others. In a lot of places, it works really well, but it’s not the shortcut we thought it was. I actually consider that a huge success, but imagine pitching that to your editor.

SM: Your piece “The Myth of the Ethical Shopper” could have easily been an “afterthought” piece–where the solutions is really just a hopeful anecdote at the end. But you really dug into what Brazil is doing to better address the problem (and the limitations of their efforts). Do you feel obligated to include solutions stories in your coverage of an issue?

MH: I’m actually a little nervous about this, because I feel like people are going to read about Brazilian labor inspectors and think ‘Oh everything is fine in Brazil now!’ and that’s not the case at all. Brazilian farms are not Swiss ones. The country, and its inspectors, have a lot more work to do. I was trying to make a methodological argument—developing countries are the only ones that can solve their own problems—but this gets construed as ‘everyone go do this one exact thing immediately’.

So that’s why I’m usually nervous about including too much solutions-y stuff in an article without these all-caps caveats about how it’s not going to be that easy in other countries. I think this is something for journalists to ask ourselves. There’s clearly an appetite for solutions journalism, people really want to know what works. But how do we write them in ways that don’t imply they’re perfectly generalizable or easily scalable?

Even if you include caveats, that’s not what travels after the article comes out. This is how we get into so much trouble in development, things get simplified the more they’re retold and tweeted, and those caveats fall away.

SM: You talk in the story about how the reforms and policies implemented in the 90s have had unintended consequences and haven’t really changed or improved the overall situation, because of changing economic realities (e.g. the growth of demand in developing nations with less stringent–or nonexistent–workers’ rights policies). Why is this story only coming out now? Why does it sometimes take journalism so long to catch up to what’s happening on the ground?

MH: It’s weird, this is actually something I’ve been hearing about at conferences, and from other people in my field, for years: The big brands, the tier-one suppliers, have better conditions than they used to, but more and more production takes place outside of the places we’re watching it.

I think some of the delay, on this issue at least, has to do with international NGOs, who do most of the watchdogging of global labor conditions these days. There’s no incentive for them to go after the Li & Fungs of the world, or the smaller companies that no one has heard of. Most NGOs are under-resourced, they’re trying to have the biggest impact with few staff, little time and this huge mountain of terrible conditions they have to bring to the world’s attention.

I talked to someone at a well-known labor NGO about this and he said he has three staff members. The best way to stretch that into impact is to go after Apple, which can improve conditions for hundreds of thousands of employees with a snap of its fingers. Or at least that’s the perception. Individually it’s understandable. But collectively, it means no one is looking at where the worst violations are.

One thing that surprised me when I started digging is how little we know about the conditions in factories producing for emerging markets and smaller workshops, where a lot of the work gets sub-contracted. Thirty-five percent of manufacturing employment in Bangladesh is in firms with 25-99 employees. That’s also the fastest-growing tranche of the sector. But it was really hard to find academics or institutions looking at this, just because it’s so hard to get access, and it’s so diffuse.

SM: How can journalists stay more on top of developments after a policy that’s supposed to improve the situation has been implemented? It seems like currently, in many policy areas, a lot of attention focuses on the problem, changes are made/policies are instituted, and no follow-up stories ever check to see if they’ve had the intended effect. How can journalism be better about that?

MH: It’s so interesting how journalists are always doing anniversary stories for big events, yet we don’t take the same approach with policy changes. We mark September 11 every year, and the anniversary of the Vietnam War and the JFK assassination. But it’s been 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was a hugely ambitious piece of legislation, and I haven’t seen the same kind of discussion. I have this idea that, every time a big boring political change happens, like TPP or TTIP when they’re finalized, I should set an iCal reminder for 5 and 10 years later, like ‘check in on this, Mike.’

SM: This paragraph was pretty striking: “Nearly all of the horror stories that show up in consumer campaigns are illegal in the countries where they take place. These countries simply don’t have anyone to enforce the laws. Bangladesh has just 125 labor inspectors for 75 million workers. Cambodian inspectors, on average, earn less than half as much as the garment workers whose conditions they’re supposed to be safeguarding. Uganda, with 40 million people, has only 120 practitioners capable of carrying out environmental impact assessments.” And then you dive into how Brazil is different and what they’ve done so well. I want to hear more about how exactly Brazil did this and why they made reform a priority when other similar countries haven’t.

MH: There’s some great work on this by Salo Coslovsky and Roberto Pires, who know more about the political factors that gave rise to this super autonomous inspectorate and these crusading public prosecutors. Another academic doing great research on this, Andrew Schrank, calls them ‘the shock troops of decent work.’

The way Pires explained it to me, Brazil used to have a quota system where inspectors were assessed and paid bonuses based on the number of workplaces they inspected. Just like corporate auditors, this gave them a checklist approach. They were literally going door to door, inspecting small workshops instead of big ones because they were quicker to inspect and that’s how you could meet your quota.

Then, in the early 2000s, the government launched this big campaign to eradicate child labor. The inspectors pushed back, like ‘we’re never going to actually end child labor doing inspections this way.’ They were able to switch from quantitative to qualitative assessment methods, and they started prioritizing workplaces according to risk. They also started bringing in all these other government agencies. A weapon the academics talk about a lot is deferred prosecution agreements, where prosecutors tell farms ‘fix this by the time we get back, or we’ll take you to court.’ That threat of litigation is a huge reason why businesses fall into line.

And this is why solutions have to be domestically owned. The effectiveness of the inspectors comes from their mandate, their budget and their support from high-level politicians and the population. You can’t manufacture that from outside. And it’s not going to last if it’s not locally embedded.

SM: Did you come across any other potential solutions in your research? Any other developing countries effectively regulating labor conditions?

MH: The only other model I saw working was Better Factories Cambodia, which I mention briefly in my article. In the late 1990s, the US government told Cambodia that they could only export clothes here if they agreed to let International Labour Organization inspectors into all 300 of their garment factories. Again, they were still industrial units in a poor country, the conditions weren’t perfect by any means, but they were a lot better than they would have been without the inspections.

But then, in the last decade, it’s become this sort of cautionary tale where Cambodia started getting more investment from China and South Korea, whose companies didn’t care about working conditions. The program became voluntary, and now it’s just like all these other labelling-ish sorts of schemes, where a few apex companies are part of it, partly for PR reasons, and the rest of the sector just does what it wants. So, unfortunately, solutions in this field are pretty scarce, and pretty fragile.

One other thing I should mention, though, is that the Dominican Republic tripled the size of its inspectorate and made it a lot more powerful as a direct result of US pressure through bilateral trade agreement negotiations. This was a condition of accessing our market, and it seems to be working quite well there. So for me, the issue isn’t coming up with new solutions, but simply using our trading power to incentivize countries to address these problems however they see fit. Maybe that’s inspectors, maybe its some other way.


Elizabeth Tompkins <![CDATA[Behind a SoJo Story: Stephanie O’Neill on her series “Police & the Mentally Ill”]]> 2015-07-17T14:47:13Z 2015-07-20T13:46:12Z LAPD simulator

As part of Solutions Journalism Network’s Health Engine, Health Care Correspondent Stephanie O’Neill covered how a unique LAPD unit pairs police officers with mental health clinicians to divert the mentally ill to treatment rather than jail. Her four-part KPCC radio feature story, “Police and the mentally ill: LAPD unit praised as model for nation” was published on March 9 on Southern California Public Radio. The series was subsequently featured on NPRHere, Stephanie O’Neill discusses how she tackled reporting from a solutions angle.

How I found this story:   I learned about the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit when I was assigned to do a piece on a program in Texas. Initially, the idea was that we were going to profile this Texas program and ask whether LA could do what they do. But my early research changed the course of the reporting completely. I discovered that leaders of the Texas program got some of their training from and modeled their program after a little-known (to the general public and media) mental health policing unit right in our backyard: the LAPD Mental Evaluation Unit (LAPD MEU). A few more calls and conversations and I learned it was the biggest program of its kind in the nation: a national and international model of mental health policing, but one that had received very little media coverage. After numerous calls and emails to its commanders, I was able to meet with the program leaders. They spoke to me guardedly at first, but in time, I was able to build trust, which led to me having numerous days of on-site reporting—including access to department training meetings, roll calls and ride-alongs.

Identifying main characters:  The LAPD MEU is comprised of three main programs. In part one—my overview piece, which focused on the program’s triage unit—I featured one of the specially-trained officers who was working the triage desk that day. I was able to record conversations he and others were having with field officers about mentally-ill folks who needed help.  For Part One of the series, I used the sound of one of those calls as the narrative structure for the story.

In Part Two, my story focused on one of the Detectives who took us to the scene of several interventions by the unit’s police officer/mental health clinician teams. In that story, we drove to several calls with the detective and were able to record him discussing with a field officer a call involving a mentally-ill woman who had been throwing objects out of the 9th floor of a condo building in Los Angeles.

In Part Three, I introduced listeners/readers to the third program. In that story, we met a female client and a father whose son had been helped by the MEU’s detective-clinician teams, which sleuth solutions to the most challenging mental health cases that the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health deal with. These so-called “frequent flier” cases involve people who over-use emergency services, costing the county and city millions of dollars each year.

In Part Four, I spoke with the new LA County Sheriff, who expressed his interest in potentially adopting some of the LAPD’s programs as a way to expand and improve upon the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s efforts to handle those with mental illness.

Key question:  That depended upon whom I was interviewing. From the leaders of the program—including those at the Dept. of Mental Health—I wanted to know how the programs operated, the cost of running them, the measures of success and why this type of policing has become a modern-day necessity for many agencies. From the mental health advocates—including the ACLU—I wanted to know what they thought about the program. Specifically, what did they see as its strengths and weaknesses?  What more was needed to promote diversion (rather than incarceration) of the mentally ill? From the officers and detectives I interviewed, I wanted to understand what their work entailed. I did that through desk interviews, observation of their work and ride-alongs. One humorous side note: after the story aired—locally, statewide and then nationally on NPR—one of the detectives called me to say, “Now my wife finally understands what I do!”

An interviewing strategy:  To get at this story, I had to gain the trust of the MEU’s top brass, who closely guarded their program. I think their initial concern stemmed from an inherent distrust of the media. For the first couple weeks that I tried to get at this story, I hit roadblocks. Several times, I was told, “We don’t need any publicity.” To overcome that, I did a few things. First, I got off the phone and email and headed to the LAPD, where I spent an entire day with one of the unit’s leaders—watching how he ran the LAPD’s crisis intervention training for street cops. And while that was not included as part of the series, it was key to getting me the in-person access I ultimately did get.

During that day, I was able to share with the lead detective what my prior reporting had taught me about the challenges law enforcement faced when handling the mentally ill.  Because of other stories I’d covered—including a feature on Crisis Intervention Team training in Orange county after the beating death of a homeless man by Fullerton police, and another on the CIT in Ventura county and how the lack of integration across agencies can leave those with mental illness vulnerable—I was able demonstrate a basic understanding of their work. Shortly after that meeting, the lead detective opened up the unit to me—eventually allowing me to roam about on my own, talk to whomever I wished in the unit, and record audio of the officers and clinicians at work.

This access allowed me to explain how this unit had become a national and international model. But more importantly, perhaps, it allowed me to see what more is needed in order to better provide diversion programs to keep the mentally ill out of jail. In particular, I learned that while this type of program is considered an important first step by law enforcement, advocates for the mentally-ill and civil rights activists, it’s only a first step. In order to adequately address the needs of those with mental illness, a fully-integrated system—one that provides such help at every step of the criminal justice system—is ultimately required. And that will be the topic of future stories.

Elizabeth Tompkins <![CDATA[The Solutions Three: Solving the Homelessness Problem, with Housing]]> 2015-07-16T18:30:59Z 2015-07-17T13:07:09Z Solutions Three small logoThis post is part of the “The Solutions Three” series, a weekly newsletter highlighting some of our favorite recent solutions stories across the media landscape. Our goal with the newsletter is to bring to you different, constructive takes on recent headlines–Where are community-police relations strong? Where is ebola being fought the most successfully? How are countries successfully preventing radicalization of their youth?–and to celebrate the journalists and publications doing fantastic reporting on responses to social problems. If you have recommendations for great solutions stories, send them to samantha at solutionsjournalism dot org. And to get “The Solutions Three” sent to your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

Solving the Homelessness Problem, with Housing

The Press Democrat, June 25
Angela Hart

Take a look at how a national initiative combatting homelessness has played out successfully in Sonoma County, CA. Bringing in myriad voices (from local organizations to newly-housed individuals), Angela Hart crafts a quality investigative piece, a critical examination of a solution in action. [1,948 words]


Berlin’s New Rent Control Laws Are Already Working

CityLab, July 9
Feargus O’Sullivan

Barely a month after Berlin introduced a “rental price brake” law limiting rent increases, the average cost of new rental contracts has dropped 3.1%. We’d love to see a longer piece that added an examination of conflicting evidence or interviews, but Feargus O’Sullivan provides a pointed look at one city’s hands-on approach to the housing affordability crisis. [747 words]

The Best Way to End Homelessness

The Atlantic, July 11
Alana Semuels

The first-ever large-scale study on ways to help homeless families finds that permanent, stable housing can be more cost-effective than shelters. Alana Semuels takes a look at one successful solution, Housing Choice Vouchers. A longer follow-up piece could delve into other comparable initiatives, but this is a good first, comprehensive look at what’s working. [890 words]



Keith Hammonds <![CDATA[‘Hartsville,’ the trans-media solutions story]]> 2015-07-16T19:37:32Z 2015-07-16T19:30:57Z Photo: PBS

Photo: PBS

As soon as I read John Branch’s celebrated 2012 trans-media story, “Snowfall” in The New York Times, I knew I never wanted to tell a single story through a single medium again.

The story Branch recounts in “Snowfall” is gripping in its own right: a group of extreme skiers, an avalanche, some lost lives. But the forms in which the story unfolded were equally captivating: interactive graphics that brought ominous weather patterns to life; video interviews that gave you another window into the characters you had come to care about; and a new sort of invitation to surf in and out of the traditional linear narrative in a more nonlinear way.

Because I write about issues of teaching and learning, I became consumed with a new question: “What is the ‘Snowfall’ of school reform?”

In April 2013, over lunch with Yale psychiatry professor James Comer, I found an answer.

In brief, Dr. Comer is one of the most important figures in modern school reform circles of the past 50 years – the first person to successfully “turn around” struggling high-poverty schools; for years, a frequent short-list candidate for Secretary of Education; and the figurehead of an expansive national network of thousands of schools and districts, all committed to fostering the holistic development of children.

By the time of our meeting, however – thanks mostly to the growth of test-based accountability as a driver of modern school reform strategies – Dr. Comer’s national network had dwindled to just a few schools; his organization, the School Development Program, was struggling to stay solvent; and most disturbingly, his work was unknown to all but a few of the newer, well-intentioned reformers I encountered.

So I had already been thinking about the ways that Dr. Comer’s rise and fall was indicative of our country’s shifting set of values for public education. But then he told me he had just been contacted by a Fortune 500 Company CEO, whose business had been headquartered in a small town in South Carolina for more than a century. This executive had flown to visit Comer in New Haven via private jet, along with the local schools superintendent, the head of the state magnet school for science and math, and the president of a small private college. Together, they had told Comer that they had five million dollars, that they were willing to give him five years, and that their plan, together, was to build the best system of schools in the state – and, eventually, the country.

When he told me he was on his way to South Carolina the following week, to teach bus drivers about the intricacies of child development, I thought that what was happening in Hartsville was precisely the sort of story that would lend itself to a trans-media approach.

Two-and-a-half years later, I’m pleased to say that the work Dr. Comer has undertaken with the residents of Hartsville has been captured in a variety of forms:

  • Thanks to the support I received from the Solutions Journalism Network, I wrote about Comer’s work with the bus drivers for The New York Times.
  • Another story, about a community garden in Hartsville, was featured in Education Week.
  • A yearlong exploration of two of Hartsville’s schools provided the backdrop for a feature-length documentary on PBS, 180 Days: Hartsville.Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 10.35.48 AM
  • And the successes and struggles I witnessed in those classrooms provided the grist for an interactive online game, in which players try to successfully move an archetypal group of 5th graders through a school year and onto middle school. So far, it has logged 17,416 play-minutes.

What all of these projects have tried to address in different forms is the same set of questions: If the Comer model of school improvement was so successful, why was it, by 2012, on the verge of closing its doors? What is the latest research about how children learn, and to what extent is the work in Hartsville reflecting those insights? What prompted a college president and a corporate CEO to join forces with their local schools and commit not just time and energy, but also $5 million of their own money? And what can the successes and struggles of one racially diverse community in the Deep South tell us about our ongoing assumptions about race, class, and what it means to be an American in the 21st century?

It’s possible to do some of this via a single medium or a single story. But by tapping the different strengths of different mediums – particularly print, film, and online gaming – I think we open up a much wider set of possibilities for both storytellers and story readers to explore. And we create multiple channels that can expose those ideas up to a more diverse range of audiences – increasing the chances that the stories will lead to productive change.

Samantha McCann <![CDATA[The Whole Story (in an Instant): Featuring Noam Levey]]> 2015-07-21T14:03:12Z 2015-07-14T13:00:29Z We’re asking journalists in our network 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 Noam Levey, the national health care reporter for the LA Times.


For more wisdom on what journalism can and should be, check out Jesse Hardman (WWNO’s coastal reporter), and Monica Campbell (Global Nation reporter and editor at PRI’s The World).

Keith Hammonds <![CDATA[The Ithaca Voice and vets: solutions reporting in a (very) small newsroom]]> 2015-07-15T14:13:54Z 2015-07-09T20:20:52Z In the summer of 2014, Jeff Stein approached the Solutions Journalism Network, seeking counsel and support. A recent Cornell University graduate and award-winning reporter at the Syracuse Post-Standard, Stein had just launched The Ithaca Voice, an independent online news organization that would fill what he saw as a void in Ithaca’s news ecosystem.

ithacavoice-logoThe Ithaca Voice would be resolutely local in its focus. It would break stories and do deep-dive investigations. And it would, Stein hoped, have a strong bias for critical coverage of solutions to social problems. He asked how SJN might help.

Now, The Voice didn’t exactly fit with our strategic focus at the time on big, highly visible news organizations. But we recognized quickly that Stein was a savvy young news entrepreneur who merited our attention. We also knew that, eventually, we would want to learn how to extend our support of solutions coverage to the many small newsrooms that serve communities across America.

So, we met with Stein in Ithaca to discuss how solutions journalism might work on a shoestring budget at a start-up news organization. Later that fall, we talked through opportunities for solutions-oriented news stories – for one, the recent crash of a truck in downtown Ithaca and how other communities have managed freight traffic.

Over the next few months, The Voice produced numerous solutions stories as part of ambitious reporting projects on, among other topics, a new way to treat and provide job skills to low-level drug offenders; three approaches to confronting homelessness in downtown Ithaca; and a zoning innovation that could ease the affordable housing crunch. 

Photo: Dave Burbank

Photo: Dave Burbank

Stein also asked if SJN would endorse his application to the Community Foundation of Tompkins County for a small grant to support a solutions-oriented series on military veterans in the area. In the spring of 2015, that grant came through – and Stein assigned Melissa Whitworth, an accomplished British newspaper and magazine journalist who recently had moved to Ithaca, to take on the project.

Over the next two months, with SJN’s advice, Whitworth and Stein framed out “Hope on the Homefront,” a 10-part series that would explore a range of veterans issues and relevant responses. The first piece, exploring justice issues through the work of a VA caseworker, appeared June 22. The second, on an alternative system known as Veterans Treatment Courts, ran on June 30. And the most recent assessed the challenge of finding consistent employment for veterans.

Photo: Dave Burbank

Photo: Dave Burbank

Stein plans to run a new story each week through the summer. Meantime, the project already has generated unusual buzz. Robert Mulvey, administrative judge for the Sixth Judicial District, which includes Ithaca, wrote Whitworth to note that he planned to attend a meeting that would explore the feasibility of expanding veterans courts to the area. And The Huffington Post reported on the Voice series in its “Media” section. We’re happy to be along for this important ride.

Keith Hammonds <![CDATA[New collaborations: The Globe and the Free Press]]> 2015-07-09T20:21:34Z 2015-07-09T19:18:57Z It’s always great to make new friends. But we’re especially excited and honored to be working now with two of America’s truly great newspapers, The Boston Globe and the Detroit Free Press.

The Globe collaboration, supported by funding from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, will bring a solutions approach to the newspaper’s coverage of public education. Historically, discussion of education in Massachusetts, as in much of the nation, tends to be dominated by two issues: First, how do you help kids on the wrong side of the performance gap? And, how do you make all schools better – and, ultimately, competitive in a global context?

SJN's Liza Gross and Tina Rosenberg lead a staff workshop at The Globe.

SJN’s Liza Gross and Tina Rosenberg lead a staff workshop at The Globe.

The Globe has chronicled these questions expertly for decades, with special focus on the challenges facing Boston’s public schools. Education reporter James Vaznis has covered the K-12 system for seven years, and higher education before that. He has authored hundreds of compelling stories focused on issues from absenteeism and graduation rates to charter schools to college admissions. The Globe has won praise and attention for investigative stories on troubled school principals, the problematic school assignment system in Boston, and racial inequities.

But The Globe believes that a deeper examination of Massachusetts schools, through a different prism, is needed. With SJN’s support, it will pursue a series of in-depth stories — backed by data and research, and augmented by a robust multimedia platform and public events — that examine concrete solutions to myriad problems in public education. The goal is to identify solutions that hold the greatest promise, and to assess how and why they seem to be working in ways that engage a broad range of audience and school constituents and catalyze a more productive public discourse. Ultimately, The Globe and SJN hope that these stories will spark better education policy decisions and new innovation in Massachusetts schools.

“We are thrilled to be able to expand our education coverage over the next year to dig more deeply into some of the most intransigent problems facing urban school districts in particular,” says Jennifer Peter, The Globe’s senior deputy managing editor for local news. “By helping us to expend our education team, the grant will allow our longstanding k-12 education reporter to invest much more time into what is already a primary focus of ours: identifying what’s working and what’s not in our city’s schools.”

The Free Press collaboration is a cornerstone of SJN’s initiative on violence prevention and reduction, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Images of violence dominate the news, reminding us of the prevalence of violence in American society and its debilitating effects, particularly in vulnerable communities. This reporting is vital to raise awareness and spur reform, but it often fails to inform society about what can be done – and what is working – to mitigate the effects of this great hidden health care challenge.

Free Press team of reporters, editors, and visual journalists will take on this challenge, exploring the connections between violence in the city and childhood development issues, and focusing on emerging responses in Detroit and beyond. (Eventually, we anticipate that this violence initiative will include at least 10 other news organizations.)

The Free Press intends to look at violence, as it says, “through the arc of the life stages of children (pre-natal, infant, toddler, elementary school age & teen). We’ll examine the mental/science issues and how programs are helping kids throughout their lives.” The news organization will also weigh special mobile presentations for the kids themselves, plus community gatherings where people can convene to discuss solutions.

The goal: As in Boston, to change how the community thinks about and engage with an entrenched and seemingly intractable problem. Part of that is about making the problem itself more accessible, exposing readers to the challenge on a human, personal scale. But the solutions approach also means surfacing, describing, and assessing the responses to problems, making those equally accessible.

This shift, we believe, can help people to see education and violence, two of the most urgent social issues of our time, as solvable and move them from apathy or desperation to a stronger sense of self-efficacy. This more robust journalism can foster greater civic participation and innovation – leading, ultimately, to better schools and safer communities.