Here are 10 questions to ask yourself when writing a solutions-oriented story. Not every story will address all of these questions, and that’s okay — but we hope this will inspire your thinking:
- Does the story explain the causes of a social problem? A solution should be explained in the context of the problem it’s trying to address. The causes of that problem should be documented in ways that make clear the opportunity for a solution to create leverage and impact.
- Does the story present an associated response to that problem? The acid test; if the story doesn’t describe a response, it’s not solutions journalism.
- Does the story get into the problem solving and how-to details of implementation? A great solutions story delves into the how-to’s of problem solving, investigating questions like: What models are having success improving an educational outcome and how do they actually work?
- Is the problem solving process central to the narrative? Solutions journalism, like all journalism, is about great story telling. It should include characters grappling with challenges, experimenting, succeeding, failing, learning. But the narrative is driven by the problem solving and the tension is located in the inherent difficulty in solving a problem.
- Does the story present evidence of results linked to the response? Solutions journalism is about ideas – but like all good journalism, the determination of what works (or doesn’t) and how is supported by solid data and evidence.
- Does the story explain the limitations of the response? There is no such thing as a perfect solution to a social problem. Every response has caveats, limitations, and risks. Good solutions journalism does not shy away from imperfection.
- Does the story convey an insight or teachable lesson? What makes solutions journalism compelling is the discovery — the journey that brings the reader or viewer to an insight about how the world works and, perhaps, how it could be made to work better.
- Does the story avoid reading like a puff piece? Solutions journalism is expressly not about advocating for particular models, organizations or ideas. Journalists pursuing solutions stories are bringing their journalistic tools to bear on reporting, examining, and writing without a specific agenda.
- Does the headline/lead sound bite reflect a solutions angle? Some stories may identify responses – but the headline may signal greater emphasis on a problem. Headlines should create a “hook” that makes the solution prominent.
- Does the story give greater attention to the response than to a leader/innovator/do-gooder? We see a clear distinction between solutions journalism and what is often called “good news.” “Good news” stories tend to celebrate individuals and inspirational acts. Solutions journalism is about ideas, how people are trying to make them work, and their observable effects.
Here’s another way to think about solutions journalism — in a checklist format. Does your story do some of these?