Brian R. Calfano on “addressing social and political ills through the solutions journalism approach” in The Blue Review: “…To effectively work in the public interest as a member of the media covering politics in a national election year, I argue that stories evaluating and proposing solutions to our major societal problems must be an integral part of the media menu served to the public. Solutions are certainly not the only thing we need to cover in the media, but greater focus on problem solving is needed than what is provided at present.
A “solutions journalism” approach to covering political stories holds promise because it focuses attention on the evaluation of effectiveness in dealing with some of the most pressing problems we face as a society. Along the way, the solutions-based focus may even tamp down the incivility that plagues our politics.The author is a member of the Solutions Journalism Network.
So, how do we get started with a solutions journalism approach?
The Solutions Journalism Network has already done much of the legwork in setting up the scaffolding for journalists looking to sink their teeth into the consideration of “what works” in solving a social problem.
In their Solutions Journalism Toolkit (2015, pdf), the Solutions Journalism Network suggests focusing on the following questions when determining a topic to cover (pgs. 6-7):
- Does the story explain the causes of social problem?
- Does the story present an associated response to that problem?
- Does the story get into the problem solving and how to details of implementation?
- Does the story present evidence of results linked to the response?
- Does the story explain limitations of the response?
- Does the story convey an insight or teachable lesson?
…Most interesting about this approach is that it calls on my experience as a social science researcher. I’m tempted to go into full researcher mode and critique the all-too-frequent use of basic cross-tabulations and observational survey data as means for showing cause and effect. Generally speaking, audiences may not care about research methods, but my job is to make the story compelling enough — including the bits about methodology — to make them interested.
Importantly, I’m not alone in this effort. Sources like the website evidencebasedprograms.org feature a litany of randomized controlled trials that allow determination of direct impact from a policy intervention on issues like the “cliff effect.”
My work is made more difficult if the organizations I interview for the solutions journalism stories on the “cliff effect” are not using the randomized trial approach. At the least, I’ll have to point out to the viewer that the solutions an organization proposes are not being evaluated with the strongest possible assessment tools. This is not so much a problem, however, as an opportunity, as the organization might benefit from the critique of its own evaluation practices to find what works “better than average.”…(More)”.