The News We Need to Hear

in the New York Times: “When we began writing the column in late 2010 we hoped to show that serious reporting about responses to social problems could both provide useful insights for society and engage readers. We aimed to distinguish Fixes — an example of what we call solutions journalism — from uncritical “good news” reporting by examining approaches to social problems that show results and focusing on the specifics of how they work and what we can learn from them….

Journalists need better tools to find these stories systematically. Because the problems scream, but the solutions whisper, we often overlook them. We’re not good at letting society know when we are winning against problems; we are hamstrung by our techniques and our very sense of purpose. If winning means there is never another police killing of an unarmed black man, then it may also mean that the story goes away at its finest moment.

But it doesn’t have to. In our experience writing this column, we have found that it is almost always worthwhile to ask the question, Who’s doing it better?

Consider the immigration crisis in the United States. The news coverage focuses on the battle in Washington and the politics around tougher policing of the border. But immigration is at heart a local story that will continue to unfold in countless ways in the year ahead. Which cities or communities are doing a better job building or improving relations between new immigrants and their receiving communities? What are they doing and what can be learned from them?…

To be sure, journalism is not meant to be an obstacle to progress; it’s meant to describe the world accurately and circulate real-time information to help societies understand themselves and improve. But the news can influence human behavior in unintended ways. “The way in which the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do,” wrote Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion, in 1922.

It turns out, this isn’t just an armchair observation. Research now supports that our behavior is strongly influenced by what we imagine other people are doing — and it works in both directions, positive or negative. This is called “social norming.”… (More)”