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The four pillars of solutions journalism – and the benefits of collaboration


International Journalists' Network (IJNet)

Audiences across the globe are avoiding the news, as people report feeling anxious and powerless from an overwhelming amount of negative news. Solutions journalism aims to offer an alternative through reporting that gives agency to communities by demonstrating what works and what doesn’t to solve problems.

Chibuike Alagboso, senior program manager at Nigeria Health Watch and the Nigeria lead of the Solutions Journalism Africa Initiative, emphasized the importance of taking a collaborative approach to solutions journalism during a recent ICFJ Pamela Howard Forum on Global Crisis Reporting webinar.

“[Solutions journalists] should think more collaboratively because the times are changing faster," said Alagboso. “Your work needs to have more impact. How do you do that faster? The very first step is collaboration.”

When people see solutions, they are more likely to share those communities' stories and compare their own responses to others, Alagboso said. Collaboration can inspire communities to use similar resources to address comparable problems, in turn.

Here’s what else Alagboso had to say about taking a collaborative approach to solutions journalism:

The four pillars

Solutions journalism relies on four pillars, Alagboso said: response, outcome, evidence and insights. The first pillar, response, describes action steps toward a solution, such as preventive measures taken to help curb the spread of typhoid or malaria in a given community.

“There is a response somewhere. Someone is trying to address the problem,” Alagboso said. “The story has to be about what is being done to address that problem.” If the response is effective, it merits its own story to initiate a conversation among other communities that can benefit from the solution. Response reports should therefore accurately describe the steps implemented, methods used and show progress in communities that have implemented the response.

Other solutions stories focus on the second pillar: outcomes, or, “What has changed before and after [that response]?” Alagboso said. Outcomes should include what makes an outcome newsworthy, as well as approaches or lessons others can learn from.

“You have to show what was useful in addressing systemic problems,” he said.

The third pillar, evidence, provides concrete revelations from outcomes that back up findings. Accurate evidence can help rebuild audience trust in news, reduce bias, and encourage action. However, even though people are willing to share their lessons learned, they might not be as clear about what was not working or why a given solution failed or was not continued, necessitating the fourth pillar: insights.

With insights, finding out what is not working correctly is just as important as promoting successes, as journalists can then inform audiences and identify the stages in which further research and progress are needed. Insights can also be useful as a measure for journalists looking back at their own work and seeing whether something is still relevant or can inform future interventions.

“[Solutions journalism] is not PR. We are examining a response, not promoting it,” Alagboso said.

The importance of collaboration

Working collaboratively on solutions story ideas allows journalists to have a greater collective impact, add more perspective to potential story angles, collect more evidence and increase reach and awareness of potential solutions.

Alagboso gave several examples of how different communities can benefit from solutions stories. In one story, which covered Nigeria's drive-through COVID-19 testing method, Nigerian-German journalist Ruona Meyer analyzed the results of Nigeria’s testing procedures, which followed similar protocols successfully implemented in Germany.

“It was possible to compare the two communities’ responses, [which allowed the story to] have more reach [...] without being restricted by geography or location,” Alagboso explained.

An important element to Meyer’s story was providing clear insights for other locations addressing COVID-19, and advice for future pandemics to streamline response and anticipate challenges. It also made sure to transparently outline the processes and procedures for audiences.

Alagboso highlighted other good examples of collaborative solutions reporting, such as an article about responses to water poisoning in Cleveland and another about Nigeria’s healthcare program that seeks to improve maternal and child care. In both stories, the authors went beyond just the problem itself to look at the history and community impact of the issues and their solutions.

“When you look beyond the problem, you have more potential for story ideas and more opportunities to collaborate,” Alagboso said.

How collaboration can benefit your solutions journalism project

As solutions journalism continues to evolve, networking and collaborating can lead to more opportunities for journalists. “Networking is like a chain reaction. Maybe you do not know the person, but another person you know might. So that is really important to stick to networks,” said Alagboso.

Here are a few opportunities he mentioned:

  • Solutions Journalism Accelerator: The Solutions Journalism Accelerator is an initiative run by the European Journalism Center, partnering with the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) to provide grants, mentoring, coaching, resources and knowledge transfer.

  • ICFJ Platforms: The Global Crisis Reporting Forum provides not just a resource pool consisting of expert journalists but also training, workshops, funds and fellowships to work toward cases.

  • Hostwriter: Hostwriter is a collaboration platform that supports members at all career levels by providing local contacts around the globe. All journalists must provide work samples for professional verification. Membership is free.

Finally, Alagboso recommended journalists participate in upcoming global events and conferences, whether in-person or virtually, as a way to establish and maintain connections, learn from others' experiences and nurture future relationships.


This report was first published by the International Journalists' Network. IJNet, like Global Business Journalism, is a project of the International Center for Journalists.

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