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Solutions journalism: A solution for journalism's community disconnect?

by: Michele McLellan |

For journalists seeking to unlock the puzzle of reader engagement and loyalty in the crowded digital news landscape, a new report suggests the practice of solutions journalism may offer one path.

Engaging Communities Through Solutions Journalism,” released Thursday by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University details responses of Hispanic and African American residents of South Los Angeles to a news story that looked at how local organizers were turning vacant lots into play areas, as opposed to a more conventional news story that simply described the problem of vacant lots.

The study convened 48 residents in six focus groups – three made up of Hispanics and three of African-Americans. Four groups initially read and discussed the solutions story while two focused on the conventional story. 

Most of the panelists “suggested they would be more likely to read or watch solutions-oriented stories if given the opportunity” and to discuss it with friends and family, the Tow Center report said.

“It offers more of a platform not just to discuss it, but … to tell how we can get involved to try to change it or trying to make something different,” one panelist said.

Panelists also said one story would have much impact. They suggested follow-ups that incorporated community input, according to the report.

Their reactions to the solutions-oriented story contrasted with their perceptions about news coverage of their communities. The study said the residents expressed deep dissatisfaction with news coverage, saying it harmed and stigmatized their communities.

Their strategies for avoiding negative coverage included relying on ethnic media and alternative weeklies or using the internet to look for more trustworthy coverage.

That is an ominous note for mainstream local news organizations that will need a greater degree of reader engagement and loyalty – not to mention trust – if they are going to survive.

It suggests that one path is adopt a goal that their coverage try to help their readers understand community strengths and challenges so they act in the interest of their communities. Isn’t that what journalism has been about all along?


Michele McLellan

Michele McLellan is a writer, editor and consultant who works on projects that help strengthen the emerging local news ecosystem,
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