Spotlight Exclusives

Listening for Good News: The Solutions Story Tracker

Katherine Noble-Goodman Katherine Noble-Goodman, posted on

The financial collapse of American print journalism during the digital age, particularly at the local level, has meant lost jobs for tens of thousands of journalists and a wrenching transition for the entire industry. But this era of turmoil has also brought much-needed innovation to the field, and the Solutions Journalism Network has been one of those breaths of fresh air. Focused on journalism that points to solutions rather than simply dwelling on societal problems. SJN has spurred a movement that has inspired newsrooms across the country. Spotlight has been a proud partner with SJN in recent years and also is delighted to be one of the sites chosen to test a new audio feature, Solutions Story Tracker, which features weekly audio clips of new stories centered around economic mobility. Each segment offers a 45-second clip of story highlights or a brief interview with the journalist behind the story. SJN Partnerships Manager Katherine Noble-Goodman spoke with Spotlight recently about the new feature; the conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

I’m sure many of our readers are familiar with Solutions Journalism Network, but for those who aren’t, give us a quick overview:

The Solutions Journalism Network has been around for eight or nine years now, and our mission is to transform journalism so that all people have access to news that helps them envision and build a more equitable and sustainable world. It was founded in response to lots of different trends in journalism that have to do with the cutbacks at local papers and in daily news and the extreme negativity in the media, and it is aimed at getting journalism back to the role that it can and should play in society—which is to keep people informed about what’s happening in their communities; not just the problems but also who is doing what to solve them. At the Solutions Journalism Network, our view is that solutions journalism tells the whole story — not just what’s broken or what’s not working, but also how are people responding to make the world a better place.

It’s hard to believe the organization has been around for that long—but it’s still a relatively short time in which solutions journalism has become an accepted and important part of the field.

That’s true and there are more and more newsrooms doing solutions journalism. We know that readers and listeners and viewers are more engaged and interested in stories that focus, at least in part, on responses to social and environmental challenges. There’s a corollary to solutions journalism in Europe called constructive journalism, and that speaks to the very broad need for not just good news—not fluff pieces—but in-depth investigative reporting about responses to some of our most challenging social and environmental problems.

That is often a fallacy people have about it—that it has to be purely positive. That’s often not the case.

Some of the best solutions journalism stories are what we call learning through failure. This was tried, here’s what happened, here’s what didn’t work, and here’s what we can learn from that. No, it is not fluff or PR or good news. It’s serious journalism about solutions.

We’ve loved partnering with you over the past few years, but tell us about this new audio feature that you’re rolling out, which we’re again pleased to be part of.

We’re really pleased to have Spotlight as a partner in the Economic Mobility Solutions Journalism Feed. The feed is like a “jukebox” of stories, updated each week with four, 30 to 40 second audio clips of two people having a quick conversation about a solutions story, and one longer segment with the journalist who wrote the story. The idea is to highlight something particularly interesting about the story, maybe give some context that didn’t make it into the story that might be of interest to the listener, and to do that in a light-hearted, fun way. Research indicates that audio is a compelling and engaging format for news consumers – we see that in the popularity of podcasts for example — and we wanted to explore this with something shorter.  We’re piloting this widget in three different areas — democracy in action, climate solutions and then the one that you’re participating in – economic mobility.

And those are all areas where there is a lot of distrust of the media as a messenger. Was that deliberate?

Solutions reporting is important on all issues, but in these three areas in particular, if we don’t shift the conversation toward solutions in a way that helps move solutions forward quickly, we’re really in trouble. These are huge societal challenges – poverty and inequality, climate change, and democratic institutions and processes — and if people only hear about what’s not working, what’s broken, then even passionate, committed individuals can get discouraged and turn away. Solutions journalism can help do the opposite; it shows people that change is possible, and that knowledge – knowing what others are doing to solve a particular problem — can motivate us to take action ourselves.  It gives us something called “constructive hope.”

What have you found that people like about audio journalism?

We have a project with Google where you can say to your Google Assistant, “Hey Google, Tell Me Something Good” and it responds with an audio clip of Jay Woodward and Julia Hotz discussing a story. I love asking people to give it a try because I get to watch their faces the first time they hear Jay and Julia, who have great voices for this and who often weave in a joke or two.   Inevitably, the person’s face lights up, they crack a smile, and they do it again. It’s fun and it’s engaging, and we think it’s a great way to introduce folks to solutions journalism.

They will also be doing the stories that will be featured on the new widget?

That’s correct.

SJN is also doing journalism training in these three areas as well?

Yes, these three areas — democracy, economic mobility, and climate change– are also areas where SJN trains and supports journalists in doing this type of reporting, and in encouraging newsrooms to devote resources to solutions journalism. In our economic mobility initiative, for example, we train journalists in how to depart from the traditional narratives surrounding poverty and instead explore promising responses in areas like transportation, housing, racism, and access to education and family care. We’re wanting to highlight some of the stories that come out of our work with journalists, both to increase the impact of the stories beyond when they were first published, and to make more people aware of solutions journalism so that they will seek it out and add it to their media diets.

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