Journalists Nerea Lizarralde (center), Aida Solores and Juanma Molinero, during a workshop in Spain.

Passion, patience and listening: Spreading solutions journalism in Spain

Nerea remained silent for a while. “In ten years, when I ask myself and my team what kind of journalism we did and what we accomplished, I would like to be satisfied and proud”, she said to me. She is the executive editor for a local digital outlet in San Sebastian, Spain, and has been thinking for months about how they are approaching their stories, especially after the pandemic. She wants to provide useful and constructive information to the community they serve. “I am worried about our legacy”, she added.

That’s why she brought this conversation into the newsroom and why she joined the first training program in solutions journalism in Spain.

It was easy to convince her to be part of the training program, supported by the SJN LEDE Fellowship, almost as easy as it was with Juanma Molinero. “Half of a second”. That is the time that took him to say yes when he was invited to attend the workshops. He was chosen by his boss because after a 25-year professional career and from his current position as assistant executive editor he would be able “to spread new knowledge to all professionals and to all contents of the newspaper”, according to Eduardo Iribarren, the Executive Editor of Noticias de Gipuzkoa, a Spanish legacy media.

After attending the workshops, Molinero chose three reporters to work with in the newsroom. Six months later, Noticias de Gipuzkoa has started a series about suicide, in which they will explore responses focused con prevention. They also have tried some stories with a solutions approach, and declared to its readers that the newspaper was going to embrace solutions journalism. Today, they already have two stories on the Storytracker and one more is queued for review.

Yet, it has not all been such a smooth process.

During these months I have learned to understand that I have no control over what happens in a newsroom; that a media outlet and its journalists need time to assimilate some changes. Months went by and I didn’t see results, no stories were produced.

“It is difficult for me to find a solutions story to assign to my reporters,” Juanma Molinero admitted to me one day. Together we went through some examples, reviewed their way of working, their meetings, and the type of questions that were being asked. I took advantage of the advice that my colleagues and the SJN team offered me when I shared my concerns with them during one of our monthly calls: show examples, focus on writing a first story, go step by step, be patient and start over.

That is what I am doing with the journalists from Haz Magazine, whom I advise within the European Stars4Media project. After three workshops and the analysis of many examples, I coach them as a co-editor of their stories, I help them to frame their approaches and to meet the sojo requirements. “You help me change my perspective and that makes me very excited,” one of them told me. They are working on six stories that will be ready in December.

During this year not all the reactions have been like those of Nerea Lizarralde or Juanma Molinero. After a talk with the editors of Heraldo de Aragón, one of the biggest regional newspapers in Spain, one of them admitted that solutions journalism systematizes something that journalists sometimes do intuitively. That is a good one, I thought. Then, a colleague asked me: “Do you really, really think we don’t do this type of journalism?”. I offered him a polite answer and said yes, of course, but I felt annoyed by what I felt like a defensive attitude and I did not inquire further into how she felt. I forgot that one of my most important goals is to listen and understand how journalists think, how they view solutions journalism, and which barriers they find so that I can find ways to approach them.

Her reaction was legitimate. My talk had been very general: about the negative bias of the media, the opportunity to balance the news, find out what’s working and why, etc. I used many studies, statistics, and great statements. Big words, an easy-to-buy philosophy… but difficult for them to execute. I was trying to move them with “Why sojo is an opportunity”, but they really needed to see “How they can do it”.

Next month I will meet again with these editors and my approach will be very different. I will start by using their own examples as success stories to build from. I will analyze with them examples of stories and see how other media around the world are applying solutions journalism to get business impact and community engagement.

This year I have participated in around fifty conferences, interviews, round tables, and workshops, in media outlets and in universities. I have trained more than seventy journalists from nine media outlets and I have explained sojo to 200 Journalism students from six journalism schools. Today, I feel that I have sown some seeds, that I have helped spark interest in solutions journalism in Spain, that there are some Spanish journalists among the applicants for the LEDE Fellowship 2022, and that I should celebrate it, as my dear LEDE fellows insist.

I also know that I must continue working on my way of looking at the world and doing journalism. “Dad, you talk a lot about constructive journalism, but at home, you pay attention above all to what we do wrong,” my 14-year-old son, Iñigo, told me a few months ago. He is right. It’s not just about complying with the WHOLE approach when you write a sojo story. I need to pay attention to how I look into myself, to see myself with different eyes, to tell myself in a different way, and to do the same with those people around me and with my community.

This post was published on the Solutions Journalism Network´s blog.

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