Why I'm Building a Solutions-Focused Platform For People in Rio de Janeiro
Do you know what solutions journalism is? It is exactly what it sounds: journalism that reports on solutions. It seems simple, but it is not. We, journalists, spend most of our time looking for problems: crime, corruption, disasters. But we rarely point out solutions for them. Take a quick read on today’s main stories. Now tell me: how do you feel?
Hopeless. This is what I heard from my target audience — residents of Rio aged between 18 and 35 years old. They told me they were sick of turning to local news and finding only stories about crime and corruption. These are important topics, but they just make you feel depressed, they said. Do you want more local news? “No,” my audience begged me.
Local media has been giving them the worst of society, showing them how unscrupulous, racist and selfish human beings can be — especially those in power. Isn’t it what journalists, the watchdogs of society, should be doing? Yes, sure. But why limit our reporting to the problems, not pushing further on the ways to solve them as well?
When reviewing my audience’s answers, one section caught my attention. I asked them what their biggest dream was. “Live in a more equal city,” one reader said. “Living in a less violent city,” noted another. “See my own growth along with positive change in our city,” wrote another one. That was the moment when I turned to solutions journalism. How else could I help my readers achieve their dreams, if not looking for change?
This is what solutions journalism is about: investigating the cause of a problem, and how individuals, governments or organizations are trying to fix it. See this example of how a city is fighting homelessness, or how Uruguay reduced the number of deaths due to unsafe abortions. Also, learn how doctors are responding to soaring drug prices and how a San Francisco clinic is helping opioid addicts.
But these stories don’t attract readers, you may argue. Actually, research has shown that people are more likely to share good news on social media and headlines that suggest a solution receive more engagement. And by the way, millennials are more attracted to news that has social impact.
I’ve recently talked to Justin Auciello, founder of Jersey Shore Hurricane News. He’s been experimenting with Listening Posts: asking readers what their questions or concerns are on a specific topic, and then investigating it. This turned out to be a great tool for finding solutions for the community’s needs, or helping bringing their input to local politicians, as they did with this Facebook Live chat with Brick Mayor John Ducey.
The method is similar to the one developed by Hearken, a tool for newsrooms listen to their audience from pitch to publication. Here, the public votes on which story they want to see published, follows the reporter’s journey investigating it, and finally sees the piece done. It doesn’t necessarily lead to a solution, but it could. Listening to your audience’s needs is the first step toward helping them find a solution for their problems.
This is what my project, Do Rio, aims to do. It will connect Rio’s residents who want to live in a better city, listen to their input, and look for solutions— individuals, organizations or government agencies who are doing, or who could be doing, something to solve their problems. I also plan to inspire action. If we can’t find a solution, why not build it ourselves?
Solutions journalism means giving citizens the information they need to find a way out. And, finally, give them back hope.