Solutions journalism

02. Why do solutions journalism? /

Because journalism is not just about problems

“If it bleeds, it leads”. This adage maintained by the English-language media has long been regarded as a dogma by editorial offices around the world. If it leads, it bleeds… and will make the front page. The dramatisation of current events has been a constant and enduring feature of the press since its origins. Admittedly, what’s considered newsworthy defers to several laws relating to time, proximity and understanding… but first and foremost, tragedy takes precedence. A spectacular accident, a murderous attack or a gruesome news story will all make the headlines. A factory that closes and makes 500 people redundant always occupies more media space than 50 companies that each hire 10 new employees.

It’s human.

And it’s inhumane.

The accumulation of depressing news depresses even the most optimistic.

Bad news grips us in its terror

This “dazed stupor” as French psychiatrist Patrick Lemoine puts it in his book “Le Mystère du Nocébo” (Odile Jacob 2011) becomes “a sort of autosuggestion technique in reverse”. In other words, the daily litany of disasters rehashed by social networks, radio stations and news channels eventually persuades us all that things are not going to get any better, that the world is out of control and the worst is still to come. And above all, there’s nothing we can do about it. This is what American psychologist Martin Steligman describes as “learned helplessness”, a lasting feeling of powerlessness among individuals bludgeoned by negative messages or situations.

So much so that some psychologists now advise their patients to stop listening to the news. “Attention is a rare resource,” explains Franco-Brazilian psychoanalyst Edileuza Gallet. Getting bogged down by the negative fills us with negativity. And it has a terrible impact on our mental health. My first piece of advice for getting better is often, “Stop listening to the news. Switch off the radio. Eat your breakfast in silence. Stop it all and you’ll feel much better”.

What is harmful to readers eventually becomes harmful to the media. Alarmist headlines give us a good dose of adrenaline… but make our audiences vanish into thin air. The Reuters Institute conducted a survey in around 40 countries in 2019 and the results are worrying. One in three respondents regularly avoids the news: 58% because it puts them in a bad mood; 40% because it makes them feel helpless.

Readers want solutions

Journalism is regularly ranked among the top most unpopular professions, alongside politicians and insurance agents. We are criticized for making too much of the pandemic, for not dealing with real people’s problems or relaying the words of the experts. And in the end, the audience is either compromised by information overload or tired of negative news. So, what should be done?

The BBC asked young people aged under 35 around the world. (BBC and NextGen study at the Difitak Network Meeting 2015). Two thirds of those asked wanted, “news that provides solutions to problems and doesn’t just report some problems”. This desire for SoJo has reached 75% of young Indians, 78% of Nigerians or 82% of Kenyans.

The public is not crazy. It knows what it needs. There is an appetite for constructive and positive news. And journalists are finally realising it too.

Journalists need alternatives

It is striking when discussing solutions with solutions-oriented journalists that many had long been experts on problems. Leading reporters, investigative journalists, war reporters, news presenters… for years, they had been exposed to the misery of the world and the dark side of humanity. With a feeling of powerlessness mixed in with voyeurism.

When we finally realise that our mission – which we imagined to be pure, noble and always on the side of good – has a mostly negative impact on the people who are exposed to it, there comes a time of self-reckoning.

This is what happened to Sophie Roland, a journalist for France Télévisions who carried out numerous investigations for Envoyé Spécial and Cash investigation. Investigations to expose scandals. This is the very concept of the French TV show Cash investigation. As a journalist, you don’t necessarily come out of it unscathed. “It depressed me to depress people,” explains Sophie. And it depressed me to spend all my time pointing the finger.  It really got to me”.

Sophie Roland found her cure… by buying a ticket to Utah (USA), to attend a seminar with the Solutions Journalism Network. “Once there, I asked all the questions I had and I got all the answers. I was totally sold and just felt full of pep again!” Today, Sophie works with the SJN to train France Télévisions teams and set up SoJo concepts (see episode 11).

Former deputy editor-in-chief of the Swiss daily Le Temps, Jean Abbiateci also wanted to escape from an “anxyogenic and divisive spiral”. “I wanted to get out of a place we have no control over,” he asserts. That’s how Jean Abbiateci created the bulletin, an innovative and amazing newsletter to “show what works” (see episode 9).

SoJo is not only a solution for journalism. It’s also a solution for journalists…

Something to think about

  • Discuss with your friends, family and neighbours… How many no longer watch the news? Or as little as possible. Ask them why.
  • Are you able to disconnect from the news for more than 48 hours? If not, ask yourself why.
  • Have you ever felt downhearted after a report, an investigation or a news story… Can you imagine a different angle than the one you opted for at the time?


A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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