Solutions journalism

03. What is SoJo? /

Solutions journalism meets the standards of journalism and adds other demanding criteria

Solutions journalism is… first of all, journalism. This is obvious, of course. But it’s sometimes good to point out since SoJo is often confused with marketing. Sorry, but no. Reporting on a successful action is not the same as making an advertorial with a single source and a praising portrait of the main protagonist. SoJo obeys the basic rules of journalism (the 5 Ws, the angle, the checks, the second source and so on…), respects the most exacting standards (see the parallel with investigative journalism in episode 7) and adds others to the list.

5 W + 2

As with any journalistic production, SoJo answers fundamental questions, the 5 Ws of Who, What, When, Where and Why. However, it also adds another sometimes (but not always) used by reporters. A question that for a “solutioner” is fundamental and not incidental: how? One of the great pioneers of solutions journalism, Seattle Time investigator Claudia Rowe, used to arrive at an interview “with a list of 60 questions starting with how”. We will see over the course of the episodes why “how” is important. Let’s bear in mind that SoJo is a journalism of detail and action. We need to describe very accurately – meticulously even – how the solution works so that we can duplicate it.

The other important question (which we don’t necessarily ask our respondents, but always have in mind during an investigation) is So what ? So that we don’t just tell good stories. If the solution cannot be replicated, if it is just a success story, the feat of a superhero, it may be an answer to a problem. But it’s not a solution that can be used by everyone.

The four criteria of SoJo

The Solutions Journalism Network has defined four criteria that must be met to conduct a solutions-oriented investigation.

They have the merit of being simple (and few in number), but that doesn’t mean they are easy to achieve!

  1. The solution must be at the heart of the narrative. In other words, while your story may focus on characters, it is their action and the way it works that constitutes the essence of the narrative.
  2. The answer is not enough; it must also be proven to work (or fail). Emphasis is placed on efficiency. Not on intentions.
  3. What are the lessons learned from this solution? What lessons can be learned to replicate it?
  4. What are the limitations of the solution? There is no perfect solution. The journalist must faithfully report the difficulties encountered in implementing the solution.

These criteria do seem restrictive, but they are important for bringing balance to the answers. There is no miracle solution, only honest journalistic work.

Things to think about

  • Have a look at your last ten productions. Which meet the 5 W + 2?
  • If they do, which ones meet all four criteria?
  • For your next topics, can you design an action plan to meet the 5 W + 2 and the four criteria?

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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