Solutions journalism

04. The advantages of SoJo /

Solutions journalism takes time… but earns money, audience and commitment. It’s also bankable.

Data journalism, fact checking, videos, podcasts… the digital transformation of newsrooms has created new formats and new journalistic genres that are time-consuming, but not necessarily profitable. Solutions journalism, with its multiple demands and requirements, does not appear to be a “cushy” type of journalism either.

Except that the intellectually “more comfortable” journalism which essentially consists of chasing news, is not really bankable.

Unlike SoJo which – contrary to popular belief – attracts an audience and commitment.

The solution is viral

In 2010, Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, two marketing researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, made a major discovery that has swept away decades of journalistic dogma. Readers are not more attracted to negative information. And no, they don’t find it easier to recall. To arrive at this conclusion, the two researchers studied 7,000 articles published by the New York Times. The study is thorough and complex. First of all, it emerged that the articles most shared and appreciated were those that aroused emotion. Beware! Not necessarily positive emotion, anger or fear are also very viral feelings. This has been seen time and time again, from the “yellow vests” movement in France to the anti-maskers in the US, and all shades of conspiracy in between.

But it also emerges from the work of the two researchers that positive, and above all practical, articles achieved the same scores.

The study’s results received a great deal of attention in the American media, and then in Europe, prompting many people to take up vocations in the field. The Huffington Post has launched a good news section and the Washington Post has designed a newsletter “The Optimist” still in existence at the end of 2020 (and which is fascinating).

Other studies since have reinforced the trends observed by the two marketing researchers, such as “The Power of Solutions Journalism” conducted by the SJN which shows that solutions coverage promotes reader engagement compared to comparable articles without solutions. The SoJo reader wants to know more about the subject, share the article and read other topics in the same media.

“Good news is good business”

Provided it is well done, SoJo is in fact a formidable lever for growth. It is no coincidence that the SoJo sections of the mainstream media continue to exist after many years.

The most conclusive experiment is probably the one by French regional daily Nice Matin. From the very first year, online subscriptions increased by 50%. After three years of experience, here are the results as summarised by Nice Matin’s digital manager Damien Allemand, in an article on Medium:

  • More than 600% increase in the number of subscribers in 3 years
  • Attrition rate reduced by a factor of 3
  • Nearly 15 million views of videos on Facebook (the top 10 Nice-Matin videos include 6 “Solutions” videos)
  • An average reading time close to 7 minutes (compared to 2 mins for other articles)
  • A subscription conversion rate higher than any other vertical

We’ll come back to Nice Matin and its winning method in episode 11.

Clicks and SEO

Hélène Doubidji is the director of TogoTopNews in Lomé. She has set up a section called “Solution & Solidarity” on her news site which stands out in a national (and sub-regional) media landscape that is very much focused on politics and facts. And it works! These solutions-oriented articles use both text and photos to report and require time in the field, and they generate clicks, shares on social networks and comments. The articles that appear in this section are regularly at the top of monthly traffic. What’s more, “these are cold topic articles that provide regular traffic,” highlights Hélène Doubidji.

Facebook is kind to SoJo and positive news in general. Google too. When things are going badly, we look for things that are doing better. All you have to do is look at the most telling indicators on Google Trends. In the French-speaking world, the occurrence of “bonnes nouvelles”, good news in English, went off the charts after the first coronavirus-related death and its progression accelerated as soon as the first lockdown was announced.

Something to think about

  • Is there space in your media for constructive news in the broadest sense: good news, initiatives, role models and/or SoJo in the strict sense?
  • Try to treat the same subject from two different angles. A dramatic angle and a solutions-oriented perspective. Publish and see what works best on social networks and Google.


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