Solutions journalism

09. SoJo online (and in print) /

Solutions journalism has fully blossomed in the digital world and in the digital versions of press titles  

Over the years, print and then web publications have multiplied throughout the world. More than 10,000 SoJo off and online articles can be found on the SJN website alone. Go and take a look, it’s pretty impressive.

In French language on and offline press, many now have at least one SoJo section:

  • “Les solutions pour la Planète” by Le Monde and its newsletter “le fil good”.
  • The “Demain” section of Le Figaro.
  • Le Libé des solutions, a special issue of the daily newspaper Libération which has been published around 2 January every year since 2014 (and is still one of the bestsellers of the year).

There are also many sites and magazines dealing in constructive journalism. Here’s a few:

  • Usbek & Rica, a forward-looking media that gives plenty of space to futuristic SoJo.
  • The “alternatives” by Reporterre, a daily about ecology.
  • The website, a fun, buzz-generating version of constructive journalism.
  • The WeDemain magazine, SoJo from a technological and ecological viewpoint.
  • The SoJo dossiers on the Swiss website news and in particular its “Onze solutions africaines pour le monde d’après”, eleven African solutions for the future world, in English.
  • The local investigative media MédiaCités puts the spotlight on solutions.

However, two media stand out in their commitment to solutions journalism, The Guardian and Nice Matin.

The Guardian‘s glass half full

“News journalism is looking for clouds on a sunny day,” says Mark Rice-Oxley. He has long been a leading reporter and investigative journalist for the famous British daily newspaper. But in 2016, after the results of a survey of readers who criticised the media for only seeing the news as a glass half empty, he created the “Half Full” section. “This column met a demand from our audience for this type of journalism”. In other words, positive and “fluffy” news, as Rice-Oxley would put it.

Then in 2018, the section changed its name to “Upside” and incorporated more comprehensive, deeper and highly varied articles.

An in-depth survey of oil sector workers who chose to convert to renewable energies is accompanied by an article which proves, by means of animated maps, that the world has been doing better for 70 years in terms of health, education and so on. There are also detailed analyses of scientific advances such as “Spreading rock dust on fields could remove vast amounts of CO2 from air”. Remember, this is The Guardian, not the Sun. But more fun reviews of the week’s feel-good news are also on the agenda. In short, this section is also an ecosystem that influences the newspaper’s general tone…

Nice Matin‘s successful gamble

Founded after the Second World War, Nice Matin was (largely) saved by SoJo. In 2014, following a decision by the Commercial Courts, the newspaper was taken over by its employees with the help of a community of readers. The question then arose for digital manager Damien Allemand and consultant journalist and concept creator Benoit Raphaël, what type of content would make readers subscribe?

And the answer was: content with meaning.

Solutions journalism was the obvious choice. And after five years running, the results are very conclusive (see episode 4). So, what’s their secret? It breaks down into 5 points.

  • A team. And a big team at that. You need plenty of people to conduct investigations and produce reports. Initially, there were ten journalists, financed by the “Google Initiative” fund. After this funding, the team was reduced to four and then went back up to six thanks to the success of the concept. Each journalist has specific skills: a former Italy correspondent to produce comparative reports on the other side of the border, a data journalist, a videographer, etc.
  • A way of treating news. Like other digital media adept at slow journalism, Nice Matin has chosen to soap opera its investigations. This means the same dossier can be treated in multiple ways and from different angles. The investigations are sequenced in several episodes to unfold a story and get to the bottom of the issue. The problem is presented with all the data. Solutions are addressed in their plurality. The advantage is that responses can be nuanced. “We don’t like the simplistic, lesson-giving attitude,” explains Aurore Malval, a journalist with the Nice Matin SoJo team.

For example, during a series on an agricultural crisis that saw the number of farmers divided by 10 in 30 years (narration in dataviz format), the Solutions team told how citizens are buying land to set up market gardeners (in video), how farmers are moving on to become bakers, which new grape variety is saving winemakers, why Italy has become the European country with the most young farmers, and so on.

  1. A horizontal approach. Readers choose the theme of the month by voting. They are often the first questioned at the start of an investigation. And they are given all the secrets of the investigation in a specific section.
  2. A web/print relationship. The service is primarily designed for the web. But articles are also included in the printed newspaper, most often at weekends, sometimes on the front page plus a double-page spread.
  3. A follow-up. There’s a genuine “let’s take another look” section. “So we don’t leave our solutions without a fact check,” explains Aurore Malval. We realise that a solution can very often lead to new problems. We didn’t want to have a Manichean vision of the world”.

Don’t forget newsletters!

Nice Matin offers a solutions newsletter that sets a more intimate tone with the community of readers. Other media offer inspiration too.

  • Starting with the free, daily “20 minutes” aimed at commuters in France, and its keep positive newsletter “Restez positifs avec nous”, a well thought-out and constantly evolving compilation of good news, SoJo and initiatives proposed by the readers.
  • The Optimist by the Washington Post offers a very substantial menu twice a week where great feel-good stories alternate with practical lists of advice, psychology research papers, unusual initiatives, inspiring role models and Joso articles that encompass all of this!
  • Last but not least, les bonnes infos by Bulletin, a pure player made up entirely of a newsletter. This weekly newsletter balances its content between explanatory and constructive journalism, and returns to the most anxyogenic news of the week to find an angle that gives reason for hope. “I wanted to make a little mag for mobile, an end product in a world of flux,” explains Bulletin founder Jean Abbiateci, former deputy editor-in-chief at Le Temps and in Switzerland.

Finally, the Collectif Antidotes newsletter is a veritable monthly press review of SoJo articles.

Something to think about before getting started

  • Do you have an idea for a subject? Imagine it as a series. Tell it like a soap opera with all the possible angles and treatments: analysis, data, survey, comparative report, expert interview, user guide, etc…
  • Think image, think tutorials. Even a short explanatory video is a plus in an online SoJo article.
  • What’s your relationship with your audience? Have you already reached out to your readers? Do you conduct regular surveys to find out what they expect, want and need? If you don’t, it’s time to get to it…

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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