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Give your investigation a twist using ‘solution journalism’

By Darian Muka

Panelists David Bornstein, Greg Borowski, Tina Rosenberg and Claudia Rowe spoke about the power of solution journalism during a panel at the 2015 IRE Conference. Dubbed “solution journalism,” positive deviants frame an issue around improvements or best practices.

“The idea is that you’re going to create a lot of awareness and outrage around a topic, but in fact the response to the problem, how people are trying to respond to that problem and the kind of results they're getting is often the stuff that goes under-reported,” said David Bornstein, co-author of the Fixes column in the New York Times and co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network.

Greg Borowski, assistant managing editor of projects and investigations at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, spoke about “Deadly Delays,” a series dealing with cases where newborn blood work was not being screened in an acceptable time frame. A look at a a case of one newborn nearly dying in Wisconsin quickly expanded into a look at hospitals across the country.

Highlighting Iowa, a state with a nearly perfect rate of on-time screenings despite issues such as transportation through snowstorms, showed that other states could fix the problem. This spurred dramatic improvements in the worst preforming hospitals.

Tina Rosenberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and co-author of the Fixes column, stressed that solution journalism can also be the framework for a single story. When most of the traditional stories had already been told, she used solution journalism to tell a story about big pharmaceutical companies’ pressure to not use generic brands during the AIDS epidemic. She looked at Brazil, a country combating that pressure and successfully treating AIDS with generic medication. The result was a complete picture. Her article proved a country could use generic drugs and succeed.

Winner of the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, Claudia Rowe said solution journalism made her readers engage in her series. The Seattle Times’ Education Lab is a yearlong look at how schools are improving in Seattle. Rowe found schools outside the norm that had improved test scores drastically and told their stories.

“There have been a number of responses to this approach in general, because we do these stories pretty much monthly, that have surprised me in terms of impact,” Rowe said. “Not just the sort of traditional kind of impact with reader outrage in a lot of emails, but actual action that I am seeing happen in the legislature and state level, in response to the things that we’re showing in these stories.”

Overall, the panel stressed the need to report what is working and highlight solutions to the issues. It is not necessary to ignore things that are working just to stay objective as a reporter; in fact, not reporting solutions is missing a vital piece of the story. Using the positive deviants can show a path to change, engage the reader and provide a complete look at the issue.


Darian Muka is a recent Temple University graduate hoping to work in the magazine or publishing industry. She writes for the art blog Wallspin and has written for publications such as Familius, Philadelphia Neighborhoods and Fourteenth Street Magazine.

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