The nuts and bolts of solutions-focused health care journalism

People are increasingly avoiding the news, largely because they say it’s negatively impacting their mood, according to a 2019 Reuters digital news report. There may be a way to change that through solutions journalism, which doesn’t just report on problems; it aims to inform the public about how people and communities are responding to major social issues.

As Julia Hotz with the Solutions Journalism Network noted Tuesday in an AHCJ webcast, editors are on the lookout for pitches with a solutions focus. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, solutions-focused reporting has grown in popularity, said Hotz, a journalist who’s reported solutions stories for multiple publications including The New York Times and The Boston Globe.

The webcast was hosted by Barbara Mantel, AHCJ’s freelance community correspondent. Panelists were Hotz; Meryl Davids Landau, a novelist and freelance journalist; and Sarah Kwon, an independent journalist who covers public health issues and the business of health care.

Hotz defined solutions journalism as rigorous reporting on responses to social problems and their associated results. The stories rely heavily upon quantitative and qualitative data, Hotz said. But it’s important that the stories not be puff pieces. “We want this to be a rigorously reported form of journalism,” Hotz said.

The four key aspects of solutions-focused journalism are:

  • Exploration of a response to a problem and why it exists.
  • Evidence of the impact, looking at effectiveness, not just good intentions.
  • Insights that can help others respond similarly.
  • Limitation or caveats related to the response.

Examples of solutions-focused stories

Landau cited a recent example — an article she wrote that was published in The New York Times about teenage brain development and police interactions. For this solutions-oriented story, she explored how one program is helping police officers understand teenage brain development so they can approach them more appropriately.

Interestingly, the story was published in the Times’ opinion section as solutions stories sometimes are at other publications as well. While Landau felt the story was a success, she said not every solutions story idea she has pitched was given the green light. When it comes to solutions-focused journalism, it’s crucial that you have enough evidence of impact before pitching your story ideas, Landau advised.

For Kwon, understanding the disparities in health care among American Indian populations resulted in her first big solutions story. After attending a webinar hosted by ACHJ on COVID-19’s impact on Native American communities, she realized it was a story she wanted to cover from a solutions perspective. It took several months of in-depth reporting and connecting with various experts and people in the community.

That was a clear takeaway: Solutions stories can take more time because they require a deeper dive, more sourcing and greater analysis. But the results are rewarding, as research demonstrates, because solutions stories engage the public more deeply and have the potential to increase civic engagement.

Tips for pitching solution journalism stories

More useful resources

Watch the webcast for more insight on solutions journalism, including how to successfully report these stories in the health care space.

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