Crime. Corruption. Grime. People say they see too much of this kind of reporting, but often audiences can’t look away. Plus, holding the powerful accountable and uncovering wrongdoing is one of journalists’ most important roles.
On the other hand, people say they want to see good news once in a while. Cute pictures and uplifting stories go viral in an instant, but they’re also seen as fluff, or worse, crossing a line to the “dark side” - PR.
At the same time, trust in news continues to dwindle, a disturbing poll recently finding that 77% of Americans believe responsible journalists report “fake news” at least occasionally.
As RTDNA works to promote and protect journalism and help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives, we’re also exploring what newsrooms can do differently.
Now more than ever, newsrooms must find more ways to demonstrate their credibility, uncover wrongdoing and leave viewers feeling empowered to create positive change in their communities.
“We, as responsible journalists, must be more open to our viewers, listeners, and readers, not just about what we cover but how we cover it and why,” says Executive Director Dan Shelley.
Shelley first urged newsroom managers in October 2017 to ask themselves, “Is your newsroom reporting stories that expose problems in your community, and then following up with stories about potential solutions?”
It’s worth asking again: Is your newsroom telling the whole story?
The RTDNA code of ethics says, "Journalism empowers viewers, listeners and readers to make more informed decisions for themselves; it does not tell people what to believe or how to feel."
Rigorous investigative reporting of responses to social problems takes traditional investigative reporting one step further by framing it differently.
Instead of leaving audiences feeling burnt out by stories uncovering ills, learning about potential solutions can leave community members feeling truly empowered.
Our ethics code also reminds us that every story has more than two sides. Methodical reporting on the shortcomings of social responses ensures solutions stories aren’t relegated to fluff or activism, but rather present an opportunity for the community to improve its social responses.
Solutions-oriented stories focus in-depth on an on-the-ground response to a social problem, starting with problem’s causes and context. They investigate whether the solution is working and how it’s not.
If you’re working on an investigative story uncovering a widespread problem, or a consumer story in which your team helps a specific consumer right a wrong, you have an opportunity to follow up with a solutions piece.
- Who is working to solve this problem?
- Have any nearby or similar communities already solved it?
- Has a new policy or program made some dent in a problem- but not enough?
- Is one organization such as a school or hospital no longer having the same problem others in the area are?
- Is someone in your community approaching a problem in a new way?
It might sound impossible to keep audiences tuned in to stories covering “bad news,” and also tell empowering stories that aren’t fluff pieces, all while working to rebuild trust, but solutions-focused investigative work is one way to do so.
Learn more about how to incorporate solutions reporting into your investigative work here and here so your newsroom can be sure you’re telling the whole story.