SALT LAKE CITY — If you're not familiar with David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg, you should be. They write the Fixes column for the New York Times and are founding members of the Solutions Journalism Network.
Consider this insightful passage from their Nov. 14 column, following the presidential election:
"The election of Donald J. Trump has led to considerable soul searching in the news business, as journalists confront the role we played in his triumph. But the news coverage that helped Trump the most wasn’t about the campaign. It began long before it — decades before his candidacy, in fact. Trump was the beneficiary of a belief — near universal in American journalism — that 'serious news' can essentially be defined as 'what’s going wrong.'"
Part of Trump's success was using that narrative of "what's going wrong" to convince the public that change was needed, even where solutions were present, but not covered. Coupled with the daily drumbeat of coverage of the candidate, and his own unique voice, he was able to win the presidency.
Bornstein was in Salt Lake City Friday and spent time at the Deseret News discussing the progress of the Solutions Journalism Network, and sharing ideas with several writers and editors. The network was founded under the belief that there is a place for "rigorous reporting about how people are responding to problems."
We agree, and are part of the network. If there's a problem, where is the solution? Some examples of past work include "Solving Utah's dismal graduation rate: Two schools may have the answer, or "Homeless 600 nights, woman now has a home to call her own” which details the steps one woman needed to get off the streets.
More recently, our newsroom reporters have worked with KSL on "Breaking the Silence on Suicide," and protecting children from internet predators. Stories have sought to explain the refugee crisis and then offered opportunities to help.
But it's not just the benefit of finding a solution to a single problem that results from this approach. As Bornstein puts it, "'Solutions' sharpen accountability." Reporters, armed with knowledge about successes from other places can then question local lawmakers about their approaches and, perhaps, why they are not promoting programs that work in other places.
In two weeks, as editor of the Deseret News, I will be a contributing member of several panel discussions in Zwolle, Netherlands, to discuss the benefits of "Constructive Journalism" the European term for providing solutions-motivated coverage and how such an approach can help build communities. Bornstein will be there, as well as many others doing great work in Finland, Sweden, Great Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere.
I'll report on the work of the conference here in this column, sharing our ideas and the ideas of other journalists and experts from academia. Journalism is work worth doing. We just have to do it better.