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Maribel López and her family wait in line to receive vaccinations at Casa del Migrante, just south of the Mexico border. About 120 people were given a variety of shots at a one-day clinic last month. (Photo by Delia Johnson/Cronkite News)
By Lisa Diethelm
Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, has published more than 50 solutions-based stories with the Solutions Stories Tracker -- the most of any school in the country.
The Solutions Stories Tracker, from the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), pulls media from more than 1,000 outlets in 181 countries that find new ways to address social problems. According to the tracker, 53 stories published in Cronkite News –including projects by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, and other Cronkite programs and classes
– have focused on solutions journalism, with topics ranging from public health and the pandemic to homelessness, immigration and more.
Christina Leonard, executive editor at Cronkite News, said the news outlet’s success with publishing solutions-based stories stems from Cronkite students fulfilling their role as journalists, and finding other ways to tell stories instead of reporting only problems.
“There are so many people out in communities, in government and at universities who are trying to tackle these issues,” Leonard said. “It's really important for us to go find those stories, educate communities and see if some of those solutions will work for them.”
Solutions journalism, according to the SJN, focuses on responses to problems and provides insight on how the response works. Cronkite Interim Dean Kristin Gilger said solutions journalism also requires intensive and time-consuming reporting.
“A misconception about solutions journalism is that it's sort of ‘feel good journalism,’ and that really is not true. Solutions journalism tackles really complex, difficult societal issues and does deep reporting,” Gilger said.
The teaching of solutions journalism at the Cronkite School started in 2016, when the school became one of the first journalism schools to embrace it and teach it to undergraduates. Gilger championed the effort of integrating solutions journalism into intermediate reporting classes after attending a summit in November 2015 at the SJN’s New York City headquarters.
Maureen West, editor-in-residence at the Cronkite School, an assistant editor on the Carnegie-Knight News21 multimedia investigative project and a lecturer, led the effort to teach solutions-based journalism to intermediate reporting classes, and, along with other professors, encouraged students to complete a final enterprise story about a solution.
According to West, the development of solutions journalism has come a long way at the Cronkite School, as both students and faculty members participate in lectures, training and workshops.
“We describe SJ as another tool in the toolbox – another way to approach a story,” West said. “It’s not watchdog journalism, but more like guide dog journalism – guiding readers to efforts that are designed, even in small ways, to combat societal problems.”
Leonard said Cronkite News does not require students to meet any quotas when reporting on solutions journalism. Instead, students are encouraged and supported in reporting on both the problems and the solutions.
“Some students will go on to become reporters and others won't. But I think that no matter what students end up doing, learning the discipline that is required to do this kind of reporting will be useful to them,” Gilger said. “It's research. It's really getting all of your facts and information and casting a wide net. And that can be useful no matter what you do.”