Against a backdrop of COVID-19 and the indictment of the news media as bearers of only bad news, we had a conversation with Nina Fasciaux, Solutions Journalism Network manager for Europe.
We ask her about the difference a solutions journalism approach could make to the reporting of the pandemic, and disasters in general. We discuss solutions journalism in the context of shrinking media freedom and the upcoming UNDRR-sponsored webinars on solutions journalism – including one for journalists in Africa.
Solutions journalism – how different is it from what has been traditionally practiced?
Well, solutions journalism is reporting on effective responses to global problems. So, I guess there is a tradition in journalism to look at what’s broken – what’s not working – and to highlight problems. This is needed and we are not saying this should not be continued. But i think for the information to be complete and accurate, we also need to hear about the possible responses to these problems so that it helps people in power, citizens and organizations make the right decisions.
During the pandemic, broadcast media especially has been blamed for spreading hopelessness, even though the reporting may be factual. What’s your view on this? And what does solutions journalism look like when reporting on COVID-19?
One of the first things to be clarified is that solutions journalism should be factual. So, you should also look at data to find out what is really working and it should be rigorous – it’s not about promoting one solution or response over another – it really is looking at factually what is working.
It is true that broadcasters [can be negative]. If you look at our solutions story tracker, which is a database of 8,000 solution stories, we have only about 300 broadcast stories. But I think this is changing. The challenges for broadcasters when doing solutions journalism are different because of time constraints and technical constraints, but it does exist.
On COVID-19 specifically, we have 850 solution stories and 42 are from broadcast news or broadcast programmes and it’s still moving. So we have fewer stories coming from broadcast but they do exist. If you look at TV news, they have a big responsibility when it comes to sharing only negative content, something that is too biased because it is too negative.
If you look at the stories that I just mentioned, there are stories in French from France TV about a prison, the biggest prison in Europe, it’s called Fleury-Mérogis. They have found a way to contain the virus inside the prison and there is a really good story about it. We also have one story coming from a broadcast TV station about how Uganda – which is more used to epidemics – was more prepared to deal with the pandemic, so you can actually find these stories .
How is solutions journalism relevant to disaster reporting?
It is relevant because you have these huge global problems. Disaster risks can be earthquakes or hurricanes or pandemics and there are some countries that seem to be dealing with these problems better than others , so I have one Radio piece from the BBC, it’s about 20 minutes, about how Cuba is dealing better with hurricanes and then there’s this piece from Tina Rosenberg the cofounder of solutions journalism Network, which was published in the New York Times about how Bangladesh last July implemented successfully the prevention programme and identified 5, 000 most vulnerable families in Bangladesh and they could help them ahead of the floods.
So it’s particularly relevant when you can learn lessons from an earlier disaster or earlier crisis and also see during a crisis what’s working in different parts of the world , because if you take COVID-19 we are all confronted by the same problem right now and countries are taking different decisions and some programmes or some policies seem to be working better than others so it’s really about what we can learn from each other when it comes to disasters which are really global issues.
Journalism without fear or favour, a concept so relevant at a time when holding the powerful to account, is more necessary than ever. Perhaps the highest number of journalists in history are working in high risk environments. How does solutions journalism apply to our colleagues operating in such environments?
Well, I think the first thing I want to say is that solutions journalism is not the silver bullet to all the problems of journalism. It is one response to one problem of journalism which is too much negativity which leads to a desire by the communities to disengage, so I do not want to tell you that solution stories will solve all journalism’s problems. And I think in what you are mentioning you have even more problems if you are doing investigative journalism or environmental stories, so the problem that you are facing are the same when you are doing all these types of journalism. I guess when you do solutions journalism in contexts like that you have to be really careful about promoting responses because sometimes they can be responses coming from government and you don’t want to sound like you are doing propaganda for them, so really being cautious in regards to what’s really working, what’s not working , what part of the problem the solution is trying to address and what are the limits. Just extra careful in these countries.
What do you hope to achieve with the webinars and workshops on solutions journalism?
So we have four UNDRR trainings; one in Peru, one in Nairobi, one in Panama and one in Bangkok and I think we have a good diversity of profiles there; we have broadcast journalists, radio and print. What we really want to discuss during these workshops first of all is what is solutions journalism? We have the solutions journalism network which came up with 4 criteria to make sure that when you report on solutions to a problem it is balanced and rigorous. So, we will discuss these criteria, look at stories – good examples and best practice and explain when you are in COVID-19 or earthquake or flooding – what do you need to be aware of when reporting on responses and also we will discuss different strategies and give tips to apply to these kinds of reporting and we have for each region a 30 minute Q&A with the journalists like you specialized in Disaster Risk Reduction and then it’s going to be followed by another session two weeks after the first one when we’ll really discuss the story ideas and help the journalists map out the stories and if they have any questions especially questions about the process of reporting we will try to answer and show them and also list maybe the interview questions, discuss what’s different when you are preparing an interview for solutions stories and other traditional journalism. So, this is really designed to help journalists that want to participate, be ready to practice solutions journalism. After two weeks we want them to have the concrete tools to apply to their work.