What people believe is largely determined by the information they consume.
People are bombarded with a wide range of information on TV, the internet and grocery checkout aisles. They also receive information from friends, coworkers and the clergy.
The blizzard of information we experience seems oddly inconsistent with proclamations we now live in a post-truth era, increasingly influenced by fake news – and claims of fake news. In the past, we had differing points of view; now we face a fundamental disagreement on basic facts – from the size of a crowd to signs of perilous climate change.
This state of affairs has led many in the news media to reflect on their performance. Have media outlets surrendered objectivity to reinforcing partisan perspectives? Are ratings and clicks driving news agendas? Will shrunken news staffs focus on “breaking news” at the expense of more time-consuming trend stories and investigative reports?
Allison Frost, a senior producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting, has asked an even more probing question – is there a role for journalists to point out solutions to serious and often chronic problems? In her piece posted on Medium and titled, “I practice solutions journalism,” Frost says the answer is yes.
“I practice solutions journalism because: Our job as journalists is to cover what’s happening in the world, and we are largely only covering the things that are falling apart, broken, murderous, horrific,” Frost writes. “Those things are true, they are. But there are other things that are also true.”
Those ‘other things’ include covering “the people who are envisioning and contributing to solving problems.” “We’re socially and biologically programmed to attend to problems, but we need to attend to the responses to those problems in order to solve these problems – as community, as a state, a country, a planet,” according to Frost.
The news media, Frost believes, can help by telling the stories of problem-solvers. “If we don’t cover what’s possible, the alternatives and responses to the daily conflict, death and destruction, who will?”
Stories about problem-solvers and solutions can at once be informative and inspirational. They can be an antidote to alienation and frustration. They can be a respite from an unremitting series of stories about mass shootings, public corruption and persistent poverty. “I do not kid myself,” Frost admits, “that the problems will all go away and there will be no more problems or conflicts to cover.”
As pessimism feeds on itself, so does hope. Solutions journalism is one way the news media can break out of its cycle of bad news and publish stories that fuel some optimism.
Frost included in her post a link to the Solutions Story Tracker™, which features almost 3,400 solutions journalism stories reporting on responses to social problems. They were produced by more than 600 separate news outlets from 135 countries. The database continues to grow. If you despair from all that bad news, check out the Story Tracker and realize there are people trying to make things better.