How solutions journalism and investigative work together
Investigative journalist and University of Oregon assistant professor Brent Walth once asked a journalist to report on what could be done about opioid deaths in the city of Portland, Oregon. He said the piece effectively showed there was a way to reduce deaths in our community and asked why it wasn't happening. The result? State lawmakers changed the law to allow Narcan, a drug that can prevent overdoses, to be more widely used. 

I myself didn’t go to journalism school. For too long I took for granted that the power of reporting, and particularly investigative work, was straightforward. Produce a story about something going wrong. Enough or the right people will see it. And then things will change, for the better. 

Yet it became clear to me that this theory of change is flawed. Instead, what if people were shown what demonstrably works? Would that make a positive difference?

One of the hypotheses I track as the Impact Manager at SJN is that solutions journalism can lead to accountability. This is not a given and how it happens can be circuitous and differ from one story to the next. But we have some evidence to show reporting on responses can lead to this kind of impact.

Today we bring you a project and stories that held power to account by showcasing who’s doing better, paving the way for policy changes, in addition to the video above of Brent speaking about the meeting of investigative journalism and solutions journalism.

— Alec Saelens
SJN impact manager

Has your response-focused reporting led to increased accountability or change? Tell us by filling out our impact tracker.

Call to action: Advocates push NCAA schools to ban violent athletes - Kenny Jacoby, USA Today Network

This series from the USA Today Network exposed a “predator pipeline” in which athletes suspended or expelled for sexual assault at one college were accepted at other institutions. Two colleges immediately pledged to change how they vet athletes who seek transfers and adopted policies similar those featured in the solutions story in the series (linked above), and members of Congress issued a bipartisan call for an independent study of NCAA policies. 

Louisiana cities are doing what they can to both save small businesses and keep people in their homes - Christiaan Mader, The Current

The Current influenced policy in Lafayette, Louisiana, with a solutions journalism story showing how other jurisdictions in the state were allocating part of their CARES Act relief money to housing assistance. Eventually, parish leaders redirected $200,000 of its housing funds to help vulnerable people pay for rent, mortgages and shelter assistance.


How Rochester responded to its lead poisoning problem - Rachel Dissell and Brie Zeltner, The Plain Dealer

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland tackled childhood lead poisoning in its city with a solutions-focused look at how other cities were doing a better job. Most recently, in July 2019, the Cleveland City Council passed a landmark law requiring any property built before 1978 to be certified as lead-free before it can be rented.

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