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Solutions Oriented Journalism Study

“In local news the only thing they report on are bad things, only negative things …they are not showing us how to change the community.”

-South Los Angeles focus group discussion participants

January 15, 2016

Just before the holiday break, USC researchers Andrea Wenzel, Evelyn Moreno, and Daniela Gerson, worked in  conjunction with the University of Southern California’s Metamorphosis Project, led by Dr. Sandra Ball-Rokeach, to explore how South Los Angeles residents process stories about their neighborhoods, and whether the processing of the stories would vary depending on whether those stories are negative or take an approach called solutions-oriented journalism.

Solutions-oriented journalism highlights responses to social problems. These stories are not just bad news, nor are they just good news. The strongest stories look at social problems and explore the underlying reasons for the problems, and critically examine efforts to address them.

Preliminary research by the Solutions Journalism Network and the Engaging News Project showed readers of solutions oriented versions of stories were more likely than readers of traditional versions of the stories to want to seek out similar stories, share them on social media, and get involved in responses to problems.

Most research to date has focused on audiences of national and international news. Our project sought to ask how solutions journalism would be received at the local level—at which community members learn about issues closest to home, and have the greatest chance of effecting change. We also wanted to understand how such coverage would be processed by residents of a community with a long history of negative media coverage—South Los Angeles.

This project follows an attempt by the Metamorphosis Project to strengthen the South L.A. storytelling network in two ways: 1) bringing community organizations together with local and ethnic media to produce a series of stories leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots, and 2) ensuring that these stories were solutions-oriented.

We wanted to understand how South L.A. audiences responded to the stories that came out of this collaboration, and better understand how residents would process the solutions journalism format more broadly. With the support of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia, we have conducted a series of six focus group discussions with a total of 48 African American and Latino South L.A. residents. Participants were recruited with the assistance of Coalition for Responsible Community Development, Community Services Unlimited, and Esperanza Community Housing. Participants were invited to read either a solutions or non-solutions versions of a story adapted from our Watts Revisited collaboration. While both stories examined the issue of vacant lots and the lack of outdoor spaces for children to play in South L.A., only the solutions-version of the story looked at efforts to transform vacant lots into parks.   Moderators, who were themselves Los Angeles natives and who shared participants’ ethnic background, then led discussions of attitudes and behaviors regarding local news and these particular stories.

The focus group participants offered insights into how residents of a stigmatized community navigate and interpret local coverage, and the opportunities and limitations of solutions journalism to engage these audiences. We will be releasing a full report with lessons learned and next steps in late January, but our preliminary findings include:

  • Participants largely responded favorably to the problem-solving orientation of solutions journalism. “News needs to be an actual participant in what’s happening rather than just reporting on it…” one said. “It needs to be a part of the change.” But enthusiasm was tempered by concerns with the larger context of systemic inequality.
  • Participants described how given their distrust, particularly of local television, they valued online news and social media as a way to cross-check stories and seek alternative community information: “I don’t like to watch that much TV because I know that if I go into the internet I will find more veracity.”
  • Participants reported they would be more likely seek out news and share stories with friends and family if solutions-oriented stories were more common.


Look out for the full report for lessons learned and next steps in a few weeks


In the meantime, please read the original solutions oriented story here.


Would you be likelier to read solutions oriented stories like this one?


Do you think having more stories like this would change anything?