By Enoch Sithole: Solutions journalism is now being taught in Nigeria, thanks to Crescent University lecturer and researcher, Jamiu Folarin, who introduced models on the subject some two years ago.
After developing an interest in this approach to journalism, Folarin took up a fellowship with the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) in 2021, determined to bring the initiative to Nigerian academia and newsrooms.
“As you know, our approach to what is called ‘news value’, the factors that determine newsworthiness in Africa, basically, we teach our students that conflicts, the negative is what determines what is newsworthy,” said Folarin in an interview with Ajenda.
After the fellowship, Folarin introduced the teaching of solutions journalism by exposing his students to the concept and doing analysis of various related concepts. “We expose them to the four elements of solutions journalism, which are response, insight, evidence and limitations.
According to the SJN website, solutions journalism is about “rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems, which includes these key elements of focusing on responding to social problems and “how that response has worked, or why it hasn’t”.
This type of journalism “shows what can be learned from a response and why it matters to a newsroom’s audience” says the website, adding that it also “provides data or qualitative results that indicate effectiveness (or lack thereof)”.
Solutions journalism also places responses in context and doesn’t shy away from revealing shortcomings, says the SJN, adding that the new news reporting initiative was practiced in various parts of the world with immense success in helping communities solve their day-to-day problems.
Folarin said teaching solutions journalism included looking at examples provided in the SJN website, which has a series of resources on how to teach the topic.
The solutions journalism tuition also entails dealing with misconceptions about what constitutes solutions journalism. “It’s not about public relations,” he insists. “Those are misconceptions. Solutions journalism promotes accountability. We know talk about the problem and offer solutions to respond to the problem. We offer a series of interventions in terms of climate change, for example.”
It’s also about looking at the indigenous ways in which people are responding to the various challenges, he added.
Folarin is hard at work spreading the initiative to universities in Nigeria and has published extensively on the subject, namely: Why Nigeria needs to incorporate solutions journalism, media literacy, others into university curriculum; Experts want solution journalism integrated into media education in Nigeria; Why I slept in the office to prepare my SoJo presentation by Jamiu Folarin; My Solutions Journalism Summit experience: every society has peculiar problems that require change agents and Crescent Varsity pioneers Solutions Journalism in Nigerian universities.
A few solutions journalism graduates have already secured jobs in newsrooms in Nigeria, but a couple of challenges remain, said Folarin. The first is the fact that advertisers, who provide most of the funding in most media, buy advertising space on the basis or viewership, readership numbers or clicks.
Unfortunately, he said, most news consumers follow news reports about controversial issues, thus making them more commercially viable compared to stories offering solutions to day-to-day problems.
Secondly, he added, newsroom managers, such as editors, have not bought into the solutions journalism initiative and are often reluctant to prioritise these stories.
However, Folarin says there is a fatigue with controversial, which is driving people away from the news media. He believed there would soon be a realisation that giving solutions to problems is better that simply reporting negatively about those problems.
Solutions journalism is taking off in many places. A Solutions Story Tracker curated database of “rigorous reporting” on responses to social problems on the SJN website contains 15 100 stories produced by 6 000 journalists and 1 900 news outlets, from 190 countries, “and growing every day”.