The Missed Opportunity of HuffPost’s “Good News”

Today the Huffington Post introduced a new section of its website called “Good News.” In her introduction to the new feature Arianna Huffington wrote:

“I’ve long said that those of us in the media have provided too many autopsies of what went wrong and not enough biopsies. It’s a belief that goes hand-in-hand with HuffPost Good News’ editorial mission to turn our attention to what is working.”

Trying to emphasize positive news rooted in “what is working” is good, but Huffington missed an opportunity to do something deeper and more impactful with “Good News.” In her short introductory post Huffington uses the word inspiring (or some variation of it) nine times, and provides examples like a man who rescued puppies in Afghanistan. Granted there are also examples of activists and leaders writing on social change, but it all seems retrospective, not forward looking. At first glance, “Good News” looks less like a biopsy, and more like a Hallmark card you send after someone gets terminally ill.

When I first saw a reference to “Good News” on Twitter, I hoped it was a sign that the Huffington Post was going to take on an in-depth effort to provide more “solutions journalism.” Solutions journalism is not so much about writing about “what is working” but rather about “what might work.” In a recent New York Times editorial David Bornstein seemed to predict HuffPost’s announcement when he wrote:

“Journalism is a feedback mechanism to help society self-correct. We know from behavioral science that information about a problem alone is rarely sufficient to generate corrective action. People need to know what they can do ― and how. That doesn’t mean including a little “good news” now and them, but regularly presenting people with innovative ideas and realistic pathways and possibilities that remain outside their view frame. In this sense, solutions journalism needs to be interwoven with traditional journalism ― it rounds out the story, so to speak.”

Jonathan Stray referred to something similar in his post on “Journalism for Makers:”

“Where is the journalism for the idealist doer with a burning curiosity? I don’t think we have much right now, but we can imagine what it could be. The journalism of makers aligns itself with the tiny hotbeds of knowledge and practice where great things emerge, the nascent communities of change. Its aim is a deep understanding of the complex systems of the real world, so that plans for a better world may constructed one piece at a time by people who really know what they’re talking about.”

It isn’t that the Huffington Post can’t or doesn’t already do some of this. There are expert journalists working at Huffington Post, who are digging deeply into issues and systems (see for example Michael Calderone) and some of the new partners who Huffington lists could help. But I had hoped that this new “Good News” section would indicate a new emphasis and dedication to that work, and a central hub for pulling it all together from across the web.

There is a great debate emerging about solutions journalism and I think we’ll see more and more of it in the year ahead, but I’m not sure how much we’ll see on Huffington Post’s “Good News” page, unfortunately.

…….

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links

On Twitter Holly Epstein of the New York Times reminds me that NYT has a blog “Fixes” dedicated to solutions journalism. In the spirit of reporting on what is working, I should have included that in my post. GOOD magazine, which is one of the partners listed by Huffington, also does some interesting work in this space.

Jay Rosen summed it up pretty well on Twitter:

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2 thoughts on “The Missed Opportunity of HuffPost’s “Good News”

  1. Right on par, Josh. I particularly like this line “Granted there are also examples of activists and leaders writing on social change, but it all seems retrospective, not forward looking.” Forward-looking is the key.

    Some initial thoughts on what’s going on here: quality Solutions Journalism takes time and money.

    It’s not unlike investigative journalism in that, very often, you’re unearthing hidden connections, strategies and evidence-based rates of success–or evidence of failure. When you walk into, for example, a KIP Charter School, they’re going to try to hide the same things that a faltering company will hide (not that they have anything to hide. I’m just using them as a hypothetical example here.) Similarly, there may be a very tiny social enterprise with a very good idea that has potential to scale. A Solutions Journalist should unearth that idea and put it in context

    Think about the Solutions Journalism that Atul Gawande writes for the New Yorker. They are LONG. He spends a lot of time reporting on a grain of an idea – finding another example and another and another–and, at the end of this process, he’s informed enough to identify a strategy with evidence-based rates of success. It’s that strategy that really resonates with people–perhaps because it is, essentially, explanatory journalism.

    To understand something well enough to explain it is one of the most time-consuming aspects of journalism. That’s why Dowser is shifting its model to commissioning long-form narratives for 2012 (we actually have a partnership with GOOD.)

    And also why I think the Huffington Post’s section looks like it does. HuffPo is in the business of short, quick pieces – which more or less will always fall under the category of “Good News.” That space is too shallow for anything more. You need more time and space for an in-depth exploration of the idea, its context and obstacles to implementation. So I’m not sure if the Huffington Post, as is, could ever produce really thoughtful Solutions Journalism

    Caveat: this is my personal opinion, and not necessarily that of Dowser Media. We haven’t discussed this as a company yet.

    Second caveat: I’m not sure what that means for funding. One of the criticisms we always get for Solutions Journalism is that people won’t pay for good news. Based on my preliminary research, I disagree–really quality examples of what we’re talking about almost always make the most shared lists. That means eyes, and that means ads.

    I also think that Solutions Journalism is such a specialty practice that consumers will pay. Financial news is not a commodity, and tends to work behind paywalls, because it helps people navigate their financial lives and careers with power. It is useful. Solutions Journalism does the same thing.

    So maybe it will be a combination of subscriptions and funding. A hybrid model would, after all, be in the spirit of social enterprise.

    A bit of a rambling, but there’s where I stand at the moment – thanks for taking this up.

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