solutions journalism

Three Ideas: Testing Legislation, Newsroom Archives, and Technology Playgrounds

I took advantage of my holiday time off to catch up on my Instapaper read later list. As I read I try to tweet out the best articles, or key ideas I’m grappling with, but some pieces demand more than a tweet (but less than a full blog post). Here are three articles whose ideas I’m still mulling over and that I think deserve more attention.

Washington Post – Stop guessing whether a bill will work. Instead, test it.
Political reporter Dylan Matthews proposes a federal agency dedicated to running experiments on public policy proposals before legislation is adopted. The idea here is to test what will and won’t work in the real world and bring that research to bear on political debates. While I like Matthews’ idea of testing legislation, I also wonder how this might be built into solutions journalism that would be dedicated to helping us address wiked problems. This idea also seems like a powerful way to counteract the trend of hindsight journalism. It may not be an either/or, I’d like to see both governments and news organizations taking up some of these ideas and challenges and adopting a model of creating legislation that looks a bit more like agile development and participatory community planning.

Reporters’ Lab – Creating a newsroom ‘answer machine’
I’ve long been deeply interested in how news organizations can better leverage their archives to help serve the public, add context to current events, and drive new traffic to their site. Tyler Dukes’ proposal for using news organizations’ archives to help create a newsroom “answer machine” is superb, while not without its challenges. He focuses on how this type of project could help improve reporting but I can see wonderful applications of this kind of app in politics and education as well. For another great project focused on better using media archives be sure to check out the recently launched Pop Up Radio Archive.

Designing for Diversity – Designing Creative Technology Playgrounds for Families
I have been thinking about the role of play in my own work as well as in the lives of my two sons. My life has been animated by a healthy tension between my fascination with technology and my affinity for wilderness and the outdoors. Where these two passions intersect is in the realm of play and exploration. Whether it was dismantling kitchen appliances and putting them back together or building wilderness shelters and treehouses, I loved to make things and engage actively in the world – both natural and manmade. I want to nurture that same passion in my sons, regardless of what their interests are – music or machines, art or airplanes, trees or technology – I hope they’ll approach it all with playfulness and a sense of wonder. This post, a summary of a discussion at MozFest in London, touches on some of those themes.

A Solutions Journalism Response to Gun Violence

Today on Twitter I asked “What would a journalism dedicated to helping communities solve complex social and political issues look like? Who is already doing it?”

This, to me, is the question we face as the nation tries to not only come to terms with the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, but also look ahead at how we can respond. Already we are seeing demands for a national conversation about gun violence, for new gun control legislation, even for a repeal of the second amendment. On the surface all of these seem like simple solutions, but in reality they are composed of a complex and interwoven web of policy, beliefs, and culture.

In a post from a year ago Jonathan Stray asked a similar question about journalism and problem solving. He observed that “The modern world is built on a series of vast systems, intricate combinations of people and machines, but our journalism isn’t really built to help us understand them. It’s not a journalism for the people who will put together the next generation of civic institutions.”

At the time he was writing about the global financial crisis, but the quote above could just as easily apply to violence in America. His post sparked a conversation about solutions journalism, a theme he returned to earlier this year. “I see the solution journalist as responsible for the process of public discussion by which problems are defined and turned into plans for the future. This is the moderator’s role.”

At times like this, we need good moderators of public debate, we need caring facilitators of challenging conversations, and we need newsrooms that can create space for communities to talk to each other. I’m not talking about online comments on newspaper websites, I’m talking about a much deeper form of community engagement. (more…)

Putting People at the Center of Journalism

I saw a tweet last night that went something like: “People must love biased news because CNN is doing so poorly while the other networks are doing great.” This was inspired by new reports of CNN’s second quarter ratings, which New York Times reports, “plunged by 40 percent from a year ago,” for its prime-time shows. We can all debate about definitions of doing well and doing poorly, but in general I think a lot of people agree with this sentiment that bias drives views.

I don’t.

CNN isn’t plummeting in the rankings because people love “biased news.” However, what MSNBC and FOX News understand, that I think CNN doesn’t, is that people want to see themselves in the stories they consume. This is as true of novels they choose as it is of the news they decide to watch.

This aspect of the debate over objectivity has received too little attention, but it is fundamental to how stories function. For a long time objectivity was a source of trust – (i.e. “You can trust me because I don’t have a dog in this race”) – but it also had a cost. The cost was journalists’ relationship with their audience and their communities.  (more…)