Karen Magnuson of the Solutions Journalism Network spent most of her career in news writing and reporting on the troubles in cities and towns in Michigan, California, and Kansas before becoming the managing editor of the Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle. It was during her time at the Gannett-owned paper that she was introduced to the concept of solutions journalism.
“We invited people from the Solutions Journalism Network to come in and do workshops,” she says. “We were very interested in applying the solutions lens to our education reporting. For many years, we kept reporting on the problems with our city schools but nothing was happening in terms of improving the situation.”
Solutions journalism is a different kind of investigative reporting. It is “rigorous, evidence-based reporting on responses to social problems,” she says. “It’s not journalism for the faint of heart. It’s very rigorous, like prosecuting a story, just as you would if you were conducting an investigation of a problem. Looking at a solution to determine whether something has evidence that actually backs up its progress and being able to help solve the problem, but also its limitations.”
While the initial project in Rochester was, she now realizes, “sticking our toe in the water,” as they applied the solutions journalism lens as part of a series, Magnuson has made a deeper investment in the concept. She’s about to mark her one-year anniversary as project director for the Solutions Journalism Network.
Readers of the Democrat & Chronicle appreciated the different take in covering education and Magnuson’s successor at the paper remains committed to the approach.
“You can’t just do a one-off and think you’re going to change the world,” she says. “It’s the kind of approach that can really transform a newsroom but also build trust in a community if readers, users and viewers see that you’re consistently trying to help solve problems instead of unearthing it.”
Now Magnuson is leading an effort across 26 news organizations in New York and Michigan to “leverage their talents, raise awareness on a topic and develop relationships where they can rely on each other and strengthen the media ecosystem.” Their initial project will focus on caregivers for the aging population. “A lot of the issues we looked at prior to the pandemic have been exacerbated by COVID-19,” she says. “The topic has taken on a sense of urgency in addition to being critical because of the growing population of older adults.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks with Karen Magnuson, project director for the Solutions Journalism Network. They discuss what solutions journalism is, how it differs from investigative journalism and her new effort in New York and Michigan to apply solutions journalism to the topic of caregivers for the aging population.