By Jean Pierre Afadhali
Media outlets in Africa are increasingly embracing solutions journalism: a type of reporting that focuses on responses to problems communities face, and highlights their effectiveness and limitations.
Solutions journalism uses evidence to document initiatives that are working to solve social and economic problems. Journalists are embracing the new form of reporting, but they also face challenges. Solutions journalism usually requires enough support from media owners and other partners to report from the field and cover what is working. Some also criticise the relatively new journalism model for doing public relations as it tends to focus on positive aspects.
Lilian Kaivilu, a veteran journalist and founder of the non-profit Africa Solutions Media Hub, told Jamlab that she founded her outlet in 2017 to use solutions journalism to amplify positive impact stories of changemakers from across the African continent.
Promoting solution-based reporting
“By changemakers, I mean individuals, organisations, private sector institutions that are offering scalable solutions to the challenges facing the African continent,” she explained. “We do this by telling the stories and publishing them on our media platform which is our website.”
Recently the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), Kenya’s media regulator encouraged journalists to embrace solution-based reporting rather than focusing on highlighting “imminent challenges and problems.” The MCK coordinator for the central region, Jackson Karanja told journalists it is high time for media practitioners to do research and investigations towards offering solutions to problems and challenges facing society.
Karanja said journalists can entrench professionalism in their reporting by not just mentioning issues affecting people’s lives without giving possible ways on how the impending problems can be handled.
Karanja was quoted by Kenya News Agency as saying, “Solution journalism focuses on offering solutions instead of only highlighting challenges. It aims at coming up with initiatives, strategies, and projects that have proven to be effective in addressing the challenges.”
According to the Solutions Journalism Network, a global organisation that promotes solution-based journalism, key elements of solutions journalism include: examining a response and how it works, showing evidence of effectiveness, discussing limitations, and surfacing insights to spur innovation.
Kaivilu further explained, “We see ourselves as a platform for changemakers to come and exchange ideas and for changemakers to meet and learn from one another.”
Africa Solutions Media Hub targets mostly non-profit organisations and changemakers who are working directly to offer scalable solutions across Africa, said Kaivilu. The media organisation is also training future solutions journalists.
Besides Kenya, in other parts of Africa media houses and journalists are embracing solutions journalism despite challenges such as a lack of interest from media owners and finance to carry out intensive reporting that requires time and adequate funding. This often involves traveling to remote areas to engage communities and document initiatives being implemented to address their problems.
Annonciata Byukusenge, a journalist based in Rwanda said she embraced solutions journalism to contribute to the well-being of her community. “I committed to doing solutions journalism because our community needs to access various services,” added Byukusenge.
Byukusenge believes the majority of African journalists like breaking news, not advocacy or solutions journalism. She adds that media owners are more money-oriented than invested in public interest which hinders solutions journalism.
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Meanwhile, Africa Solutions Media Hub is focusing its coverage on scalable solutions. Kaivilu gives an example of an organisation that has been consistently over many years offering some solutions to a community. “Let’s say, for example, an organisation has gone somewhere and they have been empowering women to do agriculture for their own upkeep. That is a scalable solution because it is sustainable and it can also be replicated somewhere else, so if someone is in Malawi and they come and see this.”
Despite challenges, interest in solutions stories is growing as media tell response stories in their communities.
I believe there is a huge potential for solutions journalism in the continent [ Africa], said Kaivilu adding “Based on what we hear from the majority of our sources, there’s an increased appetite for solutions stories; stories of scalable solutions to the challenges facing the continent.”
The Solutions Journalism Network started an Africa Initiative to provide formal training and learning resources to 60 newsrooms. The organisation targets Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. The three-year initiative has built a network of solutions journalism-focused fellows, trainers and media entrepreneurs across the continent.
The Solutions Journalism Network also curates a database of solutions stories from around the world. As of late September, its database contained 15,500 stories produced by 8,800 journalists and 1,900 news outlets from 89 countries. The stories cover responses in 191 countries, in 16 languages. The database dubbed the Solutions Story Tracker contains stories from Africa on how the continent addresses issues such as health, environment, education and more.
Stories featured cover a non-profit organisation that is fighting drug abuse in Nigeria, how a youth group is increasing voter participation in general elections in Nigeria, and a local startup in Kenya that is aiding Kenya’s reforestation using technology among others.
The journalism network says its resource is made possible because of a growing movement of journalists who use solutions journalism to illuminate both problems and evidence-based responses to them.
While journalists and media outlets are adopting the reporting that focuses on responses; financial challenges are hindering the relatively new type of journalism. Kaivilu, whose outlet exclusively covers solutions stories said resource mobilisation is one of the key challenges she faces.
“One of the ways that we have been able to raise financial resources is through fundraising,” the media entrepreneur explained. “We understand that you can’t live fully on fundraising so one thing we have done also is to find our way of making an income as an organisation.”
Byukusenge, who covers solutions stories in health and the environment, further said the solutions stories don’t sell, yet media owners need money to grow their businesses.
According to Byukusenge, journalists who pursue solutions journalism stories don’t get support from their employers because such stories “don’t usually generate revenues to media outlets.”
Critics say solutions journalism tends to focus on the positive side of stories hence compromising some principles of journalism such as balance. Speaking at a recent media summit Mactilda Mbenywe, a Kenyan environment journalist said balanced reporting should also be applied in solutions journalism.
The Kenyan journalist was responding to criticism by saying solutions journalism was idealistic as it “does not include balance in reporting.”
Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab