By Patrick Egwu
A growing number of Nigerian newsrooms and media organisations are adopting the practice of solutions-based journalism. Some newsrooms, working with their editors and media managers, are creating new desks for solutions journalism and assigning journalists to write stories that highlight working solutions to societal problems in local communities.
Solutions journalism takes a different approach to news or media reporting and involves telling rigorous, investigative, and compelling stories of responses to existing social problems. The goal is to highlight what is working so that it can be replicated.
In 2020, the Solutions Journalism Network [SJN] launched the Solutions Journalism Africa Initiative. The project is a three-year fellowship programme for African journalists and aims at growing the practice of solutions journalism on the continent. The fellowship trains and provides resources for selected journalists and newsrooms to do solutions-based stories and projects in their communities.
Ruona Meyer, the Africa Manager at SJN, said the fellowship will work with 60 newsrooms and 20 journalists in Africa to spread the practice of solutions journalism. Last year, 10 journalists from Nigeria and Kenya were selected for the fellowship. This year, an additional 10 journalists across newsrooms in the two countries would be selected for the fellowship.
“Our goal is to train journalists from newsrooms and provide them with resources so they could be able to do stories that expose social problems in communities,” said Meyer. She said the fellowship allows journalists to carry out projects or initiatives that center around solutions reporting.
At the end of the fellowship, each of the journalists receives a $2,000 stipend to carry out their proposed projects during the application. The network provides mentorship and organises brainstorming and follow-up meetings during the implementation of the projects.
Seun Dorojaiye, a Nigerian journalist said the fellowship was an opportunity to do something different in solutions journalism. Durojaiye has designed a training manual for training journalists in Nigeria to do solutions journalism in indigenous languages. Since January 2022, she has trained more than 100 journalists, journalism students and educators on the basics of doing solutions journalism using local languages.
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“I am introducing them to this new approach to storytelling,” said Durojaiye who is the founder and managing editor at Social Voices. “Doing solutions journalism in these languages will help journalists reach a larger audience who will be impacted by the outcome of the stories.”
“As a health communication and advocacy organisation, we leverage solutions journalism as one of our advocacy strategies because we understand that while it’s important to point out things that aren’t working in the health sector and demand action from responsible parties and also highlight efforts being made to respond to some of these issues,” said Chibuike Alagboso, a health journalist at the Nigeria Health Watch. Alagboso said it is important to highlight solutions to problems in the health systems and hold the government to account through credible and evidence-based reporting.
“We make it a point of duty to actively put a spotlight on these responses around maternal and child health, mental health, infectious diseases, epidemic preparedness, primary health care, immunisation, health financing, among other health issues,” he said. “We do this because, first, it’s another effective way of holding people to account because we are showing what’s working and how it’s been done. Also, by telling these stories, we empower communities, private and public sector actors to take action by learning from what others are doing to address various social problems.”
Nigeria Health Watch is a leading media organisation that promotes solutions journalism in Nigeria and currently has a partnership with SJN. The partnership allows the media organisation to select and train local journalists across Nigeria with the goal of spreading the practice of solutions journalism in their newsrooms.
In February, the Nigeria Health Watch trained dozens of journalists across different newsrooms in the country. After the training, the News Agency of Nigeria launched a solutions journalism desk.
“This partnership is focused on working with journalists across Nigeria and Kenya to continue to create high-quality solutions journalism reporting that helps tell a fuller, more nuanced story about what’s working and not working across Africa,” said Mikhael Simmonds at SJN.
Alagboso said that even though the emphasis is on reporting on responses to social problems, solutions journalism doesn’t ignore the problem to jump into a solution. “A story can’t be complete if you don’t clearly articulate what the problems are in the first place,” he said. “We even encourage people to report the problem if it’s not well known enough but where solution journalism sets a journalist apart is when they go the extra mile to ask “who is doing something about this problem? What can we learn from what they are doing?” And this question is very important when the problem is already well known.”
The challenge in doing solutions journalism, according to Alagboso, is that the people implementing responses to problems in communities that a journalist is investigating, often take it as an opportunity for publicity. “They just want to focus on talking about all the amazing things they did and downplaying the challenges or limitations of their intervention,” he said. “But this has to be reported to produce a balanced solutions story, often referred to as the whole story. Also, because they don’t understand what you are trying to achieve, providing access to direct beneficiary stories to show evidence of impact is not something most are quick to do.”
Despite the challenges, he said they are not deterred from promoting solutions journalism and helping journalists with the skills, networks and resources they need to do important solutions-focused stories. “We will keep telling these stories and keep empowering others to tell them too because we can’t tell it all alone,” he said. “There’s no need and value-added in continuing the cycle of rehashing bad news.”
Reporting for this story was supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab Africa.