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Snehal Khatavkar
Design researcher. Design strategist

Imagining new value systems for the future of journalism

Developed a strategic initiative for the Solutions Journalism Network, a non-profit journalism organization, to transform news content into a powerful catalyst for civic engagement and boost community involvement. Using a systems thinking approach and co-designing with community leaders and readers, we crafted a sustainable model for local journalism.

Partner: Solutions Journalism Network  

Duration: 14 WEEKS

Context

Journalism fuels democracy. 

Yet, local U.S. newspapers
struggle to survive as readers disengage from news exhausted by constant negativity.

Introducing Solutions Journalism Network 
 
Our partner SJN, was founded to counter the effects of negative news by reporting and publishing stories about effective solutions to real-world problems. By training journalists to research and write about solutions,
SJN aims to transform journalism into a force that
strengthens communities, drives equity, and builds civic engagement, while creating new revenue streams for the industry.

Solution 

How can Happy Pillar become a leading provider of accessible, personalized, and effective mental healthcare for children and families of ALL demographics?  

Click to see the full report including research and recommendations to Solutions Journalism Network 

Read more about the Co-design workshop here 

Challenge

How might we re-frame the value of journalism and journalists to help local US news outlets achieve financial sustainability while fostering strong, equitable communities?

RESEARCH and SYNTHESIS 

We interviewed over 10 stakeholders from media, news organizations, and journalism professors to understand business models, motivations for accepting solutions reporting, and the impact of solution stories on readers. This helped us map power dynamics and decision-making processes in the news industry.

SJN's current initiatives focus on training journalists to write solution stories to raise awareness about solutions reporting. 

However, journalists have limited influence to greenlight and publish news stories, preventing them from reaching the audience and impacting the industry.

" So they're(journalists) not creating solutions packages on the regular because most of their news organizations are just still understaffed, overwhelmed, and trying to get to the news of the day. " - professor of journalism 

* Based on French and Raven’s Power Bases Model

CLARIFYING THEORY OF CHANGE 

Using the insights, We challenged SJNs current theory of change and noticed some flaws. SJNs current efforts are directed toward training journalists to write more solution stories to create more awareness in the industry.
However, awareness alone does not bring change. 
We proposed a new theory of change for SJN to influence their
overarching strategy.

SJN is only focusing on anecdotal impacts of solutions journalism on readers, and have untapped power in the system. 

Readers are using solutions journalism to drive impact. This influence can be increased by deepening the audience's understanding of solutions journalism.

“There are environmental groups that have been using our content. A person in Washington State wrote us about a pesticide issue. And they said, we're using your content at the governmental level to educate our members to then lobby.” - Founder of a media
non-profit 

* Based on French and Raven’s Power Bases Model

PROJECT DETAILS 

Client

Solutions Journalism Network 

Duration

August - December 2022

Methods

Primary and secondary research 

Systems thinking 
Co-design

My Role

Design Researcher
Design Strategist 

Team

Avani Chaturvedi,
Sandhini Ghodeshwar,
Claire Xu

Instructors 

Cheryl Dahle 

REFRAMING the OBJECTIVE 

How might news outlets help readers bridge the gap between awareness and action, using what they read in the news to solve challenges in their communities?

Workshop outcomes 

Journalists as community builders acting as knowledge hubs 

Journalism Residency Program

Impact 

 SJN decided to incorporate a co-design approach into the next cohort of journalists that it trained and kicked off their training program with a codesign the session that posed an almost identical question to the one that we used in our co-design workshop.

" The insights and ideas they(students) surfaced will contribute to the larger set of reflections around how SJN and the industry evolve and strategize to push media globally to be more solutions-focused. "
- Alec Saelens, SJN's Director of Impact

Problem

By the end of 2024, the U.S. will have lost one-third of its 9,000 newspapers from 2005. The primary reason for this decline is the industry's resistance to this transformative approach.

Despite a decade of advocacy for positive change in journalism, SJN's efforts to promote solutions reporting as a mainstream form of journalism has not been accepted by the Industry.  

Reasons for resisting solutions Journalism are 

"If it bleeds it leeds"

The belief that negative news sells better leads to a focus on sensationalist, negative stories.

Positive news is fluff 

Solution stories are often dismissed as feel-good fluff, diminishing their importance in newsrooms.

Problems shout, Solutions whisper!

The industry is biased towards problem reporting considering it more newsworthy and aligned with journalistic principles.

Solution: Prototyping in co-design workshop 

We identified different audience types like students, activists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders and the potential use cases where they could use solutions content to learn, replicate and generate more solutions in their communities. However, we realized we couldn't truly identify what would be valuable to readers without involving them. 

Co-Design Workshop with engaged readers to understand how journalists and journalism can help readers gain the most value from Solution stories. We recruited community leaders in Chicago and ran a Co-design workshop with the prompt:   

If you could have some of the brightest and most curious journalistic minds gather information and help solve some of your most pressing challenges, what would you do with that resource?

* Based on French and Raven’s Power Bases Model

Editors and publishers have the decision-making power to reinforce values in the industry by greenlighting solution stories.

But, their decisions are often influenced by the revenue generated and the impact of news stories, affecting the favorability and publication of
solution stories.

" So they're(journalists) not creating solutions packages on the regular because most of their news organizations are just still understaffed, overwhelmed, and trying to get to the news of the day. " - professor of journalism 

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