Have you ever considered working as a reporter or journalist? I’ve met a lot of folks who have told me that they would like to. Sometimes people tell me that if they weren’t a nurse, farmer, teacher, or public official, they would be a reporter. But why not be both?
Let’s be honest: many people are diverted from becoming reporters because there are just so many problems. Who really wants to report about death, crime and everybody else’s problems? Reporting can be a rewarding project, but in my experience, working as a person in journalism can sometimes feel isolating, as well: you talk to strangers every day, question the validity of the facts of life, spend countless hours working in silence, and must accurately transcribe, write, and edit stories and features on short deadlines.
Then you add into the mix everything else, like processing photographs, writing headlines, drafting public records requests, surviving technology and data failures, and formulating stories and content for dozens of special sections.
If that doesn’t sound like fun, you might be swayed into the journalism profession by the endless stream of emails, calls, and letters, some of which can be distracting, hateful or threatening. If you write about a national issue such as Nazis and white supremacy, you can expect to receive death threats and must take extra steps to protect your family, like having security guards and 24-hour surveillance around your home.
I’m convinced that nobody works in journalism for the fun of it or for the money, although sometimes people tell me they think it would be fun. It can be fun, if you love what you do, but what I think makes people interested in working in journalism is a variety of other things: the search for the truth, informing the public with information, curating a reputable and diverse publication, and upholding the First Amendment (free speech, press, religion, petition and assembly). Those are some of my reasons for working as a reporter.
Last week I was invited to the Solutions Journalism Network Summit in Sundance, Utah. If you’ve been following along with my columns at the Record-Herald, I wrote earlier this year about completing training in Mansfield, Ohio, with Solutions Journalism Network (SOJO). What is Solutions Journalism Network? It’s a group of dedicated and impassioned people working in the realm of journalism in some capacity who want to explore new ways of doing things, basically by connecting, sharing, and communicating solutions-based stories across regions and the world.
Solutions-based journalism means that it tells the readers, listeners, or viewers, about the possible solutions to the issues being reported. Instead of only reporting about the problem, solutions journalism takes the reporting to the next level by explaining the problem and also including what people are doing to solve and fix the problem. If you’re interested in seeing examples of this type of reporting, the Solutions Journalism Network has an online story-tracker and you can search for solutions stories to almost any topic in the world on their website.
For example, an editor at The Guardian newspaper asked me if my editor in Ohio would be interested in collaborating on solutions-based journalism and co-publishing stories about what people in Ohio are thinking and doing to solve important issues. This type of collaboration would focus on the community’s solutions to their issues that also have national impact and relevance, ultimately lifting the voices of people often overlooked by the mainstream media (MSM).
Not that MSM doesn’t have a place in rural Ohio, because it does, but folks are tired of MSM parachuting into their communities to only report on the problems. Locally, the television stations in Columbus came to Washington C.H. to report on a mother who overdosed in the school parking lot. Will the MSM come back later to report on the solutions to that issue? Probably not, but it’s a story that needs to be told because there are people working to fix problems like that, and that’s where solutions journalism can be an asset to a community. The story isn’t so much the problem that arises but is rather about how people struggled and then overcame their issues.
We’re certainly taking a solutions-based approach to reporting on the drug issue in Ohio. The Your Voice Ohio media project is taking a new approach to journalism and holding public discussions in communities and figuring out what is working for solutions to solve the drug problem. The media project just did a series of discussions in the Mahoning Valley and are looking at southwest Ohio now. The future (and present) of journalism is community engagement. The Record-Herald, a partner to the Your Voice Ohio media project, will publish the first heroin-related solutions story this Saturday.
And, for those who may be skeptical of solutions journalism, (I was too, at first), we had plenty of discussion around its purpose during the summit. People asked, “Is solutions journalism advocacy?” It’s a good question and an important one because ethically journalists cannot be advocates. But solutions-based journalism is not advocacy. The news agencies are not taking a stand on the issues they write about, but are shining the light on the possible solutions. Ultimately neighbors must talk with their neighbors about what is happening in their communities and how to solve the issues that arise. Reporters are there to lift those voices.
Media, speech, and press in any form is a powerful tool for the people to use in their search for truth and information. It’s such a powerful tool for people that the founders of the United States made it the First Amendment. The free press is not static, and despite national commentary in the mainstream media, it’s not a failing enterprise, because if it were static and failing, that would mean also that the people of America are static and failing – that’s not true. Journalism changes and moves people and the people create and change journalism. Even a well-written obituary can have an impact on the person reading it so much so that it can bring a person to tears or change someone’s life.
The power of journalism is really with the public — it’s their voice. It’s your voice, Ohio. One of your greatest tools is your ability and freedom to use your voice to shape your community. We would like to see people writing more opinion columns in the local news. Who are you and what are you doing in your community? What is happening where you live? What issues concern you?
Writing an opinion letter or column isn’t just a place to rant and rave, but can really be a powerful space in which to provide a new perspective and a well-written analysis of an issue. For an example of a local champion doing this type of writing already, think of Gary Abernathy at the Hillsboro Times-Gazette who writes regular opinion columns. (By the way, I grew up reading Gary’s columns in the local papers, and while I don’t always agree, his perspectives have challenged me to think about things differently).
Do you write like Gary Abernathy? Are you interested in writing, reporting, photography, or journalism? There is a need for people in your local community who are interested in doing those things. Don’t have a degree or experience in journalism? There is continuous training, mentoring, and networking everywhere that can help anyone interested, at any level, to learn how to do those things correctly. (As a side note, how cool would it be if Abernathy taught a column writing workshop? Would you sign up for it? I would!)
Thinking about writing but don’t want to write about the bad things? You can sign up for local journalism training to write about the solutions people in your community are thinking about and doing. Are you interested in being a part of small group round-table conversations to discuss your local problems and solutions? There is also a need for people within their communities to come together to talk about issues and solutions. The neat thing is that everyone has something different to offer to a group and it requires strength and diversity to work together.
Do you know about an important issue that you think is being overlooked or have a good location in which to hold a community discussion? Or maybe you’re a talented communicator and networker? Are you interested in writing or being an active participant in journalism? Do you want to preserve and uphold the First Amendment? Or maybe you love to crunch numbers and create data?
If you feel strongly about doing any of those things or if you feel like becoming involved in your local community’s media, please contact me directly and let us know who you are and what you want to see and do. Even if you don’t want to be involved but you have thoughts and ideas — we want to hear from you, too. Solutions journalism is here for your community.
Ashley Bunton is a staff writer with the Washington Court House Record-Herald.