Our Story

Letter from the Founders

If we built it would they come? That was our concern prior to SJN’s inaugural Solutions Summit, which we convened in the shadow of Utah’s Wasatch mountains in early November 2017. It was our first attempt to bring members of our emerging tribe together.

And it turned out to be a good idea! Not only did folks show up; participants were as thrilled to find one another as we were to meet them. We spent three electric days with close to 100 journalists, j-school faculty and researchers, from leaders of national news organizations to freelancers to reporters at small-town outlets from a dozen states.

Here’s a public secret: There are loads of journalists who are eager to do rigorous reporting that better reflects, and respects, the full spectrum of activity and experience in the communities they cover. Many have told us that solutions journalism has helped them round out their coverage, providing a framework (grounded in journalistic ethics) to tell stories about how people are struggling to adapt to a wide range of challenges.

At the summit, they discovered colleagues who felt the same. “This is the first time I've been with a group of journalists and actually felt like I belonged,” said Alaska Public Media reporter Anne Hillman, echoing a sentiment we heard repeatedly over the weekend.

In many ways, 2017 was a pivotal year for journalism. Alongside continued newspaper closures and attacks on the press, we saw a resurgence in public support for journalism and considerable reflection among journalists about their role in the country’s challenges. For SJN, the year was all-out. Our newsroom team dramatically expanded its reach; our network grew substantially; we catalyzed newsroom projects and streams of coverage that led to meaningful impact in news organizations and communities. We relaunched a website designed for the needs of journalists; we built SolutionsU®, a major step forward to connect solutions stories to broad civic audiences. We expanded our Learning Lab, where you’ll now find resources in Spanish, French, Indonesian, and Chinese — driven by local demand.

Most satisfying, solutions journalism has become an accepted category in news. We rarely have to explain to journalists what it means, or defend it. This has created a new problem for us, a good problem, that we’re grappling with: we get more requests from newsrooms than we can currently accommodate. How do we shift our model to reach more? We were even asked to consult on “Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas,” a new HBO comedy anchored in solutions reporting.

All of this work is animated by the conviction that people are desperate for change. When you see the world through a frame of crisis and conflict, the result is suffering and division. We seek to provide a balance: to re-focus more of our collective attention on plausible possibilities to build something better. Who’s having success? What’s promising? What’s worth trying?

For us, encouraging journalists to ask these questions is just the beginning. Once news organizations start helping their communities learn about options, things change. Audiences begin paying closer attention. They want to build better communities. They express appreciation. They feel more truthfully reflected, so they trust more, and are willing to engage in more respectful conversations. They even show more willingness to pay for news.

This may seem obvious, but it needs to be continually reiterated. To present an accurate view of reality, alongside the world’s corruption, negligence and prejudice, the news also must reveal the world’s integrity, competence and tolerance. But not in a feel-good way, not as light fare at Thanksgiving, or hero worship that oversimplifies problems. The goal is to build awareness and understanding, to curse darkness when necessary and light candles so we can endeavor to repair. With this lens, we will come to know our neighbors more faithfully, and this may help society move beyond the fears and wounds that have engendered so much division and tribalism.

As always, we’re grateful and honored to work with you towards this goal.

With appreciation,

David BornsteinCourtney MartinTina Rosenberg