The Solutions Journalism Network is an organization dedicated to understanding and promoting news coverage of responses to pressing social problems. In addition to reporting on the problems facing communities, solutions journalism involves a critical examination of possible ways to solve these issues. Much remains to be learned about how this form of journalism functions. The following studies were designed to understand how audiences engage with solutions-oriented headlines.
To do this work, we partnered with The Huffington Post to test 50 pairs of headlines. For each test, The Huffington Post randomized whether visitors to its homepage saw a non-solutions-focused headline or a solutions-focused headline. Both headlines linked to the same article that included information about a problem and a possible solution.
We also conducted a survey-based experiment with 1,034 U.S. adults. In this study, participants were shown a list of headlines and asked to indicate which corresponding story they would most like to read. This study allowed us to analyze what attributes of solutions headlines heighten or diminish user interest.
The following results stand out:
- On balance, solutions headlines yield more clicks than non-solutions headlines – but the difference is modest and many other factors also affect the number of clicks received by each headline.
- We then used an experiment to examine four hypotheses about writing solutions headlines. These tests yielded few easy conclusions:
- Including a “mysterious” unnamed location or group in a headline can increase the click-through rate (e.g. “This City Has a Solution to Poverty”).
- Adding the word “simple” can affect headline clicks, but does not do so consistently (e.g. “A Simple Way to Address Climate Change”).
- Tacking solutions-oriented information or an action item onto a headline does not significantly affect the click-through rate (e.g. “This is a Problem. Here’s How to Help”).
- Adding the word “you” does not significantly influence the click-through rate (e.g. “Here’s How You Can Help Save the Rainforests”).