Lit bulbSolutions journalism is news reporting focused on emerging responses to societal problems. Articles using this technique focus not just on how people struggle with poverty, for example, but also on what individuals, communities, and institutions are doing to help those who are in need. Solutions journalism is in contrast to more traditional stories that tend to focus on problems. In short, a solutions story examines the efforts being made to address important challenges.

This report presents the results of an experiment conducted by the Center for Media Engagement and two field tests that the Center for Media Engagement led in conjunction with the Deseret News. The experiment and field tests were funded by the Solutions Journalism Network (who was funded by the Rita Allen Foundation) and follow-up on our 2014 report, The Power of Solutions Journalism. The findings suggest that although solutions journalism can bring laudable benefits to readers and newsrooms, it is not a panacea for audience engagement.

In the experiment, a sample of 834 U.S. adults saw one of two online news articles, both reporting on the struggles of the working poor. The articles were nearly identical in length and reading level, had the same headline, and contained the same photograph. The only difference between the two was that one version focused on the working poor’s hardships, while the other reported on the hardships and how some organizations were coming to the aid of the working poor. In other words, one version was about a problem, while the other also included information about solutions to the problem.

In the two field tests, visitors to the Deseret News homepage saw one of two versions of an article at random. Articles used in the first field test were the same articles on the struggles of the working poor that we used in the experiment. The second field test involved articles about unemployed U.S. veterans. The purpose of the field tests was to gauge differences in actual reader behavior – including time spent on the article as well as bounce and exit rates – based on whether a reader saw a solutions article or a non-solutions article.

Although there were limitations, as mentioned in the report, several noteworthy patterns appeared:

  • Time on page was higher for readers of solutions articles compared to readers of non-solutions articles.
  • Readers of solutions articles left the website more frequently than non-solutions readers.
  • Commenting and social sharing patterns were similar for solutions and non-solutions readers.
  • Self-efficacy and optimism were greater for those exposed to solutions articles compared to non-solutions articles.

 

Researchers

  • Alex Curry

    Alex Curry
    Research Associate

    Alex Curry (MA, Brigham Young University) is a doctoral student in communication studies and an assistant instructor at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include political communication and civic engagement, and he is particularly interested in how politicians use their own personal involvement with sports as a way to connect with voters. From 2005 to 2010, he served as a writer for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he’s not studying, Alex enjoys hiking with his wife and four children.

  • Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

    Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud
    Director

    Talia Stroud (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is the Director of the Center for Media Engagement and Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, Niche News (Oxford, 2011), examines likeminded political media use and inspired this project. The book received the 2012 Outstanding Book Award from the International Communication Association. Stroud previously worked at the Annenberg Public Policy Center; the name of this project is a H/T to Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s “E4″ work with local news in the 2002 midterms.

  • Shannon McGregor

    Shannon McGregor
    Research Associate

    Shannon C McGregor (MA, University of Florida) is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin and an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. Her research interests center on political communication, digital media, gender and public opinion. Shannon is especially interested in the ways in which emerging media behaviors create a more intimate and affective political landscape.