Data? Experts? Varying perspectives? “Howdunnit?” These are some key factors we look for when investigating whether or not a story is solutions-oriented. A story can be informative and well-written but still lack a solutions angle, so it’s always important to be mindful of what makes a story solutions oriented.
When Dylan McCoy of The Atlantic reported on a recovery high school in Indiana in May 2016, he made sure to include research and expert voices on the economic and racial disparities historically found in recovery high schools instead of just reporting on the success of one Hope Academy found in Indianapolis. McCoy actively concedes that the school has not been successful in every student’s journey through recovery, and does not create heroes in the school’s administration. He does, however, introduce compelling characters to demonstrate the impact of the school’s methods. The administration rallied for an entrance program to ease the entry of new students and those who relapse into the recovery environment. Using therapeutic recreation and academic stimuli, the services are essential for students who need help maintaining sobriety even within the context of a recovery high school. Further, Hope Academy’s operational model as a free and public charter school is being replicated by other recovery high schools around the country; it’s acting as a catalyst for ensuring recovery is accessible for young people of all economic and racial backgrounds. They are the answer to, “Who is doing this better,” and because McCoy doesn’t laud the school as perfect, he maintains his position as a reliable resource.
In contrast, Adam Wagner of the Wilmington Star News today published a compelling narrative of a local man’s lifelong battle with addiction and his dedication to helping others struggling with the same disease. The story is well-written and has potential to be reworked as a solutions story, but is missing a few key aspects. The description of offerings by the subject’s co-op, for example, are vague to start. Wagner writes that the organization helps people with addiction connect to external resources, and that it offers housing to those who cannot otherwise find it. He then writes in a different paragraph that the man also passes out naloxone kits, and never returns to this subject. Most of the article’s quotes are given by the subject or his own mother, and there is no data offered to support the article in any way. The subject was quoted as a “public health hero” and is only spoken of by others in a way that lauds him. While the man’s own history shows a long and storied struggle, it is not enough to write a redemptive story to qualify as solutions journalism. Most of the article recounted the subject’s addiction, not his recovery. The story is definitely one that could be pursued from a solutions angle, as the man is clearly helping others in their respective journeys through recovery. But as it stands, the article could not be considered solutions journalism.