By Hostwriter Ambassador Priscila Pacheco
The biggest challenge currently facing journalists around the world is how to talk about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a disease caused by Sars-Cov-2, which was discovered in January by Chinese authorities, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There is constantly new information about the disease, and the pandemic numbers change hourly. Thus, our mission is to update ourselves at all times to produce credible material for the people who read, watch or listen to us.
It’s our duty to read different newspapers and scientific research, to participate in webinars, interview experts and analyze data, but now we need to do it at great speed and, often, locked in our rooms because of social isolation or quarantine.
During this period, more than ever, we also need to deal with false or contradictory information that is disseminated through social media, WhatsApp and even in speeches by political leaders broadcast on television. By the way, since March, my job has been to check misinformation on Aos Fatos, a Brazilian journalistic website dedicated to fact-checking.
Finally, we are at a time when journalism reinforces its own importance. People are looking for credible information during the pandemic. In Brazil, for example, news programs and news sites have grown their audiences over the last month.
However, at this point, I also want to highlight the importance of collaboration between journalists. I recently read an article written by journalist Liza Gross, who was my teacher in Colombia in a workshop on solutions journalism – “Rigorous reporting about responses to social problems” – about collaboration. In the article, she writes that in 2019, 17 news organizations in New Hampshire, USA, worked together to produce a series of stories about responses to the state’s mental health and opioid crisis. The group had planned to continue working together in March to report on economic opportunities in New Hampshire. Because of the advancement of COVID-19, the group quickly changed its focus and, in just a few weeks, published almost 100 stories about the virus and its impact.
I believe that collaboration is important for diversity and to enhance a journalistic project. However, the example mentioned above is about collaboration between organizations. How can we promote collaborations between independent journalists? I think that for these journalists it is essential that there is an organization like Hostwriter. For instance, I was invited by Outride.rs, an Eastern European organization, to participate in a journalistic project on COVID-19 and solutions journalism called Radar after the organization found me through Hostwriter. Radar is gathering verified examples of responses and solutions to the pandemic all over the world, to help people learn from one other what works and what doesn’t.
I believe that at a time when we are faced with so much sad news about COVID-19, it is important to show our readers, viewers or listeners what has been done around the world to face the pandemic. So, I end this article with some basics on solutions journalism and how it might be applied to covering the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are the main characteristics of a solutions journalism report?
The focus of a solutions journalism report is the process of solving [or trying to solve] a problem. It is important to explain the causes of the problem and the limitations of the solution, detail the implementation process and how the action worked or not, and explain what the results were. A solutions journalism report presents new information and perspectives and includes people, but focuses on the process resolution.
For example, The Guardian wrote about how UK universities are helping support the public health system and the local community during the pandemic. The Hanoi Times showed an alternative to distributing rice to people who are suffering because of the effects of the pandemic.
How can we assess whether we can apply solutions journalism to a topic?
There is no perfect solution, as any action will have strengths and weaknesses. However, if in the pre-investigating stage it was possible to identify a result that is sustained, even if initially, the agenda is valid in terms of solutions journalism. An important point is to ask questions about the idea itself. Who is doing a particular action better? At what level does the answer work, and at what level does it not? If it was implemented elsewhere, what are the results? What are the obstacles to replication? What are the relevant parameters of success?
How can we take advantage of the journalism reports of solutions to improve connection with the audience?
Before defining which engagement tools to use, it is essential to establish what the objectives are and what impact they are looking for. The second step is to plan contact actions with the audience that will cover the investigating process until the post-publication of the report. For starters, for example, you can make a series of stories to show the backstage of the production and spark the curiosity of the audience. When publishing, it may be worth sending out a special newsletter.
To close, one option may be to produce a live broadcast or webinar – with audience participation – with the interviewees of the report to talk about the process of solving a certain problem, what were the challenges, etc. You can do polls, ask readers to share personal stories that are related to the story, etc. The possibilities range from the most expensive to simple and economical productions. By the way, an inclusive website is also an engagement tool. At a time when we must stay at home, we can take full advantage of the potential of the internet.