Message avoidance is increasing. Could a solution journalism approach to stories help? | Monterey County NOW Introduction
Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here reflecting on my relationship with the news. There was a time when I was insatiable and devoured as many messages as I could get my hands on. When the iPhone introduced us to mobile apps, I quickly downloaded one that gave me headlines from a wide range of news organizations, all grouped around a topic. I loved this app – it felt important and interesting to take a look at how different journalists are reporting on the same world.
However, lately I’ve found that I shy away from the news (beyond what is required in the service of my work, of course). I feel overwhelmed with information and tired of having to keep up with it. I’m not proud of that. In fact, it feels like a kind of lack of curiosity and interest and even empathy.
Then, a few weeks ago, I read an opinion column by journalist Amanda Ripley in which she makes essentially the same admission. She also reports that she (and I) are not alone – according to research by the Reuters Institute, for example Four out of ten Americans sometimes or often avoid the news. One of the main reasons people avoid the news? It negatively affects their mood and they feel exhausted from the volume.
Ripley’s hypothesis is that this news avoidance trend is not a personal failure, but a design flaw in the way messages are written and delivered. She’s spent time researching better options and has developed three concepts that she thinks journalists and news organizations should pay more attention to: hope, agency, and dignity. Her point is not that we journalists should stop reporting negative news (negative things really do happen in the world!), but that we should strive to do so in a way that allows readers to get a sense of the To feel hope (this negative thing has the potential for change) and/or agency (I have the ability to help change this negative thing) and to treat the readers and the subjects of the story with dignity.
I’m sharing all of this because I think the cover stories in this week’s print edition of the Weekly are an excellent example of journalism that prioritizes hope, agency and dignity. The topic is very serious: the housing shortage. But instead of just dealing with the challenges, we approached the topic with solution journalism. Solutions journalism is a method that goes beyond identifying a social problem to explore possible solutions to that problem, examining how and where those solutions worked in the past and why they might work again now. It’s like offering constructive criticism backed by evidence.
(That Weekly Employees were introduced to solutions journalism by editor Sara Rubin and contributor Pam Marino. Marino received a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network. This opportunity helped her cover Project Homekey and farmworker housing initiatives in the Salinas Valley.)
In this week’s newspaper the approach spawned a story by Christopher Neely on rent stabilization; and a story by Celia Jiménez on the appeal and challenges of a rental database. Pam Marino investigated whether a vacancy tax could help level the playing field on the Monterey Peninsula. and David Schmalz asked if federal subsidies to military service members are driving up local rents.
There is also news about how organizations are working to persuade landlords to accept tenants they would have previously rejected (such as those with federal housing certificates or low credit scores); efforts to build affordable housing on church lands; and a look at whether the projected post-pandemic clearance cliff has really materialized.
It is a newspaper full of well-reported stories that I hope you will take the time to read and ponder. And however the housing crisis has affected you, I wish there is something in it that gives you a sense of hope, agency and dignity.