Optimism, problems journalism, and solutions journalism. And groundwater.

It is not hard to find and highlight problems. Solutions are more difficult stories to tell, because they often manifest themselves as things that just work, unnoticed by the very fact of their practical efficiency – “Problems scream, solutions whisper,” as a new friend working on “solutions journalism” recently told me.

Thus it is, for example, that we have seen journalism to the point of exhaustion regarding groundwater pumping in California’s Central Valley, but precious little about those groundwater basins in that state or elsewhere that have successfully self-regulated their groundwater pumping and stabilized their aquifers.

I frame the problem in a particular way because of my focus on water, but as Gregg Easterbrook writes in the New York Times, it generalizes:

Because optimism has lost its standing in American public opinion, past reforms — among them environmental protection, anti-discrimination initiatives, income security for seniors, auto and aviation safety, interconnected global economics, improved policing and yes, Obamacare — don’t get credit for the good they have accomplished.

One Comment

  1. John, a question.
    If the biggest obstacles to solving a thorny problem are political, then what does a “solutions journalism” story about it look like, and who are the important readers to reach? Does it become just about how to build the political support to get some, any, sort of “solutions” bill passed? About how to restructure government so there would be more votes for better policies?

    In such a case, how do you assess what is a constructive story? Is it going to be exactly the kind of horse-race, inside-baseball journalism that drives voters batty in election season?

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