Solutions 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 Engaging News Project and two field tests that the Engaging News Project 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.