What is solutions journalism, and why should I be creating content in this way?

At Arete, we have a strong focus on “solutions journalism” and apply this to each assignment that we work on.

Last year, Arete trainer, Peter Burdin, explored how reporting through a solutions journalism lens can avoid creating ‘poverty porn’. In this article, we will dive deeper into this subject, exploring how a solutions journalism approach to content gathering can, amongst other things, combat donor fatigue and garner greater engagement.

But before we get into the benefits of a solutions journalism approach and why as a charity or NGO creating your content in this way can be beneficial, let’s first understand: what is solutions journalism?

What is solutions journalism?

charities and NGOs
Theodore, who runs a workshop where he teaches people to tailor clothes, works in his office in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

The clue to solutions journalism is in the name; it is the reporting of responses to social issues where people, institutions and/or communities are working towards solutions. A good example of this is in our latest ‘From the photographer’ journal entry by Eden Sparke, which reports on the lack of employment opportunities for women in the DRC and how a scheme called #GiveWork aims to change this.

Journalists, charities, and NGOs have for years created content using problem-focused reporting. While this form of reporting does an important job of covering the social problems at hand, it doesn’t focus on initiatives that aim to provide help and support. Solutions-based writing refocuses the story on who may be working to solve the issue, as well as how and why the solution may be working (or in some cases, not working).

Why is it better to create solutions-based stories?

what is solutions journalism
Theodore’s niece, Deborah, prepares cassava leaves to be cooked while his wife Adeline, 60, lights their lamp in their kitchen in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

As a charity or NGO, great content engages people and energises support for your cause. A solutions journalism approach has been proven to help readers feel more informed, and more likely to carry out further reading on the subject as well as increasing propensity for the reader to share what they have read (1).

More detail around the solution = more engagement

Solutions journalism uses an investigative approach to understand why the particular social issue has arisen, and analyses what solutions are being implemented to solve it. By helping the reader or viewer understand in depth what is being done to solve the issue, one is more likely to engage them and gather their support.

By covering the story in more detail, one is creating more opportunities for the reader or viewer to engage with the content, whether through empathy, interest, or inspiration. Traditionally, the focus is on the solutions aspect of the social issue that is working; but even if the solution is failing, it still provides an honest and interesting insight for the reader about what hasn’t worked and therefore what could work in the future.

A solutions perspective can tell a more positive story

charities and NGOs
Theodore’s family pose for a photo outside their house in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

Reporting on social issues from a solutions perspective can also allow for a more positive approach to telling a story. Positive stories will always have a greater impact and are much more likely to be shared online (2). A more positive approach to storytelling will help your content stand out in an industry that too often reports on social issues in a way meant to elicit shock from the reader or viewer.

These aspects of solutions journalism can ensure your content stands out in a sea of problem-focused reporting, create more support and awareness for your cause; with readers and viewers more likely to share content created in this way, and combat donor fatigue by providing a more engaging prospect for your readers and supporters.

How we can help

what is solutions journalism

We have outlined what solutions journalism is as well as touching on some of the benefits of creating content from this perspective. However, there is much more to know and understand about solutions journalism.

If you have a project that you think could benefit from our solutions journalism approach, or you would like to learn more about this topic in one of our workshops, then please get in touch.



1. Curry, A.L. and Hammonds, K.H. (2014) The power of solutions journalism. Engaging news project.


2. Tierney, J. (2013) Good news beats bad on social networks. The New York Times.


From the Photographer: First time in DRC

- Eden Sparke

Early one morning in May, I took a short flight from Nairobi to Kigali, before driving through northern Rwanda to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I was due to visit the workshop of a man called Theodore, an experienced tailor who trains others under the auspices of a concept called #GiveWork.

I had been warned that driving through Rwanda before crossing into Goma would be a shock; three people unnervingly used the phrase “like going from heaven to hell”. The warnings were not entirely untrue; after three hours of driving through stunning forest and mountains, I was greeted at the DRC border by temperature checks and a tannoy system loudly reminding passers-by to wash their hands at the chlorinated water stops. The country’s most recent and biggest ever Ebola outbreak, which seems so far away in the UK, suddenly loomed large.

Tailors work on clothing for Pour Les Femmes in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

After making it into Goma unscathed, we drove through the chaotic traffic to the workshop. Theodore, a tall, regal man only just in his sixties, greeted me warmly before giving me the run of the place, where people were working on the latest order for Pour Les Femme, an exclusive sleepwear brand that supports #GiveWork and produces a capsule collection of pyjamas in DRC. Everyone in the workshop was busy cutting, sewing and pressing pure white fabrics that contrasted heavily with the thick grey dust covering the floor.

I began taking photos, paying mind to the mid-afternoon light that shone through the large windows and bounced unforgivingly off the cream-coloured walls. The tailors, who glanced at my equipment before fastidiously returning to their tasks after I had introduced myself and asked the Swahili equivalent of ‘pretend I’m not here’, relaxed after a few minutes and began asking me to observe what they were working on.

Theodore works in his office in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

I also took the opportunity to interview Theodore. His office, a tiny room to the side of the main entrance, just about held his chair and two stools for myself and Cherubin, my translator. The background noise to the captured audio featured the whirr of sewing machines and the occasional stifled laugh, but overall it made a great place for an interview.

It was in this room that I discovered Theordore’s motivation for having trained over 50 people in tailoring. “I am proud of the people that work around me, and I am proud that when they leave here, that they will be ready to be independent,” he says. “All of humankind are called to God one day — I am proud that I have people who will keep doing this work in my absence.”

Elysée works in the early morning light in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

I returned to the workshop the next day, and in the early morning light saw Theodore’s son and senior tailor, Elysée, poised to turn on the generator. After his confusion at me wanting to photograph him pressing a button wore off, he started up the generator, which roared into life and allowed the workshop — at a cost of over ten precious dollars per day — to begin functioning.

Fifi poses for a photo in Theodore’s workshop in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

After taking advantage of the softer morning light for wide and portrait shots, I also spoke with Fifi, the widow of a Virunga National Park ranger who had been murdered by bandits years before. After her husband died, she found it difficult to support herself and her two children. “I had to work in the fields for around 1 dollar per day,” she explains. “Sometimes my children were sent home from school, and I had to beg the teachers.”

Fifi learned to sew on a programme, where she met Theodore, who was one of the trainers. Following the training, she had the opportunity to create the first and second capsule collection for Pour Les Femmes at the Virunga National Park facilities.

Theodore’s niece, Deborah, prepares cassava leaves to be cooked while his wife Adeline, 60, lights their lamp in their kitchen in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

That afternoon, we visited Theodore’s home. Located 90 minutes on foot from the workshop, in an area with no running water or consistent electricity, Theodore’s four-bedroomed home is home to 10 people. While sharing a loaf of bread, Theodore’s family told me of their plans to move closer to town, hopefully into a five-bedroomed house. His wife, Adeline, showed me their small kitchen, and the bucket and hose they used to collect rainwater to avoid going to the public tank, about 10 minutes’ walk away. It seemed strange that a man working so hard to do so much good should be living in such difficult circumstances.

On my penultimate day in DRC, I visited another workshop, run by local association AGAPE, which creates accessories for Pour Les Femmes and where Theodore used to work. As people filed in, I began to photograph the embroiderers, who were tacking names onto cloth that would be made into make-up bags. Children played in the compound outside, and it seemed far away from the noise and chaos of the part of Goma that I had become used to.

Vicky, 54, works on a piece of embroidery that will be made into a pouch for a private event held by SISLEY UK in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

I found a helpful whitewashed wall and began asking people to come and pose for photos for me. Standing in an area looked in on by the workshop, they were understandably nervous about posing, but once again Cherubin came to my rescue, cracking jokes and helping them to relax enough to provide some beautiful portraits. I struggled more with the lighting inside the workshop; despite the glaring sunshine outside there were areas that were incredibly dark. Part of my learning curve was understanding when to focus my efforts elsewhere.

Parfait, 19, poses for photos outside one of the Don Bosco workshops in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. “For now, we don’t have permanent electricity, and this has a negative impact on the amount of orders that we get,” he explains. “Once we get an order, due to the lack of electricity, we miss their deadline, and it doesn’t give them confidence.” (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

My final day was a mad rush to visit Don Bosco — a sprawling orphanage for babies and children up to the age of 18. After being tasked with taking portraits of the younger children who were undergoing vocational training in the compound’s workshops, we found that they had all disappeared to sit their school exams. Luckily the Programme Manager, Monica, rounded up a group of — at first slightly unwilling — young men and women to have their photo taken and to explain to me why the lack of consistent electricity in the area posed such a problem for them.

I spent barely three hours there before being whisked back off to the border on the news that the Rwandan president was visiting Gisenyi, the Rwandan crossing point, and shutting all the roads down as he went. It was a fleeting end to a visit that felt equally as quick.

Theodore’s family pose for a photo outside their house in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Eden Sparke / Arete)

For all the warnings I received, Goma and its people felt welcoming, if chaotic. Even after spending barely a week there, the potential of the region is obvious; there is an energy that permeates the town even through the complex web of poverty, conflict, and yet another Ebola outbreak. People are motivated to educate themselves and to work, but they are being held back by a systemic lack of job opportunities. Schemes like #GiveWork are vital, because they empower people who have been disenfranchised by forces beyond their control, and allow them to create a sustainable future for themselves.

From the Photographer: First time in DRC was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.