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Taylor Haelterman headshot

These Journalists Are Making It Easier to Read About Difficult Things

A sign reads "Read all about it. News. Papers. Magazines."

(Image: Madison Inouye/Pexels) 

This story on an approach to covering difficult topics without invoking avoidance is part of The Solutions Effect, a monthly newsletter covering the best of solutions journalism in the sustainability and social impact space. If you aren't already getting this newsletter, you can sign up here

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I found myself in a moral dilemma. I was a journalist who avoided the news at all costs because it was overwhelming and upsetting. Did that mean my work was also negatively affecting some of those who read it? Probably. 

Hoping to end my contribution, I changed the way I wrote stories. But the industry-wide problem hasn’t gone away. As of 2023, the number of people who avoid the news, either all the time or periodically, was near a historic high at 36 percent, according to the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report

“Certain news stories that are repeated excessively or are felt to be ‘emotionally draining’ are often passed over in favor of something more uplifting,” according to the report, which is based on a survey of over 93,000 online news consumers around the world. 

Repeating grim statistics and headlines over and over again dampens curiosity, action and constructive conversations. It’s critical to cover problems, but we must find ways to do so without invoking hopelessness and avoidance — especially when it comes to the most pressing societal issues that are often the most difficult to read about.  

That’s where solutions journalism comes in. Focusing on how people are working to solve problems and what we can learn from them can encourage agency, hope and productive public discourse. 

I’m not the only one who turned to solutions: 55 percent of news avoiders are interested in more positive news stories, and 46 percent are interested in stories about solutions, according to the Reuters report. 

Would you rather read a story that recites statistics about the ever-intensifying wildfires in California, or a piece about small businesses using herds of goats to graze down overgrowth across Sacramento as a fire mitigation method? 

I’d choose the goats. This Sacramento Bee article does a great job explaining the benefits of the method and why it’s needed without glossing over the drawbacks. It also includes photos of the goats. What more could you want?  

Not all solution-focused pieces on difficult-to-read topics can be as lighthearted as talking about goats, nor should they be. This piece from Reasons to be Cheerful, for example, covers the lack of access to safe drinking water in India through the stories of entrepreneurs who are running “water ATMs.” Trained and supported by the nonprofit Safe Water Network, the entrepreneurs are improving access at a significantly cheaper price than other suppliers. 

TriplePundit’s ongoing solutions journalism series approaches another challenging topic — the hidden human rights costs of the low-carbon transition — by looking at how local stakeholders, governments, and the mining sector are responding to long-scrutinized environmental and social harms caused by mining. Each of these stories focuses on responses that already exist to emphasize that immediate action can be taken, like empowering Indigenous voices and ensuring company due diligence assessments are conducted properly. 

Along with global challenges, solutions journalism can also be useful in covering issues that hit closer to home. This article from The Trace focuses on a city-funded violence intervention program in Philadelphia that was launched in response to a sharp increase in gun violence. A coalition of community members reaches out to people who are considered at risk of participating in violent crime and offers them access to social services, help toward getting a job, or any other support they need. The emphasis on data and personal anecdotes as evidence that the program is working makes for a powerful, but not disheartening, read. 

Each of these stories tackles a serious, often overwhelming, societal problem in a way that shows solving it is possible. They still explain the scope of the issue and make clear that the solution is not a panacea, but none of the articles left me with the sense of dread that led me to turn away from the news in the past. 

That’s the power of talking about solutions. 

The world’s biggest problems will always be difficult to digest, but it is journalists’ job to find the best ways to share important information with the public. The endless stream of negative news is not effective. Revamping the way we report is an easy way to bring back readers who are avoiding the news, prevent others from giving up on it, and encourage more constructive conversations. 

If you’re not a journalist but are avoiding the news, try reading a few solutions journalism stories. It might be the fix you’re looking for.  

Most of the examples listed above were found via the Solutions Journalism Network’s online database of solution-focused stories. If you want to find more stories like these, I recommend checking it out. 

Taylor Haelterman headshot

Taylor’s work spans print, podcasts, photography and radio. She brings her passion for covering social and environmental issues through the lens of solutions journalism to her work as editorial assistant. 

Read more stories by Taylor Haelterman