Anya Khalamayzer | December 18, 2018
Despite what many people think, journalists aren’t just interested in writing about problems. Many are looking to highlight effective responses to pressing social and environmental challenges.
This is good news for companies and organizations that specialize in making a positive impact and the PR pros who want to get them media coverage.
Stories about the ways people are solving problems are all too frequently missing from media coverage, noted Catherine Cheney, senior reporter for the social enterprise publication Devex. Cheney was in San Francisco recently to lead a training that brought together reporters and PR professionals who want to accelerate the momentum of solutions journalism. (The workshop was offered by the Solutions Journalism Network, which trains and connects journalists to cover how people are responding to problems.)
What’s a solutions story?
A good solutions story needs to identify an issue and its consequences, illuminate what’s missing from the public conversation and provide insight into effective responses, focusing on how the response works and what it achieves in meaningful detail. (There are great examples in the Solutions Journalism story tracker, which compiles a database of solutions reporting across a spectrum of publications.)
Not only are journalists more likely to be interested In these stories, solutions journalism also provides a framework to better promote them to the media. I can say from experience on both sides that this approach can make pitches more appealing and build solid media relationships. Here are some guides for pitching substantive solutions stories.
Know who’s interested in you
The first step is identifying which reporters cover the challenges you are addressing and whether your solution would interest them. If your organization is addressing the problem of ocean acidification, for example, you want to pitch a reporter who covers ocean health.
One starting point for finding writers is the story tracker. Or do a Google search. Some journalists we know about who write about solutions are Abby Schultz (Barron’s and Penta), Heather Mack (Wall Street Journal), and (naturally), David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and New York Times columnist.
Just as journalists build trust with their readers, we build trust with reporters with pitches that are factual, put ideas in context and provide verifiable sources. We want to help them tell balanced, evidenced-based stories with room for talking about the pros and cons of a solution. That means a strong pitch will paint the landscape realistically and avoid over-the-top advocacy, and it won’t promise to be a silver bullet solution. Your pitch should also be free of hyperbole like “super,” “unique” and “genius.”
Know all the angles
It’s useful to frame the story from multiple angles. This gives you ways to tailor your pitch to interest different reporters (for example, the ocean acidification solution could be pitched to a cleantech journalist as well as someone on an oceans-related beat), and you may help a writer generate multiple article ideas and revisit your story in the future. Cherry-picking news angles helps your story go further, and you add value by showing reporters new information or a fresh approach that gives meaning to previously irrelevant data.
Finally, overtaxed journalists don’t have the time to find all the solutions to the issues they cover, and they often are looking to write shorter stories, more frequently and with more impact. By pitching comprehensive, meaningful stories that focus on solutions we can make their life easier and help them (and you) make an impact.