I was talking with an old friend of mine a few weeks ago. This particular old friend also happens to be one of the finest journalists and storytellers I know so, because I am hoping to recruit him to be a guest on my podcast, I will wait to introduce you until later. But during the course of our conversation he told me about a woman he had met who was working with an organization called the Solutions Journalism Network that had some goals in common with Project to Find America. He suggested that I reach out to her, I resolved to and then promptly forgot amid my travels earlier this month.
But, for whatever reason, that conversation was the first thing I thought of upon waking this morning and I’ve spent much of the day since on that site looking through a treasure trove of interesting articles about how we are collectively solving some of the world’s problems. Needless to say I will be reaching out soon.
One article that caught my eye was the story of how a woman in St. Louis started an organization in the wake of the Ferguson, MO shootings in 2014 that has helped at least one community foster meaningful conversations about race and bias at a time when that dialogue seems more crucial then ever.
Another story explained how the state of Arkansas (and some others) is enlisting the help of truck drivers to fight human trafficking.
This last one sparked some serious interest from the youngest member of the Craib house this morning. My son Alistair has shown an uncanny interest in the worn out and outdated electronics that fill our basement since he was a baby. Now an organization has come up with an approach that might help in not only reducing solid waste but also providing marketable service skills to a generation that may well need them in the age of automation.
What do these stories have in common? More than you might think. But at the simplest level they are all about solving a problem. I doubt that any would claim that the subjects of these stories had the only solution to a problem or even that it was better than others – just that it aimed to fix something…to make things better.
We need more of this…a lot more. If and when we get it, politicians will be expected to talk about the solutions they propose and how they will work instead of trotting out the tired and well-worn recipe to political campaigns today:
- Talk in general terms about all the problems our world faces
- Offer unspecific and unmeasurable solutions to these “issues”
- Blame the other guy/party for the problem and criticize their approach to dealing with it
If candidates are using this approach when others are talking about measurable solutions they should seem as obviously lacking as the fourth-grader on the playground who tells everyone what a great basketball player he is but never seems to be found on the court.
This is achievable and it’s achievable in time to make a difference in the next set of federal elections coming next year. But we’ve got to start by doing three things.
- Just as we can only hope to change the behavior of elected officials at the polls we will probably only be effective at promoting better sources of news by, wait for it, consuming better news. Seek out solutions-based journalism. Solutions Journalism Network is a fine place to start. The upcoming 435 Voices podcast will also aim to highlight more journalists that are covering the nuances of issues that actually impact our lives. Finally, you might like this list of news sources from Forbes put together by a professor of journalism in response to a question similar to the one we covered last week.
- Learn to read and think about Internet news laterally not vertically. You will find a nice explanation of what this means here, but basically instead of reading more of a site to assess its credibility, leave the site open and use other browser windows to search on a statement and see what other sites have to say about it.
- Start to take a hard look at whether the people representing you in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are offering specific solutions to the outcomes you care about. Put their names in Google News and try Duck Duck Go too, it’s a pretty cool new search engine and you might be surprised to see some different things come up.
PS – While I’m on the subject of worthwhile organizations that are trying to mend some of the same fences we are, I want to mention Better Angels. A couple of readers have mentioned it to me after seeing what I’m tying to do here and I think their approach is fantastic. I hope you’ll have time to check it out. Incidentally, you can get a guide that offers approaches on how to have a productive conversation with that “difficult liberal” or “difficult conservative” in your life. I ordered both.