What is Solutions Journalism? A conversation with Dina Aboughazala 

What is Solutions Journalism?

A conversation with Dina Aboughazala 

 

What are the main pillars of solutions journalism? Why is it important and how does it change perceptions of the global south? Earlier in the year, we spoke to Dina Aboughazala as part of our event series OWM in Conversation: Stories not Issues, supported by Africa No Filter. Dina provided great insights into what Solutions Journalism is, how to keep solutions media from becoming promotional pieces, and how they support journalists at Egab.

As part of the upcoming GSDF Labs, Dina is running the Solutions Journalism training for MENA as one of five trainers. Read highlights from Dina’s session below, ahead of the Solutions Lab on Wednesday 9 November. See the full programme and register HERE.

 

Q: What is solutions journalism? How would you define it, and how do you determine if a piece can be considered solutions journalism?

A: Solutions journalism is rigorous evidence based reporting of responses to social problems. A solutions journalism story must have four pillars. The first is that there must be a response — you are covering something that has been implemented – not an opinion, or an idea that hasn’t been tested. The second is there must be evidence of whether the response is working or not. Sometimes we can do solutions journalism about responses that did not succeed or responses that were very promising. Once a response has been tried out, even if it didn’t produce the results as expected, there is huge value in reporting this because people who are facing the same problems can then avoid the same mistakes. The third pillar is insights. The piece must explain how this response works and provide insights and lessons learned that help other communities replicate this response. And the last one, which is really crucial, is limitations because there’s no such thing as a perfect solution. Every solution has limitations.

 

Q:  Why is it a good idea to broaden storytelling to solutions journalism?

A: When is Africa in the news? I’m not saying there’s no poverty in Africa or health problems. But this is just part of the story. I’m sure you’re familiar with the famous TED talk about the danger of a single story [by author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie]. The problem is exactly this – when we only perpetuate stories of poverty or health problems, Africa becomes equal to these terms. And Africa is a very big continent – much bigger than these issues. It has other things as well. I do believe that locals are the best ones to tell us what’s happening in their communities. I am from Egypt. I have no idea what’s happening in Zambia. I want you to tell me what is happening in your communities and we will help you tell the world this.

 

Q: How do you avoid your story being hijacked or becoming a brand story?

A: That’s exactly why it’s important to follow the four pillars, especially the limitations. Sometimes you’re reporting on a response that’s been carried out by an NGO. The response should be the focus, not the person behind it. What has been the impact? Or was the process easy? Why did no one do this before? These questions make the story not about the NGO. 

 

Q: As a person who’s now commissioning other people’s pieces, tell us more about what Egab does and how did it start?

A: At Egab, we help local journalists from across the Middle East and Africa get published in international media, with a focus on solutions journalism. Our premise is that we believe there are many talented journalists but they lack guidance. Training workshops are great but they’re not enough. They need to be complemented. And this is what we looked at – what’s missing? After attending trainings, people either go back to their local newsrooms, or they’re freelancers on their own. They’re not always sure how to get published in international media outlets. This is where we come in. We see ourselves as door openers. We don’t want you to stay with us forever. We want you to stay with us until you have developed enough skills and bylines to enable you to move on your own. A couple of journalists we’ve worked with have been commissioned independently. 

 

Q: What do you look for in a pitch?

A: There are many criteria but two main ones are the scale of the problem and the impact of the solution. Is it a real problem that’s affecting a lot of people? Do we have any indication of the impact of this solution? There are also other layers, like how innovative the solution is. 

 

Q:  What are your tips for journalists?

A: Focus on learning. Money is important but this will follow once you’ve developed the skills. As a journalist, your CV is your bylines. As an editor, unless I can see evidence that you can transfer knowledge from workshops into actual pieces that got published, the workshops shouldn’t be on your CVs. I want to see where you worked before and what kind of stories you produced. And expand your network. Use social media and platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Solutions Journalism Network has a Facebook group. One World Media is a great network. Apply for fellowships and attend trainings. No one can do it on their own, you always need support. And professionally, this support is your network.

 

Dina Aboughazala is an Egyptian media entrepreneur and a bilingual journalist, who spent 14 years working for the BBC before launching her media startup Egab in August 2020. Egab empowers local journalists from the Middle East and Africa to publish stories in regional and international media outlets that challenge stereotypes and dominant narratives about their communities. Egab specialises in solutions journalism, a genre focused on reporting how people respond to problems in their communities.