Solutions Journalism: Positive Turbulence in Action
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Most of the journalism we encounter today asks what went wrong yesterday and who’s to blame, or so says David Beers of the Tyee.ca. He, Summers McKay and Kristy Jansen of the Optimist Daily joined us for a rich and robust exploration of solutions journalism. What is solutions journalism you may ask? Solutions journalism is about investigating and reporting on potential solutions to our biggest challenges. It’s investigative journalism with a focus on how people are responding to and solving problems. Because it is not spin or fluff, it is a potential answer to the emotional inflammation that many of us are experiencing today.
Solutions Journalism: Positive Turbulence in Action With Summers Mckay, Kristy Jensen, and David Beers
Rob Brodnick: Welcome to the Positive Turbulence Podcast, stories from the periphery. Here, we journey to the edge to talk to turbulators about their experiences creating positive change. Hi, I’m Rob Rodnick.
Karyn Zuidinga: And I’m Karyn Zuidinga. In sharing these stories, these perspectives on innovation, creativity, change, and leadership we hope to generate some positive turbulence for you. Thank you for joining us.
Rob Brodnick: Most of the journalism we encounter today, asks what went wrong yesterday and who’s to blame. Or so says David Beers of the Tyee. He, Summers McKay and Kristy Jansen of the Optimist Daily join Karyn and me for a rich and robust exploration of Solutions Journalism.
Karyn Zuidinga: What is solutions journalism you may ask? Solutions journalism is about investigating and reporting on potential solutions to our biggest challenges. It’s investigative journalism with a focus on how people are responding to and solving problems. It is a potential answer to the emotional inflammation that many of us are experiencing today.
Rob Brodnick: Solutions journalism is a potent form of positive turbulence. And, as you’ll hear can be an innovation catalyst. I see this as having similar characteristics to design thinking.
Karyn Zuidinga: I feel like the ideas, Dave, Kristy and Summers explored with us provide a kind of guide to navigating the periphery. Summed up it could be phrased, look outside, look within and live the future now.
But before we begin, let’s take a moment to acknowledge our supporting organizations.
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Karyn Zuidinga: Let’s begin with a few introductions. And David we’ll start with you. You are founder and I think was once Managing Editor of the Tyee.ca but are no longer the managing editor there Is that correct?
David Beers: I was Editor in Chief. I was the founder and the Editor in Chief and then stepped away for a few years And then I came back a couple of years ago. My fancy title now, self-assigned, is Editor for Initiatives.
Karyn Zuidinga: Nice
David Beers: And that may that means I can do pretty much whatever I want to do.
Summers McKay: You get to do whatever editor for initiatives. I initiate something and therefore I do it.
David Beers: That’s right if somebody says why are you wasting time on that I say, this is an initiative.
Karyn Zuidinga: Exactly. Nicely done.
Rob Brodnick: Are you in Vancouver?
David Beers: Based in Vancouver and we cover sort of concentric rings the lower mainland of Vancouver then out to all of BC and Western Canada and Cascadia.
Rob Brodnick: Yeah
Karyn Zuidinga:All right, and Summers? let’s Hello. And who are you? And what do you do?
Summers McKay: I’m the CEO of the Optimist Daily. I started as a consultant. The Optimist Daily were at a point In the organization where it was can we make a business out of optimism ? I was brought in as the practical, tactical business person to say how do we turn this into a do good do well enterprise not just a do good enterprise I came from a long experience in marketing and communications I actually joke most people don’t use their college degrees for their for their careers but my college degree is in mass communications from Berkeley . I am doing it.
Rob Brodnick: You’re doing it. That’s great!
Summers McKay: That overlaid with kind of a life of experience in positive storytelling. I worked as a reality TV show producer and felt sickened by my experience doing that and actually left the industry to go get a business degree in order to figure out how to make business success out of the positive storytelling and out of telling stories and educating in positive ways. We have over a million aggregate impressions every single month across all of our channels, and our email distribution. And now our podcast, the Optimist Daily Updates, which we love doing. And I am just honored to share the stage with my Chief Content Officer, Kristy Jensen. Christie do you want to take it from here?
Kristy Jensen: Sure I’ve been with the optimist daily for about three years it’s still developing. The original brainchild there was a solution journalism from our original founder which is Urian Camp and he’s a Dutch guy Who’s been at the forefront of solutions journalism for the last like 30 years. He started a magazine called Ode. There’s also a Dutch version which was The Optimist and coming here to the US it’s the English language version. But the print journalism, not happening so much anymore. So together with Rinaldo Brutoco who is the founding CEO of an organization called the World Business Academy as a nonprofit think tank located in California they were friends for many years and they got together to create a digital version of the Ode Magazine which then was rebranded as the Intelligent Optimist which is the Optimist Daily. That was about three years ago. I got brought in at that point to help organize the team. Urian has since left. I took over the chief content role. Our goal is really to help our audience and help the world shift their focus, shift their attention, back to what’s working in the world and also in their personal agency. I feel like the way that the media is designed and the way the 24 hour news cycle is designed is to really inflame our animal instincts which is fear and rage. That’s what keeps our attention.
Karyn Zuidinga: I once was a newspaper reporter in a small town. My editor actually said the words to me, out loud, If it bleeds it leads.
Summers McKay: People think that’s the joke that whenever news are characterized on television but the simple fact is it is not a joke, most newsrooms do anchor to that belief
Rob Brodnick: Yeah it’s obvious if you have half a brain you should see that and it’s really the news cycle is targeted at cheap not humans. I love your use of the phrase agency. I think that’s what differentiates humans from other animals out there in the sense but the fact that we can make choices to create the kind of outcomes that would prefer. Really appreciate that.
Karyn who are you? Tell us who you are.
Karyn Zuidinga: I am the co-host of the positive turbulence podcast among
Rob Brodnick: you brought it You brought us all together to have fun!
Karyn Zuidinga: It started because I had never heard the term solutions journalism. I was watching a thing that The Tyee does with some of their people called three I think three great questions or just three questions Dave?
David Beers: Three things
Karyn Zuidinga: Three things! It was an interview that your editor was doing with you on three things. You started talking about solutions journalism. I thought what is this solutions journalism thing? Why have I never heard of this before? To me that sounded like something that dovetailed well into the concept of positive turbulence. That’s where this conversation between the five of us began. If you wouldn’t mind taking a second and we’ll just go around the table on this for you David what is Solutions Journalism?
David Beers: I come out of a hard news, social issues, magazine reporting I worked at the major newspaper in San Francisco worked at Mother Jones Magazine. Did a lot of reporting around refugee issues. So a lot of grim facts needed to be conveyed. A lot of power needed to be held accountable. That’s an important role for journalism. I would say most reporting, most journalism, asks what went wrong yesterday and who’s to blame. Which needs to be done. Solutions Journalism asks what might go right tomorrow, and then investigates, and I use that word advisedly, investigates who is showing the way. What might go right tomorrow and who is showing the way. It’s not spin. It’s not advocacy. It’s subjecting changemakers to rigorous journalism techniques. As a result what you’re doing is you’re providing citizens with information. Not about what went wrong yesterday and who’s to blame. Which can just bum you out and seem like the horse is already out of the barn, but actually it equips citizens with something cool that we might streak for if we could get organized and advocate for it. But again the journalism itself isn’t advocacy but it empowers people to be advocates for positive change with real facts and real examples.
Karyn Zuidinga: I see Summers and Kristy are just like both nodding nodding nodding do one of you Do you want to jump in On that definition of solutions journalism?
Kristy Jensen: The way that the news as you talked about it if it bleeds it leads, that’s the whole way that standard journalism is built. Also, it is a business and so there’s the Corporate interests or the media interest in keeping subscribers, keeping people engaged I think it’s I agree with how Dave described it that the typical headlines are about what went wrong and who’s to blame. It’s gotcha. It’s reporting on the breaks in society, the breaks in your community, the breaks in your government, the breaks in business. What solutions journalism does It doesn’t necessarily discount that those things going on but then it asks so then what? Instead of focusing on only what went wrong it also focuses on how do you repair that? How do you get to the next level? I love how you described that where it’s looking at tomorrow, It’s not looking at yesterday. It’s looking at the future. It’s still giving rigorous attention to that.
Yes we use the word optimist but we’re not blind-eyed Pollyanna. We don’t focus on feel good stories. That’s what the conventional news media uses for the human interest, The positive story is about somebody who saves a dog, or somebody who wins an award that is about being a good Samaritan. Those are great. That’s interesting. But what we’re interested in more is the solutions to the problems that are really rife in our world. And Like what Dave said that helps people get back in touch with what they can do, and what is working, as opposed to what’s broken. With the Optimist Daily our goal is to highlight the solutions journalism that is being produced out there. We don’t do a lot of our own reporting. We’re more of a news curation site. With the 24 hour news cycle too now there’s an explosion in Beirut and you see it every 15 minutes. 30 years ago, you’d have it in your morning paper and you’d see it on the nightly news. You would maybe have two touch points. Now it’s like constantly fed into your cell phone and it’s hard to avoid. What the Optimist Daily is trying to do is highlight the things which are not headlines in terms of CNN headline news but rather help people pay attention to things that are working. The solutions that are being built for tomorrow. And how can we get connected to those and bring them into our communities and bring them into our lives.
Rob Brodnick: Let me ask a quick question. Something that’s starting to stand out for me as a possible difference in solutions journalism as compared to headline news. Whereas that explosion in Beirut Is information, it doesn’t ask me to do much about it except maybe talk about it. I’m starting to hear that solutions journalism may have an embedded call to action of some kind that you’re actually trying to lead to behaviors that could have better outcomes am I hearing it right?
Summers McKay: I would add to what my colleagues have said in that Solutions journalism is not to offer checkmate in an argument We’re not looking to offer a fact that’s your checkmate in your argument. Instead we’re looking to offer And serve tactics in a respectful conversation to improve the future. A lot of times headline journalism is about that checkmate. Everybody’s doing the gotchas. What solutions journalism is about is stripping away that argument and contentious behavior and instead saying what is the conversation we can have to affect change. And what are the reasons to do it beyond winning an argument. What are the fiscal reasons to make a positive change What are the greater solutions that will actually lift society as a whole regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. Certainly in the United States we have a very caustic and toxic political environment that is just pitted against one another. Our goal is to stop the arguments and invite conversation.
Karyn Zuidinga: David does that idea of a call to action resonate with you?
David Beers: It’s interesting solutions itself is a bit of a polarizing word because it makes you sound a bit arrogant. I know how to solve this problem, And I’m going to tell you. When I first started talking about this stuff years ago I preferred the term future-focused journalism. Because as citizens in a democracy we’re looking back at what went wrong. We want to hold people accountable for it. But we also are asked to collectively Make decisions about what kind of future we want. To pick up Summer’s point a lot of conversation happens on the internet. A lot of debating and marshaling of arguments that are based on values happens. What I see a shortage of and what I’m trying to do with our solutions journalism is Reporting and investigation of actual best practices that are happening on the ground. You could send a reporter in with a set of questions It wouldn’t really matter what their ideology was. For example here in Vancouver we have something called the Insight Clinic. It’s a safe injection clinic where drug users can go and inject themselves with hard drugs and a nurse will be there to make sure if they OD they don’t die. That’s an experiment going on. That’s one approach to the harm that drugs do to society. It’s very fraught. It’s very difficult concept for most people to wrap their heads around.
The way we would report that is probably not to offer it as the solution but we would say Vancouver has a serious overdose problem. Four times more people have died from opioid overdoses in Vancouver than COVID-19. And the numbers are going in the opposite directions. What you do with solutions reporting as you go to the Insight Clinic and you gather all the data that it’s produced over the last three four years. How many lives have been saved? You look at how many people have maybe been drawn into rehabilitation through the Insight process. You talk to people who staff the place. We’ve talk to people who used the place. You talk to people who used to use the place and don’t anymore .And you talk to the managers of the social infrastructure around it, the politicians who allowed this to happen, the health officials who said this was necessary, how are they feeling about it now? This is the kind of reporting that doesn’t really happen in the op-ed page. This can happen in the news pages. Because it’s based on old-fashioned investigative You’ll have a problem if organizations aren’t transparent. They won’t show you their data. If they just spin you all the time. That just simply calls on you to be a better reporter. Also have to go into solutions reporting with the understanding that the whole thing might fall apart and it might not end up being a very positive solution at all . But again that’s the difference between going in wanting a feel-good positive spin story and actually investigating potential solutions.
Rob Brodnick: Does it start with a problem? Is it problem-based approach?
David Beers: To me, it starts when the problem is fairly well understood to be a problem in society. Most citizens are feeling a lot of anxiety about it. They accept what we’re doing is not good enough. And so you don’t have to do a ton of reporting to convince people it’s a problem. Most of your reporting is well we all agree, for example, that students of color are being punished at a higher level by the school system. Let’s look into that and what can be done what are some best practices? What you’ve done is you’ve equipped decision-makers and politicians as well as the average citizen with some information and some tools to make important decisions. It’s not always, to go back to your question, Rob, it’s not always a call to action for the average citizen to go out in the streets and demand something. Often it’s more pedestrian than that. It’s, “Oh thank you, I didn’t know that” and I’m the Deputy Minister in charge of this issue. Now I can make better decisions.
Karyn Zuidinga: What about a for you, Summers, Kristy? Do you have that same sense of, I know that you’re curating news, but I’m sure that the lens you’re putting on your curation… Is it similar? Are you looking for a known problem?
Summers McKay: We like to have a conversation with our readers. And we like to understand what solutions they are finding in addition to what we are curating. We had an interesting email this morning from a reader who suggested that we have a conversation with our editorial team about repositioning how we talk about climate change. And one of the language choices that we have made on the site and many people make is that it’s called fighting climate change. Our readers presented us with the idea that the very idea that we are in a fight is actually polarizing. Perhaps we could reposition it in other ways. Kristy you reflected on that and reflected on language and the power of language to create solutions with the editorial team. And it just begot a really interesting conversation that our team is open to evolving how it is we tell solutions. How it is we share stories. Because, we as journalists, and as publishers of media cannot say that we are the boss of storytelling. It is a collaborative experience and our readers — we are all reader funded, I know Tyee is also reader funded — independent journalism is reader funded. The readers become an absolutely critical part of that. The readers who take the time to say hey we’d like to make this recommendation, or here’s a solution that we’re looking for. That’s where we say okay, yes this is a real problem.
Kristy Jensen: I really do think there is a movement afoot of solid reporting that is focused on changing the hyperbolic narrative and actually getting people invested in what can be done instead of just all what’s broken. It is looking at what the problems are that are currently being talked about and hounded upon and also the things that don’t make it to the front page but are endemic in our society. For example the opioid crisis here in the United States and all of these other diseases of despair as they’re calling them and finding out that the places like the Insight Clinic that you’re talking about. I think there’s similar types of programs here in the United States that are being investigated and then seeing how can we look at them without pre-judgment and then present the solutions so that they are available to our readers whether they are just a regular citizen or a policymaker. That is definitely what drives our interest in looking at what’s happening in the world. Without a presupposed understanding of what is the right thing to do. But just being open to the fact that we can do something I think is something that I personally have made it my mission to try to reignite in the world. While I’m not interested in necessarily inspiring a call to action I do want to let people be informed about what’s really happening . What we’re trying to do is highlight the solutions and highlight the research so that people can make their own decisions and get involved in a more substantial kind of way.
Rob Brodnick: I agree with you I think that the problems are well-known. But I would say that the problems are completely misunderstood. And what are the root causes? What are the influences of the systems that are layered on top of each other that continue to fuel the problems? Sometimes it takes a reconceptualization of the problem to understand really what are the drivers. Because if you really want to create change sometimes the obvious reaction to a problem doesn’t create a solution, It actually worse. That’s a real challenge.
Karyn Zuidinga: I want to ask each of you, we use the term turbulator on the Positive Turbulence Podcast to talk about somebody stimulating positive change. To me all three of you fit that description really well. What I’m wondering about is do you have a story about something that you covered or a story that you’re maybe working on now that you’re seeing those positive outcomes. Do you have a story about how you influence positive change?
David Beers: I have a bunch. I’ll give you one. My favorite one. And this is what kinda got me going on the whole thing. Back in 2002 or something when I decided to really throw myself at this and name it solutions journalism for myself it was by looking back at all the magazine pieces I’d done and edited, and seeing the ones that seemed to have the best response. The most kind of love. And there wasn’t the internet back then so you couldn’t count clicks. But just the sense of joy and embrace and everyone being happy that article was in the world. It was these kinds of future-focus pieces. Here’s the one that got me going on the whole thing. Back in the mid-eighties I was writing for the big magazine in the Bay area. It got tucked into both newspapers on Sunday. It was called Image but it was actually substantive. I wrote this piece that I was pretty proud of and it was about how the whole economy was going to move to the suburbs. That with computers and tech everybody was going to live out in sprawlandia And if you love cities too bad cause they’re going to hollow out. And sprawl is an environmental nightmare. It favors cars. It’s alienating at some level but too bad because that’s where these giant business parks are being located. And that’s where the new labor force was for data entry. I wrote this cover story for the magazine. I think at the time about a million people read the magazine. It was amazing because everybody who got the paper read it and everyone in the household. I got this call from a guy named Peter Calthorpe and he said Hey I read your story in the magazine. What did you think of your story, he said.I said I liked it quite a bit. I was pretty proud of it .And I said what did you think of it? He said I hated it. And if you come to lunch I’ll explain why. So I did. And Peter Calthorpe at the time was the former chief architect of California. He worked with Jerry Brown. His job was to design big buildings for the state. He had designed an environmental building that didn’t go well. It was so well sealed up that people passed out at their desks from off-gassing. So Peter was out of a job. He won’t mind me telling this story cause you’ll hear how it ends. So he was out of a job and he was teaching at Berkeley. We’d had lunch and he said, sprawl doesn’t have to be sprawl .You can run a light rail through and densify just a bit and have walkable neighborhoods. Actually go to a more traditional style of street where you have a front porches and you have back alleys. .And let me show you. And he drew a little diagram on a napkin called the pedestrian pocket. And I said that’s pretty cool. He said yeah why don’t you write an article about that. I actually got him and another architect at Berkeley to tell me how they would redesign suburbia. That was the title of the cover story of the month later, Redesigning Suburbia. A guy named Phil Angelides, who is the top I think it was top democratic fundraiser at the time in California, he’s also a major developer. He read that article and he phoned up Peter Calthorpe and he said I’ve got a bunch of land outside of Sacramento And I’m trying to build a town for 35,000 people. And I’d like to build it according to your design. Basically what was on the napkin he gave me a lunch right? Calthorpe has gone on to be, if you Google him, you’ll see he’s is a massive in urban planning. He helped start what was called the new traditionalism. If you go and read his book, called The Next American Metropolis, in the forward he’ll say., “None of this would have been possible without an article written by David Beers long ago.” To me that’s like the best journalism award I’ve ever got as somebody who actually built a massive real thing because he was given the resources somebody reading it in the But yeah just as recently and I won’t go on and on but just as recently as a few years The Tyee did a bunch of stories about why can’t we build inexpensive housing for homeless people out of shiping containers. We didn’t have an experiment locally that we could report on. What we did though is we looked overseas. We looked at Europe and we asked is our future maybe happening somewhere else right now And Europe was going gangbusters on building modular housing out of shipping containers . Our reporter talked to everybody in town who could be involved in this: the government, the shipping container magnate, the builders, homeless folks, Co-op people. They all agreed it could be done but they were all waiting for the other person to get going. When the article appeared I don’t know if we created turbulence so much as it was more of a catalyst. It actually triggered everybody to start talking to each other and say this is possible. And now there’s a lot of modular housing built in Vancouver out of shipping containers.
Karyn Zuidinga: And they look great they’re clean nice places Yeah Amazing
Rob Brodnick: It brings a phrase to mind of mine and I use in our communities It’s called be the butterfly. Refers back to the concept of the butterfly effect which suggests that I think the original saying was a butterfly flapping Its wings Brazil can create a tornado in Texas or something like that. But it’s the belief that if you can go in and create a little bit of change that influences a few others, That if you have the right conditions that small change can turn into a massive powerful force. Talk about optimism!
David Beers: I’ll see your insect metaphor and I will raise you. Because the one I use is the honeybee for journalism because basically what our reporter Monte did with that shipping container story is he acted like a honeybee moving around a garden. So you had the government sitting there saying I don’t know, And you had the shipping container guy saying I’d sell you shipping containers cheap If you wanted to do this ,and the builder. Monte met with everybody in a way he pollinated the garden. The whole idea started to balloon. I’m going to go to the honeybee thing not the butterfly Rob
Kristy Jensen: And here’s the one that I like to use which is the trim tab idea. I’m a
sailor and I’m a boater if you can just trim your tabs You can actually change the whole course and the energy that you’re using becomes so much more efficient to propel your vessel forward. Like that it just takes a little bit of a small change a little push, a little nudge in the right direction and you can go in a very different direction. It doesn’t take a ton of force to do that It just takes a slight adjustment and it then it turns the entire boat. All of these metaphors are wonderful and informative and inspirational for all of us thinking about how do we shape our societies in a different way. It’s about reframing and renaming. I love that conversation.
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Rob Brodnick: Let me tee up a sort of compare, contrast, instigate style question. I’ve been thinking about solutions journalism I’ve been learning a lot from some real pros here And I keep thinking about the design process. And I asked earlier is solutions journalism a problem-based approach. The design thinking methodologies which I use a lot in the work that I do with organizational and cultural change Is a problem-based approach. You identify these things are known as wicked problems. And that phrase has really long time in the systems and design. Essentially there’s a lot of different ways that you can approach this but it’s a combination of inspiration around something inspired about the problem mixed together empathy understanding how other people think feel and see the world and the problem. Then you go into this process of ideation where you create worlds of possibility and eventually lead to implementation where you put actions in place that try to mitigate, change, solve whatever the problem could be. That sort of the design process at about the shortest capsule I can create. I’d love to ask the three of you compare/contrast solutions journalism to the design process. Do you see any parallels? Any particular differences ?
Karyn Zuidinga: That’s a great question
Kristy Jensen: I think it’s interesting to think about journalism in general as a problem that needs to be solved potentially. Solutions Journalism is potentially one of the ways that we can heal the journalistic landscape or the mass media landscape which has been co-opted by advertising. Not just for products. Advertising is one of the more effective processes through which our behavior gets designed. Our behavior has been designed or influenced by the ad makers. And now that’s even been taken over by algorithms which are designed to keep us engaged. Now we are the products with our attention. That is a problem And that’s not just journalism that’s just media in general. But journalism has a role in Either perpetuating that or going against that. Solutions journalism is it’s an attempt from the journalistic world to try to counteract some of the baser tendencies of mass media and mass communication. I’m not a journalist by training. I’m an anthropologist I’m very interested in how culture shapes our thinking . I talk about myself as a media therapist. Because the Optimist Daily we are curators of the news but we have to read everything to decide what merits rebroadcasting. What are the solutions? What are the The things that are there to inspire and inform as opposed to inflame? That’s what we are trying to do with the Optimist Daily. So I think of myself as a media therapist. Like therapists we need our own support groups. Which is our other colleagues on the solution journalism side of things. Thrilled to meet you David and The Tyee because You’re trying to help shape the conversation in an in a positive way. Go towards the unbreaking news as they say on the correspondent. We’re not about the latest greatest scandal but rather how can we create the world that we want to live in? And what is the world we want to live in?
Rob Brodnick: You want to take on a little challenge around the design process and the solution journalism?
David Beers: First of all one thing that Kristy said I think really made makes the case for solutions journalism. She pointed out that around basically trying to colonize our future. Trying to tell us what our future is going be so that it feels inevitable. And that’s what advertising does .You will own this product. You need, in the future, to have devices in your house that listen to everything you say and do what do what you tell it to do. You didn’t know that you needed that but that’s now your future. That’s big advertising project right? Then you have all these massive institutions like the military, or the government, or corporations, that have public relations arms and their job is to convince you of what the future is going to be. And that’s why I think journalism does itself a disservice if it says, “oh we don’t talk about the future, we don’t talk about what can be, we don’t listen to advocates for change because we were just here to report on what’s happening right now.” I think if what you’re doing is you’re ceding all that territory to the spin-meisters. To go to your design question, which I love because I grew up in Silicon Valley, my father was an engineer, and I love design. I believe design is one of the hopeful aspects of human nature but it does require an optimistic but cool and rational apporach, right? Which is what I’m trying to bring to this style of journalism. Rob the process that you just described what if you had several of these design charettes going on at once. Let’s say you took the same problem. Let’s go back to a drug And instead of just having one group of people get together and talk about it and ideate what could change. What if you had four different groups and they all were grappling with this and they had all been granted resources to try to then build solutions to what they could come up with in their design process? That’s going on all the time. And that’s where I think the journalist enters the process.
For example, there’s three ways in my view to report on solutions journalism. None of them are to sit down and write an opinion piece about how you think the world should be. The first way is to ask is our better feature happening somewhere else right now? If it is, go there. Report on it. You’ve got something to report on. Another one is our potential better future happening in our midst right now as a small scale experiment that could be scaled up? In the shipping containers case we look to Europe. Our better future might be happening in Europe right now. Let’s bring it in, over here. In the Insight Clinic case we looked at the small scale experiment. Then we asked why can’t we scale this up? I don’t think it’s the job of the journalist to sit in a room and kind of spitball ideas about how to get us out of this jam. I think it’s the job of the journalist to enter the process at a point where best practices are already being tried. Already being realized. And then report on those best practices. That information gets around the garden. Everyone gets pollinated with those best practices information. And then these small experiments can be scaled up or something that’s happening overseas can happen here.
The third way is live the future now. For example The Tyee launched something called the hundred mile diet. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that but back in 2005, the word locavore became the word of the year. One of the big dictionaries named it because everybody suddenly got fascinated with local food. And we were part of that movement because we launched this thing called The Hundred Mile Diet. It went everywhere It became a global phenomenon. James McKennon and Alyssa Smith are a couple, and they’re writers, and they were at my house. I was cooking up Alaskan salmon on my barbecue and they were laughing at me. I said these are good salmon, these are from the Copper River. No doubt, but we have salmon here Dave. It’s British Columbia. This is salmon central. What are you doing flying salmon from Alaska?! I go well and they pointed out so much energy is embedded in food. Moving it around the planet. And if you want to deal with climate change, you have to look at local food systems. I said that’s really wonky, and hard to talk about, and explain to people. And they said that’s why we’re only eating food grown within a hundred miles of our house. When I said how’s that going, they said not very well. Look at us. And they were like skin and bones. We’ll have some Alaskan salmon but what are you doing? And they said there’s no sugar There’s no beer. There’s no wheat Within a hundred miles of us. We’re not eating wheat for a year. We’re not eating sugar for a year. Basic stuff. So they they wrote this fantastic book called The Hundred Mile Diet. And it was this very personal telling of trying to survive on only local food. And what it did is it exposed the weaknesses in the local food but it, also celebrated local foods. And it said let’s all strengthen the local food system together. And they ended up traveling all over North America, being invited everywhere, by the way this was something that really crossed political lines. Like Heartland America really like red state America loved having these two come in and talk about the harvest That’s the third one
Rob Brodnick: Thank you for the answer but also for answering my multi-part question with a multi-part answer. Yes So I really appreciate that.
Summers McKay: I have one addition to the conversation about design thinking. It adds to what David was describing. One of the things that we recognize with emotional inflammation and the reactions that people have is that we have to remember that we’re not all on the same page. .Looking at those who are doing it better have to recognize that solutions aren’t siloed. Solutions are local. We are all arguing from our values, from our purpose, from our perspective. Any assumption that someone is on the exact same page you are is a risky assumption. In the United States right now a lot of people are feeling very self-protective and protection of self is what is causing a huge amount of inflammation here. And we have to recognize that people are coming at things from their own perspective And Having an honor and a respect for various perspectives and not just saying we are in the right, our truths are the big Ts, we are going Taoists here. There are some big truths, but there aren’t as many as we think there are. We have to come up with solutions together.
David Beers: I think Kristy and Summers have raised this as well but I feel like as the old journalism model collapses the advertising –it used to be completely pretty much paid for by advertising — even newspapers. Everybody thought they were paying for their newspaper with their subscription. That was probably 20% of their overhead. And you get what you pay for And so then I’ve worked at two major newspapers and there were awfully good journalists at both. But the role that they saw for themselves was basically to create an a kind of advertising environment. They continually talked about the same issues over and over again that mainly concerned their advertisers. And strangely took the reader for granted. I think the fact that so much money came from advertisers created kind of a moat between the newsroom and the reader. It sounds like the Daily Optimist is like The Tyee in that when you are reader supported, and we are majority reader supported at the you can’t afford to not pay attention to the concerns of your readers. If you do it right you build a kind of a communal sense that you’re in this together. There’s a tremendous opportunity here for solutions journalism to cement that. It sounds like the Daily Optimist is doing this, but asking your readers what are some of the problems that are on their mind. What are some solutions they’d like to see reported on. Do they have some insights into some of them? Small scale experiments It could be scaled up or some best practices. There’s a scholar at New York university named Jay Rosen Who’s done a lot of work around this around seeing your audiences not an audience not as readers but as collaborators with a lot of expertise within their ranks and actually seeking their input and so you become a vessel for this for the the aspirations and the interests of your readers that’s just First of all it requires a lot more humility as a journalist to be in that mode than when I was fashioned myself some swashbuckling investigative reporter for some big old organization. I think humility is a really important trait to bring to solutions reporting as Summers is pointing out. And this is why I really put the emphasis on investigating these solutions and reporting on existing best practices and demonstrating through data and results that they are in fact best practices You’re basically humbly being of service to this fact-finding operation. That’s very important to democracy. How can citizens decide what’s possible and what to streak for if they don’t have these facts and these stories. We have a lot in common The Tyee and the Daily Optimist and your podcast as well. Sounds like we’re all moved by the same spirit.
Kristy Jensen: I just want to correct Our name is actually the Optimist Daily…
Talking about advertising as the creation of the consumer mindset which is something that I think has really been foisted upon us over the last probably 50 years. When you are used to just being a consumer, you’re used to being fed the things. Or there’s products that are being made and you’re supposed to buy them and keep them in your home. And then you always need more and more .There’s the designed obsolescence in there. So you have to get a new phone every two years. You have to buy a new refrigerator every decade. So that mindset is a recent artifact. The idea that we are passive. We waiting for people to tell us how we’re going to get our electricity. How are we going to get our content. How are we going to get our materials. How are we going to get our food, We have to buy our food instead of grow it. That is a basic mentality that is now being challenged by things like the internet where not only are we Consumers of information but we are also creators of information. The idea that we as reader- funded, reader- based journalist operations we have to have a conversation not just a conversation with our readers but rather they are part of a community. They are experts just as much as we are.
David Beers: I think Kristy bringing up consumption. That’s the big issue right? Is that we are over consuming the planet. And that is the reason we have climate change. And that’s the reason we have a lot of issues. We also have a very skewing widening of wealth distribution. And so to me the humble solutions reporter would be finding best practices for scaling down but still enjoying the good kind of recalibrating what it what the good life means you know The hopeful gesture my daughter’s 25 and I just gave her a Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful as We can have a good life in a scaled down way but that doesn’t seem possible or practical unless it’s reported on an in a real concrete way instead of just sounding like a sermon. We’ll be working on that a lot.
Karyn Zuidinga: Wasn’t that terrific? A huge thank you to David Beers of the Tyee.ca, Summers McKay and Kristy Jensen of the Optimist Daily for their time, sharing their experience, insight and wisdom.
Hey, lovely listeners. Stay tuned for this episode’s positive turbulence moment coming right up. First, a huge thank you to AMI who have nurtured us in developing this podcast is the source of so many of our guests. And of course the founder, Stan Gryskiewicz who is also the author of the original book and dare I say… the Bob Woodward of positive turbulence.
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Rob Brodnick: And here’s our positive turbulence moment.
Karyn Zuidinga: and The Tyee Tyee.ca what is a Tyee, Dave?
David Beers: Tyee, so British Columbia and Cascadia, Oregon up through Alaska — when Europeans arrived there were hundreds of thousands of indigenous people here. And a language evolved called Chinook. Is a rather simple language and a borrowed a lot of words from indigenous languages up and down the coast. It was a language that allowed Europeans and indigenous folks to communicate. Tyee was one of the key words because it meant a person of substance or a chief or a leader. And then it has gone on to also mean very feisty large Chinook Salmon, King salmon in the United States. And it’s a prized fish because over 30 pounds is considered a Tyee. So our mascot is a fish and people often arrive there and wonder if it’s a fishing site.
Karyn Zuidinga: If you want to share a positive turbulence moment or otherwise comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome your thoughts.
Rob Brodnick: Be sure to tune in next episode for a conversation with Social Impact Strategist and Integrated Media Specialist Tramaine Chelangat. We’ll get into social innovation and the power of storytelling to drive change.
Karyn Zuidinga: You can also head over to positive turbulence.com to find out more about us. Get a transcript of this episode, get links to find out more about our guests or positive turbulence! Until next time, keep the turbulence positive.
- The Tyee
- The Tyee Solutions
- Solutions Journalism (Wikipedia)
- The Housing Fix – Solutions Journalism on Canada’s Housing Crises
- The Tyee on Facebook
- The Tyee on Instagram
- The Optimist Daily
- The Optimist Daily Update (podcast)
- World Business Academy
- The Optimist Daily on Facebook
- The Optimist Daily on Twitter
- The Optimist Daily on Instagram
- The Optimist Daily on LinkedIn
- David Beers – UBC School of Journalism Adjunct Professor