The question as to what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘quality’ journalism continues to be the focus of much debate today. Central to this discourse is the need to preserve journalism’s normative role of informing the citizenry and that of holding public officials accountable, commonly referred to as the watchdog role. This role is said to be weakening owing to tensions precipitated by radical technological and economic factors, low levels of public trust and the rise of fake news. This current state of flux has recently been accelerated by the ongoing global health pandemic, thereby reinforcing what practitioners and scholars have long argued: that the current practice of journalism needs to be reframed, if it is to preserve its legitimacy. 

Constructive reporting

One idea that is gaining traction is solutions journalism. Envisioned as a more ‘constructive’ and ‘productive’ reporting style, solutions journalism is said to offer more rigor, comprehensive and compelling reporting on responses to social problems, according to the Solutions Journalism Network; an organization that promotes the practice. In essence, solutions journalism seeks to highlight the efforts being made to address various societal problems, as opposed to an over-emphasis on conflict and negativity, reminiscent of mainstream news media. The latter, scholars argue, has resulted in weary and apathetic news audiences that have disengaged from the news and civic life. And in response to critics, solutions journalism proponents and researchers have argued that it should not be confused with ‘good’, ‘fluff’ or ‘positive’ news, nor advocacy journalism. If anything, solutions journalism seeks to cover solutions critically and accurately, but without endorsing them.

Covid-19 coverage

In practical terms, one needs to look no further than the media coverage of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to justify the need for solutions-oriented reporting. For instance, a spot check of the headlines by Kenya’s press, gives a sense that the coverage has generally been characterized by negative political and polarizing undertones considering headlines such as The Daily Nation’s ‘Corona Virus: Why Kenya is dancing with death’ (2/28/20), The Star’s ‘Fight against COVID-19 Losing Steam’ (Editorial 9/6/20) or The Standard’s ‘COVID-19: Why you are more likely to be infected in Mombasa than in Nairobi’ (6/24/20). Besides, the coverage has been rife with speculations and on-the-surface stories that narrowly focus on statistical cumulations of the infected and the dead, without providing adequate context. This may perhaps be because the coverage has mainly regurgitated verbatim daily live briefings by Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, whose speeches were recently characterized as lacking persuasiveness, in an analysis by the Sunday Nation. Indeed, this kind of media coverage has not been unique to Kenya’s media. 

Cardiff University professor Karin Wahl Jörgensen found the use of frightening language in 100 high circulation newspapers from around the world in a study analyzing initial Covid-19 news coverage. Jörgensen found fear-related words such as ‘afraid’ in more than 1,000 published articles with at least 50 of those referencing the phrase ‘killer virus’. Jörgensen’s conclusion was that the prominence of fear in the news coverage reflected the public fear more than being informative about the spread of the virus. Jörgensen’s findings have been supported by other studies that have found accentuated fear and politicized and polarized news coverage, which in turn may have shaped Covid-19 attitudes.

Commercial pressures

Of course, the media’s propensity towards fear-mongering and negativity is not news. This negativity bias has been referred to in some scholarly circles as the disease model of the world that emphasizes negative emotions such as fear, anger, conflict and dissent, resulting in a distorted reality. Moreover, the prevalence of negativity in the news media is often justified as necessary owing to increased commercial pressures that compel media institutions to push for more sensational content that is likely to attract more clicks or views. In turn this is used to leverage advertising.

 Solutions journalism can therefore provide a basis for journalism to introspect on its unique agenda setting position to package and produce content that can positively impact public opinion.

The negative bias notwithstanding, there has been evidences of productive and in many ways, solutions-oriented reporting in the global media coverage of the pandemic. For instance, Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation, has been featuring an Explainer column, where more in-depth perspectives about the ongoing pandemic are provided. This in addition to other daily news stories that feature stories of hope and resilience, albeit in varying degrees. The Solutions Journalism Story Tracker has also been regularly updating its database of solutions-oriented Covid-19 global news reports.

In view of the preceding overview, I argue therefore that solutions journalism can provide a complementary framework for strengthening the practice of journalism in Kenya, and by extension Africa’s journalism practice. I use the phrase complimentary, granted that there have been journalistic frameworks that share the same news philosophy as solutions journalism that have featured in the Kenyan journalism discourse at varied points of its history. For instance, peace journalism has been recommended as a suitable approach, especially when it comes to election news coverage granted the nation’s history with election related violence. 

Change agents

There is also development journalism, which calls on the media to act as ‘change agents’ as they ‘partner’ with the government in nation building. By highlighting successful development projects, Kenyan journalists can use solutions journalism to counter Western negative stereotypical narratives that reinforce Afro-pessimism. 

Moreover, journalism training institutions can broaden their curricula to include solutions-oriented reporting, which could help promote professionalism. The rationale here is that better trained journalists inevitably produce quality, well-researched stories; an underlying aim of solutions journalism. Besides, solutions journalism can help counter the aforementioned ‘disease model’ of the world by focusing on stories about what’s working in society. 

Furthermore, journalists have a moral obligation and social responsibility beyond their watchdog role, to present holistic coverage that enhances societal wellbeing. In addition, motivated by the desire to promote quality journalism, traditional news media outlets can apply solutions journalism to attract and bring back audiences who have turned to alternative news sites in search of quality content. Indeed, this year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report indicates that even though there has been a high uptake of online news content, most people still identify television as their main news source.

 For instance, in Kenya, 74% of news consumers turn to television as their news source, almost as high as online news sources which average at 90%, according to the report. 

Already, solutions journalism training has taken place in parts of Africa, albeit in varying degrees. There is also scholarly evidence that solutions journalism can play a significant role in the promotion of Peace Keeping Activities in Somalia, or in the promotion of restorative narratives in the reconstruction of post-genocide Rwanda and in Kenya, demonstrating how vernacular radio stations could apply the social responsibility theory of the press (whose chief purpose is concern for the public good) as a way of promoting positive ethnicity.

Consequently, while solutions journalism as a news philosophy presents many opportunities for the strengthening of journalism practice in Kenya and by extension Africa; it is certainly not a quick fix. Long-standing political economic challenges, ownership constraints and other social-cultural constraints, must be addressed if the successful implementation of solutions journalism is to be realized. 

Already there are positive indications that these challenges are being addressed, albeit slowly. For instance, in Kenya, there are ongoing efforts to professionalize journalism through the development of the media code of conduct, formation of professional bodies, as well as the establishment of several journalism training institutions. And all these efforts only work in concert with the individual journalist’s will to practically effect positive changes.

About the Author

Author ProfileJoy Kibarabara
Joy is a doctoral candidate at Stockholm University’s department of media studies. Her research focuses on the emerging field of constructive journalism, particularly its implication on African journalism practice. Her research takes a praxis-based approach with the aim of building bridges between journalism practice and academia. Professionally, Joy has worked as a journalist and lecturer in media studies and presented her research at various academic conferences.

Similar articles

Enact policies that guarantee education for all

As Form One students settle into a new life in secondary school, this has also been a period of reflection. We have read tear-jerking and heart-warming stories of determined students who overcame many odds to get an education and how well-wishers came together in their aid.

RSF 2022 Press Freedom Index: A mixed bag for East Africa

Uganda fell behind, whereas Kenya improved its press freedom ranking in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 Press Freedom Index. And after years of media freedom decline, Tanzania appears to be on the right track. But overall, media freedom activists say there is still work to be done.

Good journalism does not come cheap

A free and independent press is the cornerstone of any democracy and the foundation of economic success, mostly because through our free press, we’re able to hold the leadership to account.

Opinion: Rethinking media houses revenue streams in the Digital era

To align with the changing times and stay relevant in the business, media houses are challenged to rethink their strategy and to adopt and understand obstacles and challenges they face towards rethinking and exploring alternative sources of revenue and on developing the digital strategy.

Hamasa Media Group: Tanzanian innovators with a solution to organisation management

A team of young, Tanzanian tech-savvy communication professionals is dreaming big. It seeks to usher a new dawn in media business management in Tanzania by optimising employee output and offering consultancy to media businesses on how they can operate with a minimal budget but still attain their goals.

The legal challenges facing East Africa’s bloggers and influencers 

Bloggers and influencers have become an integral component of information sourcing across East Africa. The public uses blogs, privately run websites and social networks to crowdsource information from social networks, which they then publish and distribute. But it’s not all rosy for this group of content makers.

Afyatoon: How two medics are transforming lives through story-telling

The chances of meeting a medical graduate practising journalism are usually very slim, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. But two Tanzanian physicians have broken away from that norm by inventing a start-up called Afyatoon. It uses visual art technology to tell compelling medical stories. They narrate to the EAST Site their experience and share their vision for the future.

Five astounding findings from the MCK state of Kenya’s Media Survey

Did you know that in 2021 Kenyans watched less TV and spent more time on social media? Or that some Kenyans rely on family, friends, or even social media icons and bloggers as a source of news and information? These are some of the conclusions highlighted in the 2021 State of the Media Survey conducted by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).

Uganda’s media strives to reinvent itself post Covid-19

The effects of the Covid pandemic continue to change the world in ways we had not imagined possible. The media is going through a painful transformation to keep up with changing production, distribution and consumption habits. In East Africa, Uganda’s Media Challenge Initiative (MCI) recently hosted a panel discussion on Media Viability comprising experienced journalists from Television, Radio, Print and Online/Digital media to address lessons learned from the pandemic. East Site’s Moses Mutente attended the panel and compiled this article.

Opinion: Africa must revamp journalism education to include media ownership

In this commentary, Uganda-based journalist Caleb Okereke shares deep personal insights into why media schools in East Africa must rethink their curriculum. He stresses the need for trainers to begin teaching media ownership to better equip journalism students for the dynamic and cutthroat job market by taking us through his journey as a journalism student and media owner.

Dwindling trust in media raises concerns ahead of Kenya’s General Election

For the second year running, a survey commissioned by the Media Council of Kenya shows that the trust level in Kenyan media has nosedived, raising fundamental questions on how media will play its watchdog role more so with landmark elections set for August 9. EAST Site writer Isaac Swila explores.

Opinion: Media needs credibility to survive the pandemic and digital transformation

Legacy media is currently caught between a rock and a hard place — the Covid pandemic and the rise and proliferation of social media has hit revenues hard. Some say this could signal the end of news as we used to know it. However, Ugandan decorated journalist Ernest Bazanye believes the industry will survive and thrive, but not without a fight.

Opinion: We should all be concerned about the future of media

Free media is often described as the fourth estate, the gatekeeper, the whistleblower, and many more. American singer Jim Morrison once said, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” No wonder governments worldwide try hard to control the press. But the media itself, particularly in Uganda, faces a severe identity crisis that requires urgent action, writes guest commentator Jimmy Spire Ssentongo.

Invest in journalists’ verification skills to help curb disinformation, expert Redondo advises

World over, disinformation is a virus that continues to permeate newsrooms giving media managers and journalists a headache on how to deal with it. Dr. Myriam Redondo,  a newsroom trainer in digital verification and associate professor in International Relations (PhD) explains how to tackle the virus in an engagement with EAST Site writer Isaac Swila.

Opinion: Never lose sight of your vision when fundraising 

No one sits down to write proposals only to seek money. There’s an idea, a vision, an important goal, the need for impact, and last but not least, the need for change.

Media faulted over its coverage of people living with disabilities 

According to the World Health Organisation there are between 60-80million people with disabilities in Africa and over 1 billion in the world, many of whom live under deplorable conditions owing to societal myths.

How Kenyan journalists are preparing for the 2022 General Election 

Kenyan voters will go to the polls on August 7, 2022, to elect new leaders. As expected, the media is burning the midnight oil, trying to develop strategies to cover the polls. But how prepared are they?

Tanzania: Striving for women digital inclusion

Tanzania has a massive digital gender gap. As a result, it is unlikely to hear stories about successful Tanzanian women, either in leadership or the media.

Three reasons why a Human Centred Design is necessary for innovation

Ultimately, HCD is a toolbox containing multiple tools you can pick out, show your team how to use them, and ensure it becomes best practice

Meet the Tanzanian journalist passionate about the right to clean water and sanitation

Mohammed Hammie is not your typical reporter. In 2019, the young Tanzanian swapped from being a regular journalist to media for community empowerment and has since specialised in telling stories about the human right to access clean drinking water, particularly in rural areas.

Kenya’s Media Council defends move seeking journalists quit before vying for election

According to the MCK Chief Executive Officer, David Omwoyo, journalists eyeing political posts should be subjected to the same rules that apply to civil servants. That is to leave office six months to elections. But that’s not the only requirement.

AKU students media research spotlights hits and misses of Kenya’s media

The theses dwelt on thematic areas in Kenya’s media landscape, from solutions journalism, content analysis of the coverage of Covid-19 as well as data smog in the newsrooms, which  the findings show is having a devastating effect on print journalists.

Media Viability Study East Africa: Five interesting findings you should know

The study calls for solutions to structural, political, and societal conditions that jeopardize the future of media as a viable business and a source of high-quality journalism in East Africa

Covid-19: Kenyan journalists go behind the story

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives in unimaginable ways. Economies are bleeding. It has disrupted learning; millions have lost their jobs, while many others contend with reduced salaries. Yet, amidst the chaos and disruption, journalists – also hugely affected – have remained steadfast to their cause to tell stories of the pandemic. Some of them narrated their experiences to EAST site’s writer Isaac Swila.

OPINION: Modern journalism faces an existential threat

The Covid-19 pandemic and the technological shifts have caused severe consequences to today’s press. However, Prof George Nyabuga says the writing has long been on the wall, yet many chose to bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.

East Africa’s media powerhouses use convergence in business to stay afloat 

Ever since 170 journalists from Kenya’s Standard Group were made redundant in 2020, media experts argue that convergence of business processes in the media industry is an inevitable and necessary step. The term convergence has dominated media houses for years. But what does it mean and why is it crucial for the future of journalism in the region?

The changing face of Kenyan newsrooms – a case of Standard Media Group

The digital and social media experience has disrupted the media industry in unprecedented ways. Gone are the days when media houses could solely rely on revenues generated from the sale of content, for example, newspapers. Kenya’s Standard Media Group understood the need to adapt to the ‘new digital newsroom’ and embarked on a three-year- restructuring programme, but the change is not without challenges as Peter Oduor found out

Paywall: A challenging but promising business model for Kenya’s news media 

Kenya’s leading newspapers – The Nation, Star, and The Standard, recently set up paywalls on their online content. Though some readers are complaining, the uptake has been impressive. Senior editors who spoke to EAST Site’s writer, Isaac Swila, insist the paywall is the future.

How audience participation has changed the media 

What do Kenya’s post-election violence, Sudan’s protests that toppled President Omar al-Bashir, and the Arab Spring have in common? The audience played a crucial role in informing the world where journalists were restricted in one way or the other. Today, direct audience engagement in the news cycle has brought far-reaching changes to the media industry.

MCI Uganda: Grooming journalists for the 21st century job market

The belief that journalism can make the world a better place is why the Media Challenge Initiative exists. This aspiration has become more evident during Covid-19, where journalists are at the frontlines of fighting the pandemic across the globe.