ONDO and LAGOS, NIGERIA: Tijani Abdulkabeer beamed at his phone for the third time as he re-read the email informing him of his status as a finalist for the Health category of the 2022 Alfred Opubor Next-Gen Campus Reporter Awards, organised by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID).
His shortlisted story, a solution-driven report on how a non-profit organisation uses artificial intelligence to source voluntary blood donations based on location, had impressed the judges. Abdulkabeer, who eventually emerged the second runner-up, told The SolutionsPaper that it would have been nearly impossible for him to achieve this if he did not attend the Solution Journalism training organised by i-79 media consult and the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) in June 2022.
The training spiked his interest, though he was not among the final 15 selected campus ambassadors. He tried to read more about Solutions Journalism and understood what it was all about by reading reports, materials and also meeting with people who are in the field for guidance.
“It is a new development and perspective where one has to focus on the solutions. The most interesting part of SoJo is that it not only acknowledges the problem but also the solution that is ongoing towards ensuring that problems are overcome.”
“[Sometimes] you try to wrap your head over cases like victims of violence and if you are doing this, in a way it would affect your mental health. But [SoJo] has brought another perspective, it also sees the good things people are doing and ensures the lives of the people within their immediate society are better.”
“In the process of doing that [solutions] report, there’s excitement because I’m happy telling the stories of those that are championing the project”, said Abdulkabeer, currently a 200-level student of History at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.
Abdulkabeer is one of many Nigerian students who have had access to Solutions Journalism training in recent times. According to SJN, Solutions Journalism is rigorous and compelling reporting on responses to social problems. SoJo (for short) rests on four pillars — response, impact, insight, and limitations.
Solutions focused journalists are guided by these pillars to report evidence based and data backed stories of how individuals, groups and communities are successfully responding to the plethora of social and development problems.
Mohammed Taoheed is also not a journalism student, but after attending numerous Solutions Journalism training sessions in 2022, he has become a passionate solutions-focused reporter.
Since then, the 100-level law student from Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto State, Nigeria has published more than four solution-driven reports on different media platforms. Two of them are already annexed on SJN’s story tracker.
“When we are talking about journalism, it’s quite difficult for someone that’s studying another course and not mass communication. This is because you won’t know what you’re expected to do and what not to do”, Taoheed told The SolutionsPaper.
“[While writing] my first story, I learnt a new thing and I spoke with a medical expert who enlightened me about some other things. To have a good solution pitch, it is about understanding how the responses are going and its sustainability.”
Why Solutions Journalism?
Student journalists in Nigeria face challenges in their journalistic pursuits. For some, it might be restrictions to freedom of speech and expression as indicated by 55 percent of respondents in a study carried out at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ). Other student journalists who partook in an opinion survey we conducted admitted that limited audience reach, and inability to freely collate and report information pose obstacles to their journalism pursuit.
Violet Ikong, a final year student of Mass Communications at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka disclosed that social media is a bank of ideas for her solution stories.
“I haven’t travelled out of my country to investigate organisations that provide solutions yet, but I’ve written stories about Cameroun, Malawi, and others. Oftentimes, I see some of these organisations on social media and make more findings on them. If I’m not ready to run the report immediately, I will keep records of such organisations or initiatives by saving the links or screenshots.”
Though rigorous, she maintains that it is still more convenient to write Solutions Journalism stories than traditional investigative journalism reports, even as a student. Ikong currently has 8 solution-driven stories indexed on the SJN story tracker.
“Some students fall on management’s wrong side or other authorities through investigations that expose problems or misconduct. But for a solution journalist, there is safety because the reports bring out the good actions on the ground and provide solutions that can be recommended to other places.”
“One thing I’ve also found out [about] writing solution stories is that each story you write is a learning opportunity for you, as a reporter. You’re exposed to something new; maybe a new way of solving a societal problem or a new initiative that promises to,” Ikong told The SolutionsPaper
Now in his third year as a Mass Communications student at Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna State, Nigeria, Muhammad Auwal Ibrahim explained that Solutions Journalism has helped many student journalists and emerging journalists become better reporters.
“Solutions journalism is warmly welcomed by students in Nigeria. Many have secured grants and fellowships to tell positive stories about people’s efforts in solving their problems. And we are seeing this daily from every side of the country.”
“I have attended numerous national and international solutions journalism training since, starting from 2021 to date and I can say that I have learnt a lot. After this series of training, I began to tell such stories on how responses to social problems either worked or not with insights,” Ibrahim added.
Ibrahim has won numerous awards as an investigative student journalist but exposure to Solution Journalism has birthed a pleasant experience for him, especially when it comes to telling the whole story.
“Formerly, we have been used to selling fear in the name of journalism. Day by day, people are losing interest in reading the news due to the dominance of bad news. This [SoJo] shows that Nigeria and Africa are developing. We have good stories to tell except we don’t like to tell them.”
Maintaining the Spread of Solutions Journalism
A Strategic Communications lecturer at Fountain University Osogbo, Nigeria, and 2022 African Solutions Journalism Initiative fellow, Dr. Rasheed Adebiyi, recommended a balance between media and academic advocacy for Solutions Journalism. He noted that the advocacy for Solutions Journalism has been targeted at the media more than the educational sector.
“We should find a way to incorporate teachers at journalism schools who handle specialised reporting, features writing, and other courses. We should convince them that SoJo is the way to go. We should engage more teachers to impact those who decide what goes into the curriculum and other professional bodies.”
“We should focus on the media practitioners and students without neglecting teachers of journalism and communication studies to ensure that we have SoJo incorporated into the curriculum. But we will continue to push for such,” Adebiyi added.
Also speaking with The SolutionsPaper, Ifedayo Ogunyemi, a 2022 LEDE Solution Journalism fellow agreed that SoJo has created an avenue for student journalists who are looking for ways to make an impact in the society without breaking their back and is helping student journalists to become better due to “its vigorous and data-based findings.”
Ogunyemi however identified the limited reach of the journalistic approach as a challenge but noted that “Africa is trying to work that out, by getting a lot of people to do solution journalism [but] making sure that solution journalism continues to spread across the board is key.”
Editor: Zainab Oyiza Adetola
Sub-editor: Precious Ewuji