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Hope, with teeth

In our latest newsletter, we talk about how solutions journalism lets us take in what’s happening in the world in a way that hurts a little less — and keeps us all engaged
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Photo of a boy facing away from the camera, looking at totem poles with Nisga'a artwork on it.
Droughts, fires and floods. Species extinction. Existential risk to human life. The relentless news cycle reads like a dystopian novel, the slow unravelling of everything we know and love. 

Keeping up with it all is like trying to stand in the ocean as wave after wave crashes against you while the sand under your feet keeps shifting. It’s not surprising then that people are switching off, leaving the news behind to scroll through videos of cats being cute little weirdos. Faced with incessant negativity, how can we be expected to stick around? 

Last week, I took my five-year-old on a trip to Nisg̱a’a territory, a few hours from where we live in northern B.C., so he could feel what I felt when reporting on the return of a stolen pts’aan (totem pole) nearly a century after it was first taken. Once we were there, I had no cell reception and no internet. Being free from the news cycle for a brief time felt like breathing again after holding my breath for days. 

(Sometimes it’s all too much — and that’s OK. Give yourself grace and take time when you need it, if you can.)

A couple of days later, I tuned back into the goings-on of the world. Many don’t. Globally, news avoidance is increasing.

“Haunted by a sense that the news is relentlessly toxic, once-loyal readers and viewers have been gradually ebbing away, posing a persistent threat to the news business,” Paul Farhi wrote in the Washington Post this summer. 

It’s not just a problem for media outlets. As readers increasingly turn away from the news, fewer people remain informed about what matters.

But what if there’s a way to stay informed without being constantly overwhelmed? 

That’s where solutions journalism kicks in. It offers an alternative to the endless waves of doom-filled headlines and an opportunity for journalists to rebuild trust with our audiences. But let’s pause for a second. What even is solutions journalism?

Our friends over at the Solutions Journalism Network — which is celebrating Solutions Journalism Day as the global organization turns 10 today — call it “rigorous, evidence-based reporting on responses to social problems.”

To be clear, solutions journalism doesn’t ignore hard truths about the world around us. Or, to put it another way, it’s not the news equivalent of kittens doing somersaults. It’s data-driven and can hit just as hard as a breaking political scandal. It’s hope, with teeth.
 
Curtis Avery and Sophia Tore of Nipissing First Nations natural resources team harvest wild rice using a traditional tool called knocking sticks to whack the reeds until the rice seeds fall into the canoe to gather.
The difference is solutions journalism flips the focus from the problem onto what’s being done to make things right. It asks the question: what’s working?

Take this story we published today by reporter Leah Borts-Kuperman about Nipissing First Nation’s efforts to heal a region affected by environmental havoc after industrial development, poor land management and colonialism.

Here, the lake and surrounding waterways are contaminated with “forever chemicals,” algae chokes aquatic life and invasive plants increase fire risks and pose a threat to native biodiversity. 

Without downplaying the issues faced by Nipissing, Leah centres the nation’s actions: counting moose poop, growing traditional food like wild rice and “being more in tune with our lands here, in addition to also doing some really good science.”

That’s what solutions journalism is — shifting the conversation from what’s wrong with the world to what’s being done to create positive change. The result is a deep, complicated story that leaves readers better informed and more able to envision solutions for their own communities. Research shows when news reveals what’s working or promising, it actually improves public conversations, making them less divisive and more constructive.

How can we hold sorrow and sit with an uncertain future? Lift up the stories of those working day in, day out to tackle the hardest and most intractable problems facing humanity. Show how it’s working, and how it’s not. 

Solutions journalism can be a way to restore balance in the media ecosystem. At The Narwhal, we tell a lot of hard stories about threats to the natural world, but we are also committed to seeking out stories that showcase solutions. Because, for every problem, there is always someone, somewhere trying to make a difference — and we all need to know about it.

Take care and remember to ask what’s working,

Matt Simmons
Northwest B.C. reporter
Headshot of northwest B.C. reporter Matt Simmons

P.S. If you know someone who’s seeking out solutions to environmental problems in your community, please let us know by filling out this form!
 
Support our solutions journalism!
A side profile of Ontario reporter Fatima Syed sitting next to Jane Goodall, who is holding a mic and smiling.

A bit more on hope


Did that really, truly happen?

We’re still trying to process the fact that The Narwhal’s Fatima Syed had the magical opportunity to chat with one of the world’s best-known conservationists, Jane Goodall, in front of a crowd of 3,000-plus in Toronto this month (shoutout to Katherine Holland for that lovely photo!).

The event, hosted by the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, left our team of Narwhals in attendance reinvigorated to double down on hope — and search for solutions. We’re grateful to Goodall and the institute for bringing us on board as a media partner, an opportunity that allowed us to connect with thousands of passionate people who learned about The Narwhal’s journalism for the first time.

 

This week in The Narwhal

Headline: In a hotter world, Indigenous food sovereignty is key to resilient farms, gardens and communities. Image description: Jacob Beaton holds a plant at Tea Creek farm
In a hotter world, Indigenous food sovereignty is key to resilient farms, gardens and communities
By Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood
Communities are working toward food sovereignty one morsel at a time. Meet the experts bringing food to people’s plates and pushing for societal change.

READ MORE
 
Headline: Fish farm escape puts Bay of Fundy wild salmon in jeopardy. Image description: Farmed salmon on a tray; Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick
Fish farm escape puts Bay of Fundy wild salmon in jeopardy
By Moira Donovan
READ MORE


 
Headline: Chair of Ontario’s Greenbelt Council quit right after he learned of Ford’s land use plans last fall. Image description:  Text overlaid over a green-tinted image of a suburban neighbourhood from above. The text reads: "I therefore tender my resignation as Chair of the Greenbelt Council effective immediately. Yours truly, Norm Sterling"
Why the chair of Ontario’s Greenbelt Council quit 
By Emma McIntosh
READ MORE

 
Headline: Environment ministers rarely have environment experience. Manitoba is adding to the trend. Image description: New Manitoba environment minister Tracy Schmidt, wearing a purple dress, stands at a podium bearing the seal of Manitoba to take the oath of office during a swearing in ceremony in October 2023. Premier Wab Kinew stands behind her wearing a blue suit and traditional war bonnet headdress
Environment ministers rarely have environment experience. Manitoba is adding to the trend
By Julia-Simone Rutgers
READ MORE
 
Headline: What will B.C. do when disaster strikes again? Image description: A woman and children who were stranded by high water due to flooding are rescued by a volunteer operating a boat. In the backdrop, a car is almost entirely submerged in flood water.
What will B.C. do when disaster strikes again?
By Francesca Fionda
READ MORE


 

Solutions stories we’re reading & listening to


For BBC, Lucy Sherriff spends some time with California goats, as the state tests out its new “secret weapon” in the fight against wildfire

Earlier this month, the climate team over at NPR cast a spotlight on solutions. Planet Money took a look at how Uruguay transformed its energy landscape without sacrificing its economy while John Ruwitch with the Morning Edition explored how China is piloting a program that uses nature to create resilient “sponge cities” that can withstand flood-inducing climate events

In Grist, Katie Myers looks at the “surprising biodiversity of abandoned coal mines” in Virginia and talks with the researchers trying to promote sustainable development as the energy transition drives an increase in mineral extraction.
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When solutions stories get you out of a doom-and-gloom funk and offer hope — with teeth — for a better future. Tell your friends to sign up for our weekly newsletter, so they can feel just like this cat.
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