New interactive game promotes solutions journalism during COVID-19

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by Jem Collins, International Journalists’ Network

It has now been about three months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and the UK government brought in lockdown measures. We have since seen hundreds of thousands of headlines about the novel coronavirus across the globe.

Whether it is breaking news about infection rates or the restrictions on our everyday lives, a look at how the virus could have far-reaching effects yet to come, or trying to unpack the story of how it all happened, there has been an overwhelming amount of information.

And COVID-19 is not the only story at the top of our news feeds. Outlets worldwide are continuing to have vital discussions about Black Lives Matter, climate change, homelessness, and a whole host of other areas. In short, we have never needed solutions journalism more.

We want to make solutions journalism feel natural

If reporting on societal problems like the novel coronavirus is one side of the coin, solutions journalism is the other side. As well as looking at what is going wrong, you also need to rigorously look at what could help solve the problem.

It is not about fluff or false optimism, but instead reporting on potential solutions with a critical eye, dissecting where they work and where they fall down, and looking for the evidence to back up claims and theories.

But for many journalists, it is a term that might feel quite remote – to some, it sounds like PR, to others it feels like a chore they will not be able to fit into an already busy day. We wanted to show reporters this was not the case, but we wanted to do it differently. So, we decided to build a game.

The idea behind our game is that everyone can do solutions journalism — whether you are a student on your first assignment, a busy desk reporter, or a correspondent on the road, there are simple tips everyone can use. It is also not an all-or-nothing skill — even just a couple of extra checks or framing a story differently can make a huge difference to your reporting.

It was also crucial that our game was not boring or felt like a lecture, so it is a short, snappy adventure you can play on your desktop or mobile. You are a desk reporter trapped in the 1990’s, trying to uncover a scoop about The Fridgeton Fridge company in the face of an objectionable CEO.

At the same time, you are dealing with an impatient editor, an endless barrage of 90’s references and graphics inspired by the set of Scooby-Doo. In fact, the whole point is that while juggling all this, you will probably discover that you already know more than you think you do.

“Solutions journalism aims to rigorously report on what is working,” said Julia Hotz of the Solutions Journalism Network, who helped us to fund the game.

“It’s not fluff, it’s not PR — it’s an investigation into how well a program or policy works. This game helps to convey that distinction clearly, and gives you a laugh in the process!”

Drawn out on our kitchen table last New Year’s Eve and built by just two of us around our full-time jobs, the game has now been played more than 1,000 times. We are hoping to bring it to even more reporters across the country as the months go on, as well as putting together a series of workshops and additional resources.

For us though, we will know it has worked if you take just one small thing away, as that is still one small way of making a difference with your reporting.

“And, as COVID-19 continues to take a toll on so many aspects of our physical, economic and social lives, it’s never been more important for journalists to help the world to understand what’s working to address those consequences, and why,” continued Hotz.

You can click here to play ‘The Mystery of the Oh No Layer’ and read additional resources.

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