Today is my last day of work at Solutions Journalism Network, where I’ve been the criminal justice specialist since May 2020. Back when I started, I wrote about why I was drawn to the organization and this position. Since then, my dedication to the SJN mission and admiration for the founders and staff has grown that much deeper. But it’s time to move on, to refocus on my own solutions reporting.
My time at SJN coincided with the largest social-justice protest movement in the nation’s history, one centered on policing and public safety, which only added to the sense of mission I had in taking the job in the first place.
I gravitated to solutions journalism before it had a name. Whenever I told people that I report on violence and its victims, I typically got one of two reactions: either expressions of doom and hopelessness, or expressions of frustration that we just aren’t tough enough in our responses. Countering those assumptions animates my work.
I want to show that there are effective solutions, if only we pay more attention to them, and that they contradict the tough-on-crime mode we’ve been in since I started my career as a journalist 40 years ago. At the same time, they don’t fit neatly in the ideological boxes constructed by advocates at either end of the political spectrum.
As I accumulated my own stories in the Solutions Story Tracker, SJN’s archive of vetted solutions reporting, and served as a volunteer mentor, I grew convinced that reporting on solutions is a skill desperately needed to restore and invigorate the journalism craft to which I’ve devoted my working life — particularly on the crime beat, which is so deeply flawed in its most common form. It was an easy decision to take the job, and it was every bit as inspiring and meaningful as I’d hoped.
I’m proud of what I produced. We hold ourselves to high standards for what qualifies as true solutions journalism, so we end up rejecting about as many submitted stories as we approve. Many stories are close calls, requiring deep dives into the details of sometimes-lengthy narratives in text, audio, and video. Once we approve a story, we write a summary, tag it by issue area and multiple other search criteria, and archive it in the Solutions Story Tracker. From there, the stories provide the fuel for any number of curations, from story collections to newsletters. Our newsroom trainers use the stories in tutorials.
During my months on the job, I reviewed more than 1,800 stories, and added 982 to the Tracker. Of those, 698 were on the criminal justice beat — fully one-third of the Tracker’s criminal justice archive, even though I was on the staff for about 12% of SJN’s eight years in existence. Most of those stories were those I found and submitted myself from my voluminous daily reading of criminal justice journalism. I conducted a study and wrote about how news spread of one particular solution to the policing of mental health crises. I conceived of and curated a number of collections, such as these on violence interrupters and other violence prevention strategies, policing alternatives, restorative justice, and sentencing reform. And I created the first 48 storyboards for SJN’s new Flipboard presence, attracting nearly 55,000 page views.
But I’ll start 2022 by devoting all of my work energy to building on the solutions reporting I’ve done over the past decade in book form. That book idea, described more fully here, is about a new crime victims’ movement focused on violence prevention and trauma recovery, and on how victim-centered justice — redefined from what that has meant — could help fix many of the most broken parts of the existing system.
So that’s the plan for the next phase of my career. I hope those who are interested in these topics will continue to follow me on social media. And I hope anyone who cares about quality journalism and its role in a functioning democracy will learn more about and support the work of Solutions Journalism Network.