Q: What is the Solutions Journalism Summit?
A: The Solutions Journalism Summit is the Solutions Journalism Network’s annual gathering of roughly 70 unbelievably smart and fun journalists from around the world. Over two-and-a-half days, we explore everything tied to reporting on how people are responding to social problems (aka “solutions journalism”) — best practices, new ideas, and potential collaborations among the attendees. The Solutions Journalism Summit is one of the only gatherings (in the world) that digs into the nitty-gritty of how to do this type of journalism — how to create revenue opportunities around solutions journalism, for one, as well as how to interview differently for solutions stories, how to incorporate engagement activities into them, how to improve solutions pitches to editors, how to hire reporters, etc.
While the summit is high-minded and inspiring and fun, it is also decidedly focused on the tactical. It’s organized so that the group collaboratively tackles challenges and shares best practices. In other words, you bring challenges and everyone else will help you address those challenges — or at the very least connect you with a community of journalists facing similar issues.
For more details, check out a recap of the 2019 summit here.
“So positive, open-minded, spirited, optimistic and energetic. I’d like to bottle it up, put it in my pocket and sprinkle on my newsroom when we are hitting a low point. I’d call it my happy sauce.” -Bro Krift, former editor, Montgomery Advertiser
Q: Who am I going to meet?
A.Editors, reporters, journalism school educators, audience engagement specialists, opinion writers, media entrepreneurs, publishers, freelancers — everyone and anyone committed to (or interested in) practicing solutions journalism. In the past, we’ve had people who have launched podcasts and regional collaborations, those who have built organizations, leaders from top print and digital publications, public radio and broadcast television. We’ve had Pulitzer Prize winners, Emmy nominees, and John S. Knight and Nieman fellows — and musicians who once accompanied Pete Seeger. We expect this year’s group will also include a lot of journalistic heartthrobs.
“I appreciated the wide range of people working on or around solutions journalism—from reporters and editors, to newsroom executives and academic researchers. This allowed me to engage with folks outside of my daily sphere to gain more insight and stoke more ideas to bring back to work.” -Julia Chan, former director of audience, Mother Jones
Q: What’s the format of this event? Can I expect panels and keynotes?
A: We think that traditional event formats can be…limiting, which is why this summit operates in an “All Teach, All Learn” mindset and follows the unconference model. We think every attendee has just as much to offer as they do to learn. We know you have a wealth of knowledge in that brilliant head of yours and we want to create a space for you to share it. We want to understand how you’re practicing solutions journalism, what obstacles you face, what questions you still have, how you’ve been a leader of the practice, and how solutions journalism has changed how you approach your work. Unconferences facilitate all this by allowing participants to propose conversations (note: not presentations) in real-time based on what they’re interested in. This will be the most participatory event you’ve ever been to.
It can sound like absolute chaos, we know. But trust us; it works, especially when you’re in the hands of a truly excellent facilitator like Collaborations for Change’s Chris Michael. “I admit that I was initially a tad skeptical about the unconference approach,” said one 2017 summit attendee. “But it was really effective, largely because the format allowed for organic follow-up on themes and topics that needed it.” Eighty-one percent of the people who attended the 2019 summit said the event exceeded their expectations. You’ll have one-on-one conversations, discuss issues in small groups — and one big, large one with everyone present. The goal is that everyone shares, listens and talks much more than they tweet.
“The small-group conversations resulted in lists of things to try, conversations to have back at home, ideas for collaborations. Also loved meeting and being surrounded by people who look at journalism differently than a traditional newsroom. It made me feel inspired and less alone.” -Anne Hillman, former Solutions Desk Reporter, Alaska Public Media
Q: What am I going to learn?
A:We start by asking you what would best serve your needs and then work to embrace the diverse talent in the room. To get an idea of the kinds of sessions that arise, here’s the agenda from 2019. Some of the small group discussions that year were:
- Getting past gloom and doom: Finding and reporting climate stories with a solutions lens
- Breaking down solutions stories on poverty into manageable bites/stories
- Why it’s time for visual journalism to include a solutions focus
- How can you do SoJo on a limited budget?
- How to staff sustainably for solutions reporting: Is it someone’s job or everyone’s?
- Short-form solutions journalism/integrating SJ into daily news
- How can we make multimedia SoJo stories in one week using design thinking?
- Reporting solutions journalism for audio/radio/podcasting
- How to expand solutions journalism into Europe
- And almost 50 others.
Of the attendees from 2019:
- 92% said they gained new insights and tactics that will help them further their solutions work
- 98% said the Summit allowed them to meet peers they otherwise would not have had the chance to meet
- 83% said they better understand solutions journalism and the work that SJN does.
Q: It sounds intellectually stimulating. But is it fun?
A: It’s virtually impossible not to have a blast. Not only are people generous and collaborative, but we (SJN) also incorporate things like a storytelling night, adequate stretching time, and dance parties into the mix. And not to oversell it, but past attendees have ranked the meals as “the best conference food ever.”
Q: Why isn’t every gathering held at Sundance Mountain Resort?
A: We don’t know. The resort is a short shuttle ride from Salt Lake City airport — easier to get to than Brooklyn on a weekend. Sundance sits on the slopes of Mt. Timpanogos in Utah’s gorgeous Wasatch Range. The quiet resort is absolutely stunning, an ideal location for meaty discussions, creative brainstorming, and after-hours old-fashioneds at the Owl Bar. See more details about the resort here and fawn over Google images of the place here.