By Martha Cecilia Ovadia, Senior Program Associate, Equity and Communications

The Intermountain West Funder Network recently convened in Santa Fe, N.M. for its annual meeting. This year’s event focused on forward-looking strategies that would help funders increase the impact of their grantmaking to create more resilient, sustainable and equitable communities in the Intermountain West region. The meeting focused on exploring Santa Fe to learn first-hand about sustainable development issues in and around the city, learning about the protection of diverse cultural heritages and sacred places in New Mexico and learning from local strategies about how to foster land and water resilience and encourage food justice in the region.

The “State of Change” project has resulted in series of stories highlighting the successes and challenges of communities in small-town New Mexico and the rural west. Photo Credit: Heath Haussamen/

Another area of focus: The importance of journalism and the powerful role philanthropy can play in ensuring local storytelling and investigative reporting remain robust — especially in underserved “media deserts.”

Leah Todd, the Mountain West manager for newsrooms at Solutions Journalism Network, was the keynote speaker at the opening night reception in Santa Fe, sharing insight on effective communications and storytelling through the lens of solutions journalism in the region. Since 2016, Solutions Journalism Network has collaborated with 140 news organizations on solutions-oriented projects. One of those projects included State of Change, a year-long investigation with a group of New Mexico news organizations that looked at the challenges to building resilient rural communities, and found a lack of high-speed internet holds communities back. It was just one example of the type of issues brought to light during this project. The reporters not only looked at the barriers to launching internet connections in rural areas, but also highlighted tribes, towns and schools whose efforts were successful. The New Mexico project was led by the Solutions Journalism Network in partnership with High Country News, and with funding from the LOR Foundation — a supporter of the Intermountain West Funders Network and a TFN member. (Other TFN members that support Solutions Journalism Network include the Ford Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.)

Leah Todd

 Below are five key takeaways from her presentation, which can be found in its entirety here.

  1. What is solutions journalism?

Solutions journalism is rigorous, evidence-based reporting on responses to social problems. This form of journalism explains in meaningful detail what worked in a situation, but also looks for limitations and unintended consequences.

  1. How can we identify solutions journalism imposters?

Always look for overpromising and generalizations. When you see a headline that promises a perfect solution—walk away! Solutions journalism knows that there are no perfect solutions and good solutions journalism takes the time to point out any limitations of a response and to also point the readers in the direction of effective change happening right now.

For effective solutions journalism, Todd encourages journalists to apply these shifts to re-focus their writing:

  • Instead of hero worship: focus on systemic change

When writing about someone doing good and making a difference, the focus of the story can sometimes become the individual, taking away from delving deeper into whatever initiative or response they are furthering. While stories that focus on individual successes (or failures) have their place in journalism, solutions journalism works through a broader, more solutions focused lens.

  • Instead of a silver bullet:  tone down the rhetoric and show downsides too

Keep an eye out for journalistic pieces that overclaim. You will usually see words like “lifesaver” and “breakthrough” attached to this type of writing. Instead, look for pieces that take the time to tell the narrative of what is working, what is not working, and that looks to other communities to find potential parallels in place-based work that could be applied locally.

  • Instead of a think piece: show what is working now

This refers to journalism that proposes things that do not exist yet. Solutions journalism speaks to what is happening now, not predictions or recommendations for the future.

  • Instead of an afterthought: weave solutions throughout the story

Solutions should be an integral part of the storytelling—not an afterthought at the end of a story. Solutions must be considered seriously and presented with care. This challenges us to embrace the possibilities at hand

  1. What is solutions journalism’s “Theory of Change”?

Journalists must act as responsible and informed whistleblowers and work to expose wrongdoing. By pointing out social problems, journalist can help in spurring reform and highlighting solutions. But this is not all that should be done. Journalist must also cover information on how to respond to those problems, offering examples and narratives needed for self-correction.

  1. How does solutions journalism increase accountability?

With responsible journalism that focuses on solutions, problems that were once seen as unavoidable become problems that are seen as unacceptable. The ability to view a problem as unacceptable comes from journalism that presents solutions and deconstructs the cultural narrative of “this is how it has always been.

  1. Can solutions journalism also function as a form of societal and self-care?

News fatigue has created a sense of learned helplessness in those consuming the news. When negative reporting is played over and over and over again, it creates a desire to tune out. However, evidence suggests that when people think something can be done about a problem, they are more receptive and attentive to the information. And while negative messages spread faster than positive ones, positive messaging focusing on solutions reach larger audiences. Solutions journalism is a healthier, more effective approach to journalism.

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About the Author

Martha Cecilia Ovadia is TFN’s senior program associate for equity and communications. Contact her at