Lisa Urlbauer on a solutions focus for journalism

Meet Lisa Urlbauer, a current Mundus Journalism student in Amsterdam who recently finished an internship in the US with the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) – an organisation committed to improving journalism around the world through teaching media professionals the art of reporting “the whole story” through free training and resources on what solutions journalism is and how to implement it.

Lisa Urlbauer in New York during her internship for the Solutions Journalism Network.

This is extended profile of Lisa Urlbauer, a Mundus Monday profile we covered on January 28th.

Lisa had previously lived in the area close to New York, so taking the plunge and moving back did not take much convincing, especially because the internship was paid, allowing Lisa to worry less about funding:

“I already lived close to New York after high school, because I was working as an Au Pair in New Jersey. So, I was already familiar with the area and really keen on going back for longer. It was a bit of luck that I heard about SJN’s work at the end of 2017 while I was looking for internships anyway. The internship they were offering sounded great, and on top of it all, it was a paid. Living in New York (plus the expenses for flights and visas) is the opposite of cheap, but having a salary made it work. 

Through her internship, Lisa supported the training of newsrooms in Washington D.C and NYC and came to an important realisation that she thinks all journalists should take note of: 

“Journalists are doing an incomplete job if they only cover what’s broken. If we are also covering what’s working and how it is working, with reliable data on the impact and its limitations, we are taking away the excuse that issues are unfixable.”

Lisa says that working for SJN resonated with her on a profound level, being amongst like-minded peers and working towards what she believes is a higher journalistic standard than many journalism outlets provide today: 

“I have always been really inspired by people working toward change and improvement. SJN is supporting journalists in how to do this systematically. It is not about fluff pieces or wellness-journalism. Stories that cover solutions should tell the reader how an approach is working by giving details, data on the success and by showing the limitations.”

“There will never be the ultimate fix for a problem. What has resonated the most with me is that SJN is giving clear guidelines how to do all of that, while also focusing on specific topics. We for example have three issue guides on how to cover health, violence and education through a solutions lens.”

From Lisa’s perspective, the work of SJN is necessary in order to change the journalism practice of today, a much-needed change: 

“There has been a lot of research showing that news has become increasingly negative in tone, especially since the beginning of the 2000s. And news consumers have picked up on that. They literally tune out and don’t want to consume news anymore because it is depressing to only hear what is going wrong. At the same time, it is skewing our perception – how should we know where progress is happening when nobody tells us about it? What SJN is doing is spreading the practice of solutions journalism among newsrooms, journalists and also among journalism schools and support them in actually doing solutions-focused reporting. The aim is to balance out the news. It is not about erasing journalism that uncovers problems, but to get journalists to tell the whole story – especially if we deal with well-known problems. It would be great if journalists naturally had the awareness not to only investigate problems, but also ask themselves ‘who is doing it better?’ and investigate solutions with the same rigour.” 

The constructive element is something that Lisa could not leave behind in the US when her internship ended and it was back to university in Amsterdam:

“I get to keep working with SJN as my internship turned into a part-time position remotely from Amsterdam with a focus on the German media sphere. We are launching a series of German blog posts and will publish our basic toolkit in German later this spring. I’ve always had strong connections to the US, so having the chance to work for an American organisation is really great. I had a hard time leaving SJN after three months, because I’ve met so many great people who are really passionate about their work – and now I still have the chance working with them, even if everything happens virtually. Even though it was really tough combining work and studying the last semester, I am glad that I can continue and get more work experience. While I am resuming the work I was doing during my internship, I am also helping to expand SJN’s outreach to Germany. I am going to conferences, facilitating relationships between SJN and German newsrooms and journalists and I translate resources. Above all, I am just really convinced that we need solutions journalism and I am so happy to take part in its advancement.” 

Upon asking whether the solutions journalism approach is something that Lisa will pursue professionally or academically in the future, the answer was prompt:

“Yes, most definitely. I want to work as a journalist after graduating from the Mundus Journalism programme and I have become really familiar with the theoretical aspects of solutions journalism and have read so many great stories. Now, I am looking forward to putting it into practice myself. I am also looking at the scientific side of it and I am planning to conduct a study on the effects of solutions journalism for my Master’s thesis.”

Over 100 newsrooms around the world are using the insights of the Solutions Journalism Network into their work and Lisa will surely have her hands full if she chooses to pursue it after she graduates from Amsterdam. It will surely be exciting to follow the development of both Lisa and the Solutions Journalism Network in the future.

If you are curious, you can find much more information and useful resources here:

Follow Lisa and the Solutions Journalism Network via: @LisaUrl_ / @SolutionsJournalism on instagram / @Soljourno and @LisaUrl on twitter / #TheWholeStory #MundusMonday

You can also visit the Constructive Journalism initiative, run out of Aarhus University, to learn more about a constructive, solutions focused approach to reporting.