A key cause of news fatigue and media avoidance is the relentless gloom and doom of the news cycle. Solutions journalism aims to change this – for the better – and one outlet in Armenia is succeeding by doubling down on bringing solutions, rather than merely reporting the problems, to the country’s 2.8M inhabitants.
In Armenia, there hasn’t been much in the way of upbeat news. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the landlocked country spiralled into a bloody conflict with its neighbour, Azerbaijan, over the long-disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Despite sporadic peace talks, the hostility escalated into a 44-day war in 2020. Today, deadly clashes and skirmishes continue.
The war has had a devastating impact on trust in the country’s highly polarised media and Armenia is facing an “unprecedented level of disinformation and hate speech”, according to Reporters Without Borders. It’s a situation echoed across many territories afflicted by global conflict.
Journalists couldn’t report truthfully on what they saw during the war, says Gayane Mirzoyan, a seasoned journalist and media trainer who has been editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Armenia and founded Taghinfo, a district news platform in the capital, Yerevan.
Only official government information was allowed, adding to the distrust fanned by the Covid-19 pandemic and deep political divisions after the 2018 “velvet revolution”. Whilst the media landscape has evolved since the 2018 power shift, many media outlets are still (too) close to either the new political leaders or former oligarchs. Recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine compounded political tensions.
“Journalists are not trusted in Armenia. They even trust bloggers more than journalists,” says Mirzoyan. “It’s sad, but it doesn’t mean we must do nothing about it. We need to work to regain the trust of society.”
Rebuilding Trust In Media
Building trust is precisely what Mirzoyan and a handful of her colleagues are doing with a pioneering multimedia platform of solutions based journalism. They started Urbanista, which focuses on a broad range of urban issues such as architecture, development, lifestyle changes, ecology and generational conflict.
But their favourite topic is “people who try to change lives in rural areas”.
“Sometimes, life in these rural areas is boring and difficult. But there are people who have enough courage to change something – and they succeed. We try to tell stories about them,” Mirzoyan says.
“There is a lot of negativity in the media globally, and in Armenia in particular we have had very little positive information in recent years. It doesn’t motivate people to change, to go further.
Of course I don’t think you just need to say to inspire people [and] just say everything will be good, don’t worry. But solutions journalism gives us the opportunity to research the best examples of how to overcome difficulties, And it helps ensure quality in reporting.
Solutions journalism, Mirzoyan emphasises, forces a journalist to be unbiased, “It is much harder to do solutions journalism. Not every problem had a solution. But in Armenia, in particular, people need this hope.”
Urbanista is one of a growing number of small, niche journalism platforms worldwide that focus on solutions to problems. In many established newsrooms, it is hardly a new concept to battle news fatigue. Recently, the Associated Press wrote how valuable solutions journalism was becoming to CBS news.
The Solutions Journalism Network, formed in 2013 by two former New York Times reporters who wrote the publication’s popular column “Fixes”, has trained tens of thousands of journalists globally, partnered with journalism schools and established a searchable database with solutions stories from nearly 2 000 news organisations.
For many news outlets, solutions journalism may well be a matter of survival. News avoidance has increased dramatically since the start of the war in Ukraine: the latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report found 36 % of people surveyed said they sometimes or often restricted their news intake amid challenges of “low level of trust, declining engagement, and an uncertain business environment”.
“We hear about many, many problems in each country,” Mirzoyan says. “I think people are tired of problems. It is more interesting to hear about solutions. And, I think, it will bring a new audience.”
Key Time Stamps
01:30 “In our case, one source of population in Armenia is in Yerevan, the capital. So we see that we have very few information from the regions, and we don’t know how the small cities are living in Armenia, and we hear about them only when something bad happens there. For us it was not fair because we saw that there is amazing people. There is some challenges and maybe interesting examples we can talk to our audience and we decided to found Urbanista.”
04:20 “We’re happy that we have a quality audience. And when we talked to media managers, the new trends in business are that they like a quality audience rather than a big audience. They prefer quality to quantity.”
08:26 “In this type of storytelling we are working from the solution. And this is also hard because not every problem has a solution. For example, in conflict journalism it’s very hard to bring another conflict and say let’s solve this conflict with this example.”