nature prescribing

How to fix the news switch off? A review of our solutions stories from 2023

When The Ferret was set up in 2015 its mission was clear – to scrutinise and hold the powerful to account, uncover injustice and help promote positive change in the public good.

But what happens when we find responses to the issues we want to highlight that might already be working? Should we examine potential solutions with the same rigour as we apply to the problems? 

Negativity bias is a very human response, not just a media one. Some research shows people are more likely to click on a negative headline than a positive one. But those headlines – and what lies behind them – don’t work for everyone.

Earlier this year the Reuter’s Institute 2023 Digital News report highlighted an increase in people who actively avoid the news, now at 36 per cent (close to last year’s all-time high of 38 per cent). The report says “news avoiders” are more likely to say they are interested in positive or solutions-based journalism.

Solutions journalism, which examines responses to social issues, and constructive journalism, which values nuance over sensationalism, aim to get past the old old adage that “if it bleeds, it leads” and offer something more humane.

So this year The Ferret has been experimenting with including “solutions” stories in the mix, as stand alone news or feature pieces, or elements of a larger investigation.

Solutions don’t always equal positive stories

Our work isn’t known for its glass-half-full approach… but solutions journalism doesn’t always have to be positive or shy away from the limitations of the response.

So we’ve used solutions journalism to look at flagship Scottish policies that respond to problems like the Period Products Act. Spoiler – we found making period products free by law may be a world-first but local authorities need to distribute those – and ordinary people need to know how to access them – if you want to end period poverty. Read that one here.

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Monica Lennon MSP appears before the Local Government and Communities Committee to give evidence in support of her Member’s Bill the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. 15 January 2020 . Pic – Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Elsewhere we’ve looked at what’s worked in the past and raised questions about the impact of funding cuts. Our final piece in our GPs in Crisis investigations looked at the kind of schemes that could – and did – reduce pressure on GPs in deprived areas and heard calls for investment that could help reinstate those approaches. Find out about the way one project in Glasgow worked here.

We’ve also published pieces looking at what might make a difference in terms of Scotland’s drug death crisis. We reported on the Simon Community’s We See You project in Glasgow, which offers non-judgemental support and welcome to drug users in the city centre. It has since launched in Edinburgh.

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Jim Thomson at the Simon Community Access Hub in Argyle Street, Glasgow. Picture Robert Perry 21st August 2023 FEE PAYABLE FOR REPRO USE FEE PAYABLE FOR ALL INTERNET USE www.robertperry.co.uk NB -This image is not to be distributed without the prior consent of the copyright holder. in using this image you agree to abide by terms and conditions as stated in this caption. All monies payable to Robert Perry (PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE THIS CAPTION) This image is intended for Editorial use (e.g. news). Any commercial or promotional use requires additional clearance. Copyright 2023 All rights protected. first use only

And we also looked outside of Scotland for inspiration with pieces from a mental health service offering therapy to drug users on the streets in San Francisco and heard about safer supply programmes in Vancouver. Of course, these might not be exactly applicable here. But there are lessons in what doesn’t work as well as what does.

We looked at responses to mental health issues in Scotland too and commissioned a short film about nature prescribing which examined the positive impacts of getting out in the wild for those struggling with issues ranging from panic attacks to alcohol use.

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Our solutions stories have been truly global. We looked at how to get abortion advice in Nigeria, where access is legal but not easy. And reported from Poland where we wrote about an network aiming to keep women trafficked from Ukraine –  often sexually abused and sometimes pregnant as a result – safe from harm.

So what did we learn? There’s been some frustration along the way for sure. At times it can feel like the approach risks sidestepping the root cause of the issues at hand. For example, the solution to the horrors of trafficking is not just to better support women. It is also to create global systems that are more equitable, stop the war and fight for peace.

But it also feels important to cover responses in an imperfect world as well as just document those imperfections – it’s a way to hold on to hope and humanity. As our timelines fill up with more horror and despair, maybe it’s a small thing journalists can do to stave off the temptation to give up on the news – to encourage people not to switch off. What could be a more essential part of our job than that?

As we plan out our next year of work we’d love to know what you think. Contact us here

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