If the defund-police debate struck some people as a new idea, then they haven’t been paying attention to the reporting done by journalists for many years about police accountability and successful programs using other civilian professionals to replace police in some of the tasks cops traditionally shoulder.
To cite a few examples:
- A Kaiser Health News report last year on the CAHOOTS mental-health-crisis response team in Eugene, Or., which beat the rush on such stories that we’ve seen since this year’s protests began;
- A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article last year on the work of violence interrupters;
- A 2016 Chicago Reporter story on data-driven tracking of police misconduct.
These and other stories were the focus of a collection I recently curated for Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), as the Network’s new criminal justice specialist.
That collection, “First Steps Toward #DefundThePolice,” is just one of the ways SJN is increasing its commitment to elevating a brand of journalism sorely needed at a time when policing, incarceration, and other aspects of our criminal justice system have sparked so much angst and anger.
Founded in 2013, SJN grew out of The New York Times’ “Fixes” column, a long-running series on “solutions to social problems and why they work.”
“Fixes” writers Tina Rosenberg and David Borenstein co-founded SJN to advance that mission in newsrooms around the world, with a nonprofit that gives grants, and provides training to encourage rigorously reported journalism on solutions.
The criteria for what counts as solutions journalism have been refined over the years, and now set a high bar for the kinds of stories that count, including that they must show how the response to a social problem works in detail, explain the quality of the evidence that it works, and show the response’s limitations.
I’m part of a team of subject-matter specialists vetting stories, which are submitted by news organizations, the journalists themselves, our own staff, or anyone else. Stories that make the grade are tagged by subject matter and by their “success factors”—categorizing their approach to the problem—and are archived in a database searchable by issues, journalists, news outlets, and other search terms.
There are more than 9,600 stories in the Solutions Story Tracker, which grows every day and which has responded to the hottest topics of the day with a focus on responses to racial inequities in the criminal justice system and COVID-19.
On top of this archive sits a growing library of curated topic pages and collections to steer users to the best of the best, a service that’s also tailored to teaching these topics (with discussion questions and teaching notes as add-ons).
Other criminal justice collections so far include these on violence interrupters, police use of force policies, accountability and de-escalation policies for police, bail reform, police-community relations, street violence and trauma, and several others.
In each collection, the curator introduces the topic and then links to SJN’s summaries of typically up to six stories. Each summary, in turn, links to the original story. A growing number of newsletters distribute new entries in our collections via email. All of these services are free.
At a time when a large share of the public doesn’t know what to believe or whom to trust, and so much journalism is focused only on problems, SJN strives to shine a light on the work journalists do to explain effective responses to our most intractable problems.
And that’s a type of news we can all use.
Editor’s Note: The Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, publisher of The Crime Report, has collaborated with the Solutions Journalism Network on several projects.
Mark Obbie is a contributing editor at The Crime Report, a freelance criminal justice journalist, and the criminal justice solutions specialist at Solutions Journalism Network. Readers’ comments are welcome.