A journalist’s Brief But Spectacular take on telling the whole story

David Bornstein is co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, a group that works with news organizations to produce rigorous reporting on responses to social problems. The goal is to “rebalance the news” to provide people a sense of investment and communities with the information they need to participate in a healthy democracy. Here's his Brief But Spectacular take on telling the whole story.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Bornstein is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, an organization that works with news organizations to produce rigorous reporting on responses to social problems.

    The goal? To rebalance the news in a way that provides people a sense of investment and to provide communities with the information they need to participate in a healthy democracy.

    Tonight, he gives his Brief But Spectacular take on telling the whole story.

  • David Bornstein, Co-Founder, Solutions Journalism Network:

    I mean, I like to think about news just as a feedback system.

    You know, a good feedback system, to work, needs to let you know what you need to be afraid of, what you need to be aware of. And you need to know what you can do about it. You need to know where the efficacy is. If you only do one without the other, you're going to cause people to put their head — bury their heads in the sand.

    And if you only do the other thing, then you're a sort a Pollyanna, and you're making people feel good, but you're not really giving them information that's true to reality.

    But, in balance, you can activate people. And I think journalism at its best should activate people to be powerful players in a participatory democracy.

    There's just a great sense of well-being that comes from that, that way of living. And I think that journalism or any media should help build that capacity, should help feed it. It doesn't take away from letting us know about wars and corruption and malfeasance and what we're seeing obviously in politics around the world with populism.

    But, at the same time, if we make that the only focus of our attention, we will be leaving the best of human nature on the table, basically. The main way that the news harms democracy is by providing a view of the world that is largely deficit-framed.

    I mean, we are amply informed about what is going wrong, about what is ugly, about what is corrupt. But because we don't have a similar amount of information about what's growing, what are the new possibilities emerging, we have a very flawed, kind of one-sided view.

    It's as if your parents were only ever criticizing what you did and never letting where you had possibilities to grow. Many people who would — I think would love to participate in contributing to a better community, even a better society or world, have an impoverished sense of their power to do so.

    Particularly when it comes to communities that have experienced poverty historically or communities of color in the United States especially, you have narratives that have been deficit-framed for as long as we've had journalism.

    You could look at major news organizations across the United States. You look at the metro daily, the large newspaper in that community, and you take a community of color, and you type in the search, and you'll find in many cases that the majority of stories are about violence, as if to say that is the majority of activity in that community.

    Now, I'm not denying that we should cover violence. The point is, it's not the only truth. We should tell the whole story. And if we don't tell the whole story about communities, we are creating bias in the minds of people who often have power over those communities.

    What we're seeing, what I see just because I'm a little bit — I am sort of the spider at the center of this web of solutions journalism, is, my head is filled with stories of solutions all the time, which really inoculates you against some of the bad stuff that's been coming our way in recent years.

    Catch the world doing the right thing and let that also spread.

    My name is David Bornstein, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on telling the whole story.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot to think about there.

    And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

Listen to this Segment