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In each edition of our Solutions, Explained newsletter we like to bring you behind the scenes of our Solutions Journalism Accelerator. By signing up you will get exclusive tips on how to do solutions journalism, learn from our network and tap into the voices of people directly involved in solutions journalism.
In this exclusive sneak preview from this month's newsletter we would like to share with you how Matty from Bristol Cable and Matthieu from Mediacités collaborated to write about rent control.
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Matty is the editor of the Bristol Cable, an independent local paper in the UK that is 100% owned by its readers. He has written a lot about housing, social issues and health, as well as exploring ways of improving how we can do local journalism from reader engagement to investigations and solutions journalism. The Bristol Cable is a grantee of the Solutions Journalism Accelerator.
Matthieu is a journalist at Mediacités, an independent local newspaper based in four big cities in France (Lille, Lyon, Toulouse and Nantes). Matthieu is really betting on solution journalism for the future of information. He understands that investigations are sometimes quite depressing. That's why he thinks it can be helpful to provide readers with stories trying to answer the What can we do next ? question. Mediacités is one of our Solutions Journalism Accelerator ambassadors in France.
Matty: The Bristol Cable is currently spending a year looking at solutions that will deal with the major problems cities face and allow us to build sustainable cities for the future in the hope that these solutions can be shared. One of these problems is housing. Bristol is the most expensive city to live in the UK outside London and things have only got worse in recent years.
Rent controls albeit in many forms exist around the world so we wanted to learn from a similar city to Bristol. In solutions journalism there is the trap of writing about a project or initiative in a country you dont know, and as a result your reporting can lack depth or a critical eye. Thats why we wanted to team up with journalists who could really find out how well the solutions are working.
In my research, I found that rent controls had recently been introduced in a handful of French cities in the last few years, and Mediacités had already reported on the early impact. Mediacités is a local paper with similar values and model to the Cable, so I thought a partnership was the ideal fit.
Matty: Our collaboration allowed us to look at two cities in depth and avoid the traps of surface-level solutions journalism. Matthieu from Mediacités did some great reporting about the real impact and limitations of rent controls in Lille, which allowed us to genuinely move along the conversation about rent controls in Bristol. The issues with poor enforcement and lacking resources for local authorities are also particularly relevant to the UK. We submitted what we found together in Lille as evidence to Bristol City Councils Living Rent Commission, which is investigating what rent controls could look like in a UK city like Bristol.
Matthieu: Lille is the most expensive city to live in France outside Paris and things have only got worse in recent years. I loved working on this article. It showed that solution journalism is just a subcategory of investigative journalism, the only difference is that we investigate a solution and not a problem.
Matty: Firstly, I think its important to do initial research to find a city or country that is relevant to your own in terms of size, demographics and problems faced. Secondly, find a story that is important to both audiences so that both journalists can invest time and effort investigating it. Thirdly, I think the fact that the Bristol Cable and Mediacités have a similar approach to local journalism made a real difference to the reporting and storytelling. Finding like-minded media will make collaboration even more productive.
Language skills definitely helped, too. I studied French at university and Matthieu speaks great English. After initially contacting Mediacités editors in French to discuss the terms of the collaboration, Matthieu and I communicated in English. But my knowledge of French allowed me to translate his notes and final reporting into English, as well as check primary documents. Clear communication from the beginning and throughout made working with each other very easy.