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Unearthing local solutions: Libération’s reporting on how grassroots communities address environmental problems

Case study

Unearthing local solutions: Libération’s reporting on how grassroots communities address environmental problems

In 2022-2023, Libération received a grant of €130,000 from the European Journalism Centre through the Solutions Journalism Accelerator

Their project “Pistes Vertes” aimed to unearth the local solutions adopted by communities most affected by climate change worldwide. They published a total of 13 articles. 

About the news outlet:

  • Founded in 1973, Libération is based in Paris. It has a coverage area of 88,000 prints per day, 4 million page views, and 73,000 subscribers.
  • Describing itself as the third most widely read newspaper in France it aims at providing its readers with accurate and balanced news coverage with a particular emphasis on international news, in line with the humanist tradition of the newspaper.

About the project:

Libération logo Pistes Vertes

Why did you decide to embark on this solutions journalism journey?

The idea was to be able to develop solutions-focused stories, combined with international reports with compelling narratives (“Grand Reportage”) which is one of Liberation’s trademarks. We had previously established that solutions-oriented stories were received favourably by our audience so we wanted to explore that more.

Which under-reported subjects and which different angles of already-reported concepts did you aim for in your projects? Have you succeeded in doing so?

The solutions angle on international stories was very new to us, both for the journalists and the readers. It allowed us to look into very local ways of life of communities around the world and to immerse ourselves in a tangible manner in their problems and solutions. For example, when we talked about traditional agriculture methods (in Costa Rica), permaculture (Tunisia) or irrigation systems (Peru) we needed to know about the materials used, the building techniques, and thus the natural resources available in the surroundings and the local economy. The solutions angle let us be very concrete in the way we were telling the stories, really focusing on the protagonists’ perspective. 

The pillars of solutions journalism, in particular the one about the necessity to report on the limitations of solutions, kept us in check to interrogate NGOs’ perspectives and replace them in a wider context. Too often, solutions stories turn out to be public relations pieces in favour of  NGO’s work. We paid particular attention not to do that. 

Image from article: Au Caire, des chiffonniers chercheurs d’ordures. Photography by Rehab Eldalil/Libération

In what ways has the grant impacted your reporting and contributed to amplifying voices and solutions from the Global South?

The grant provided a substantial budget without which some of these stories would not be possible. We went to Greenland, for instance, to talk about climate adaptation. Or in very remote places in India and Colombia. Without the grant, Libération, like most of the news outlets in France/Europe, could not afford to send a team to these places. So it was a unique occasion for the communities of these places to be heard and to showcase their unique solutions-oriented creativity. 

How did applying solutions journalism affect your organisation and team?

There was a particularly interesting debate around the use of pictures, which is also one of Libération’s trademarks. We realised that the dramatisation, and sensationalising that often occurs in the news world is sometimes driven by the choices of pictures. In trying to pick “positive”, engaging pictures to go with our stories, we started a thinking process that goes beyond the project in what we want to convey in our pictures. 

Did solutions journalism change engagement with your audience in any way? How were the solutions journalism stories perceived by your audience?

The stories were shared on social media by a relatively younger audience than Liberation’s average. Some of them (permaculture in Tunisia, and community-administered forests in India) were translated into English and sparked debate. 

What challenges did you encounter and how did you address them?

It was sometimes difficult to make the writers understand that they also had to offer a counter perspective on the solution. In the beginning, some stories were too “positive” but we gradually corrected that. The stories received positive feedback from the audience, but their performance was still way under investigation stories or dramatic war stories. 

Image from article: Au Caire, des chiffonniers chercheurs d’ordures. Photography by Rehab Eldalil/Libération

What insights or lessons did you gain from this project?

A closer relationship with metric and data teams is needed when choosing angles. 

To what extent do you plan to continue or expand your solutions journalism reporting practices beyond the grant period?

We already started to implement an almost systematic solutions approach in our environmental coverage. 

What advice would you give to other journalists or organisations interested in pursuing solutions journalism reporting on issues related to the Global South?

Do not rely only on NGOs or UN agencies to prepare your story. Engage with local journalists, they know the ground. Always look at the costs (financial, human, environmental) of a solution and always ask yourself the question: who is benefitting from this solution, rather than another? Pay attention to the scale too: some solutions have great outcomes in a very limited area but can not be replicated or are having anecdotal results compared to the scale of the problem. In that case, not all solutions are worth reporting. 

About the programme:

The Solutions Journalism Accelerator is a programme by the European Journalism Centre (EJC) in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network delivering grant funding to support solutions-focused development journalism in European news organisations. The programme is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For the purpose of this programme, we define solutions journalism as a practice that investigates and explains, in a critical and clear-eyed way, how people try to solve widely shared problems.

While journalists usually define news as ‘what’s gone wrong’, solutions journalism tries to expand this notion by emphasising that ‘what works’ is also newsworthy. By adding rigorous, evidence-based coverage of solutions, journalists can tell the whole story.

Images from: Au Caire, des chiffonniers chercheurs d’ordures.


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