Pro-democracy journalism provides clear warning to the public about candidates, elected officials, or legislation that threatens the continuation of democracy. Doing so helps the public understand what’s at stake, and places threats to democracy at a higher order of importance than typical daily political reporting. The emergence of democracy beats and democracy reporters highlights a growing understanding that journalists need to deemphasize horse race coverage and focus on threats to our democracy like gerrymandering, stripping voting rights, executive power over-reach and minority rule. Many journalists also are moving their focus from candidates, polls, and pundits to communities and the issues they care most about.
In addition to a reactive angle, in which the press is responding to and reporting about these threats, journalists also must create pro-active coverage that shines a light on what both public officials and everyday community members are doing to strengthen and harden democracy against those who want to dismantle it. Recent research conducted by SmithGeiger, a leading media research firm, reveals that the public strongly desires solutions-oriented reporting on politics and elections, which Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) defines as rigorous reporting on responses to social problems. There’s a growing demand for evidence-based reporting that highlights the progress being made in addressing threats to democracy while centering the communities most impacted.
Within this guide, you will find online training for how to tackle these challenges, along with printable guides and insights from fellow journalists who are leaders in transforming elections and democracy coverage.
Guides & Best Practices
“The Authoritarian Playbook”
This essential guide provides specific practices for how reporters can contextualize and calibrate their coverage of authoritarian threats as distinct from politics-as-usual. It outlines the seven fundamental tactics used by aspiring authoritarians; describes examples from inside and outside the United States; and offers a framework journalists can use to differentiate between regular politics and something more dangerous to democracy.
Solutions Journalism Network
Four-part video training series: Covering Democracy Through a Solutions Lens
In this series, the Solutions Journalism Network provide insights into an alternative approaches to political reporting—one that emphasizes solutions-focused coverage of democracy and civic life, as opposed to the traditional horse race and problem-centric reporting. Together, they outline the fundamentals of solutions reporting and how to apply it effectively to coverage of elections and threats to democracy. Additionally, they share best practices from newsrooms that have successfully implemented these transformative changes.
- An introduction to Pro-Democracy and Solutions-Focused Political Coverage
- Ari Berman and Natalia Contreras on covering threats to democracy with a solutions lens
- Lessons from Pro-Democracy and Pro-Solutions Newsrooms
- How to cover election season with a solutions and pro-democracy lens
Seven simple steps to incorporate solutions reporting into your beat
Reporter and Editor Tom Hallberg offers insight into how to incorporate solutions reporting into daily beat reporting. There are no shortcuts, but Hallberg shares tips and tricks he has used to produce solutions reporting, and has an annotated story from the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
Examples of solutions-oriented election/democracy coverage
- The Current’s election guide (2023)
- WITF’s election guide (2023)
- Atlanta Civic Circle’s voter guide for the Atlanta School Board election (2023)
- Texas Tribune’s election coverage (2022)
- Bolts Magazine’s Election Cheat Sheet (2023)
- Prism Reports’ Politics & Democracy coverage
Advancing Democracy is a newsroom fellowship program from Hearken, Solutions Journalism Network, Trusting News and Good Conflict that supports news organizations in transforming their political coverage.
Every page in the Democracy Toolkit!
The Washington Post
The rise of a pro-democracy media by Perry Bacon Jr.
Center for Cooperative Media
Beyond the ‘Democracy Desk’: Why U.S. newsrooms need to become explicitly pro-democracy by Jay Rosen
The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy by Stefanie Murray
Solutions Journalism Network:
- Building a Solutions Culture: Lessons from 5 Newsrooms
- A summary of the transformational work five newsrooms accomplished by embracing solutions journalism.
- SJN’s Democracy Solutions in Focus Newsletter
- The Solutions Worth Sharing Advancing Democracy newsletter comes out every two weeks.
- Solutions Story Tracker
- A searchable database with over 15,200 stories.
- Solutions reporting materials en Español
News outlets should be openly ‘pro-democracy,’ journalism professor says
Article & Video
Crown Publishing Group
How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky
Crown Publishing Group
Tyranny of the Minority: Why American Democracy Reached the Breaking Point by Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky
The Kettering Foundation
Reinventing Journalism to Strengthen Democracy: Insights from Innovators
University of Chicago Press
Justice by Means of Democracy by Danielle Allen