Systems thinking for journalists

Systems thinking workshop - image by Garrick Wong, Renaissance Journalism
Systems thinking workshop – image by Garrick Wong, Renaissance Journalism

Covering news is not just about reporting on unexpected and pre-planned events, it’s also about investigating beyond what is happening to find out why it has happened. And that is where ‘systems thinking’ comes in.

Journalists have a responsibility to report about the stories behind the news. We do this by adding in-depth research which adds context and helps the audience understand the issues being covered.

The team at Journalism + Design has created a free systems thinking toolkit for journalists based on exercises “developed through years of research and running workshops for news organisations”.

The toolkit contains an introduction to systems thinking for journalists, along with activities and ideas that reporters, editors, and newsroom leaders can use to explore new angles in their news coverage and help them explain complex situations simply and in a way that informs the public debate.

Media Helping Media is happy to recommend these free resources to all those who want to produce thorough, in-depth, and accurate journalism that enhances the understanding of the audience.

The Journalism + Design toolkit includes the following sections, each with exercises and corresponding slide decks that you can work through alone or with your team members. There is a helpful ‘how-to’ guide for those wanting to use the toolkit.

Apply a systems lens to your journalism

Journalism + Design says the tools have been created …

… to help reporters and editors brainstorm creative opportunities to cover entrenched problems that don’t have easy fixes. Use them to explore the systems at the heart of your reporting and expand the possibilities for your journalism”.

Exercise 1: Visualise the systems in your reporting

This exercise offers a simple tool called the iceberg model to help you dig deeper into individual events you’re reporting on and trace the underlying patterns, structures, and ideas that are producing them” – Journalism + Design

Exercise 2: Create a guiding vision for your reporting

This exercise is geared to help you reflect on your own metrics for success, the motivations driving your reporting, and the potential for impact within the systems you’re reporting on” – Journalism + Design

Exercise 3: Identify key stakeholders + information needs

This exercise can help you whether you’re starting a new project or beat, want new ideas for sources, or are interested in understanding the different people, organizations, and communities who can inform your reporting and help you understand the system you’re covering” – Journalism + Design

Exercise 4: Map your story as a system

This exercise offers a simple tool for mapping an issue or beat you’re covering to look for new angles for your reporting and connections to explore. It can help you visualize the many forces at play in the systems you’re covering and the connections that drive them” – Journalism + Design

Exercise 5: Uncover patterns in your story

During the reporting process, we see how the issues we cover are often perpetuated by cyclical patterns. We call these patterns feedback loops, which are a series of forces that connect to one another in a cyclical way. Feedback loops are the foundations of many systems and dictate how they function. While feedback loops can be hard to see and articulate, this exercise can help you identify core patterns that are at the heart of a problem you’re reporting on. Once you start uncovering feedback loops, it’s likely that you will start seeing them everywhere” – Journalism + Design

Exercise 6: Uncover assumptions + beliefs driving the system

This exercise is a way to surface and interrogate our own assumptions, and those that fundamentally drive the nature of the systems we cover” – Journalism + Design

Exercise 7: Questions to ask and habits to build

We’ve put together this list of habits you can build and questions to ask throughout the reporting process to help you take a systemic view and strengthen the impact of your journalism” – Journalism + Design