It took me approximately 50 travel hours on air, across several countries of the world with stopovers in Doha, the capital of Qatar, and Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States of America (USA), to come to the realisation that, indeed, every society has peculiar challenges that change agents respond to.
As one of the two Nigerians selected to be part of the 2022 Solutions Journalism Summit in Utah, I had the privilege of interacting with over 60 journalists, educators, mediapreneur, and change agents who are pioneers and champions of Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) across the globe.
Everyone has a story about using the four pillars of solutions journalism and personal ingenuity to respond to social problems in their communities.
My experiences in executing the Dubawa Research Fellowship in 2020-2021 and as one of the pioneer Africa Fellows of the SJN (with the task to mainstream solutions journalism into journalism education and training) enabled me to establish the intersections of fact-checking, media literacy, research and solutions journalism.
My first research intervention during the Dubawa Fellowship documented how fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are providing the platforms for addressing the challenges associated with information disorder in West Africa.
Similarly, the principles and practices of Solutions Journalism have now spread to over seven tertiary institutions and many media organisations after the training and workshop held in 2021 at Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Apart from my over one decade of experience as a journalist, researcher and educator, I took the two years experience as Fellows of Dubawa and SJN to the Solutions Journalism Summit in the US.
Elements of Fact-checking during my Solutions Journalism Summit
Having seen the prospects of fact-checking, media literacy, research and solutions journalism in addressing societal problems, I focused my discussions, engagements and interactions during the summit along these themes.
After two days of intensive engagements through breakout sessions and the unique conversations approach adopted by the SJN team (led by Chris Green and Samantha McCann), I was able to establish collaborations with champions of Solutions Journalism in theory and practice. This enabled me to establish the handshake between Town and Gown.
The Director of Journalism School Partnerships of SJN, Francine Huff, agreed to sustain the support for the spread of the principles of Solutions Journalism in more tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Kyser Lough who is a faculty member of Georgia University faculty also agreed to carry out collaborative research on Solutions Journalism in Nigeria and the United States. I also opened discussions with a journalist and fact-checker, Natalie Van Hoozer from Factchequeado (US), who was enthusiastic about future collaborations, especially on fact-checking projects.
Worthy of mention are the insights I got from the conversations with the co-founder of SJN, David Bornstein, and the Revenue Project Officer of SJN, Alec Saelens. While David explained how his column in the New York Times, which reported the responses to problems faced by children, gave birth to SJN, Alec highlighted the business model and funding models for sustaining the fact-checking and solutions journalism projects of media and Non-Governmental Organizations.
During the breakout sessions, participants seemed thrilled by my stories relating to the discussions around the topics. And in order to engage with my projects and possibly learn from my documented activities, I have repeated requests to let them have the website links to some of my interventions in fact-checking and solutions journalism in Nigeria.
Earlier, I came to realise how the selection team of Solutions Journalism Network verified the information I supplied during my application for the fellowship and summit scholarship.
Being my first visa application to visit the United States, I was told by colleagues with American visa experience to provide well documented applications that my chances of securing the visa was slim, given the backlog of applications due to the coronavirus pandemic.
To determine my intention and ties to my home country, the US Consulate in Nigeria verified the details supplied in my DS-160 form through my social media handles among other approaches to determine my suitability to be issued the US visa.
This indicated that verification has now been institutionalised to address peculiar immigration challenges in terms of passport and visa processing in Nigeria and the United States.
Combating Racism, Homelessness in Nigeria and the US: the Tale of two Countries
My first visit to the United States, offered me the opportunity to verify the claims of racism in the US compared to Nigeria, as well as the approach in addressing challenges associated with what is called “homeless people” in the United States and the “Almajiri” or “beggars” in Nigeria.
I entered the United States through the Los Angeles International Airport, where I noted the hospitable nature of the border officials during the interview session. I observed that blacks are part of the staff. The priorities given to nursing mothers and the elderly, whether white or black also caught my attention.
Side view of a trolley at the Los Angeles International Airport
When I took a local flight through Alaska Airlines from Los Angeles to Utah, I was stunned by the way the parents of a white kid (between ages 4 to 5) who refused to sit beside me (who knows why?), insisted that he must or risk standing throughout the two hours of the flight!
I shared hotel rooms with three other White Americans at the Sundance Mountain Resort, Utah, venue of the Solutions Journalism Summit. The organisers had provided the links through which we interacted before the start of the event. Apart from giving me and one other participant from Haiti the information needed to get through the hotel, one of the Americans paid the entire hotel bills on our behalf, with the expectation that I and others are going to reimburse the expenses. I was initially skeptical about sharing rooms with White Americans given the claim that some of them are racists, but my personal experience with them in three days living in the same room gave me a stress-free experience.
After the Summit, I returned to Los Angeles to have a feel of the city described as the second largest in the United States.
Worthy of note was the experience I had aboard Southwest Airlines while flying from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles International Airports. The flight was delayed from 6:50pm to 7:11pm on 8th May, 2022 and eventually when we boarded, the plane was full to capacity. I was one of the last passengers to board the plane. As I attempted to get one of the last available seats, a white American, Ann and her friend, Devyn, offered to allow me to stay beside the window to have a feel of the environment. My co-passengers made my flight pleasant. They had an open discussion with me. I told them about Nigeria and my mission in the United States. Just as some of the participants at the Summit, Ann asked for the website links to some of my activities as a researcher and solutions journalism fellow. My response to her was, “Google my name, you will be able to verify my claims.” Ann and her friend would not hesitate to ask me, like virtually all other Americans I interacted with: “Are you staying back in the US or going back to Nigeria?”
As we are in the age of artificial intelligence, apps and websites I have visited possibly “eavesdrop” my conversations and feed on the different data on my phone including my locations to make me “victim” of targeted advertisements and sponsored contents. I suspected that was what happened when I woke up in Los Angeles in the morning to get this pop up on my phone: “Travelers Name The Worst Cities They’ve Visited In The U.S.” Since this is directly related to what I wish to know as a tourist to Los Angeles, I was compelled to click and open the link: And I was particularly interested in the assessment of the city I was in. And this is what I read: “Yes, you read that right! While LA certainly has its fair share of restaurants, nightlife, and of course, celebrities, there are many unappealing aspects of the City of Angels that continue to infuriate its residents. This includes heavy traffic congestion” and to cap it up, the tourist added, “and a growing homelessness crisis.”
Being a mass communication researcher, I was eager to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame. My host, Sheriff Balogun, was the guide who took me round Los Angeles for three days to have a feel of the City of Angels.
I visited Hollywood Boulevard where I was entertained with the rich foundation, sources and studios of the best of the American films and movies. As I walked through the long Hollywood Boulevard, I imagined and reflected on how we should have a semblance of this at the Hubert Ogunde film village in Ososa, MKO Abiola Cultural Centre in Abeokuta, Ogun State and other notable and iconic film and drama locations in Nigeria.
Closely related to this, is the dominant activities of the homeless (whites and blacks) at the Hollywood Walk of Fame and adjourning streets. As my guide took me to the train station, I saw the replica of poverty in Nigeria bedeviling the beautiful American communities. They beg, rely on handouts, some are mentally unhealthy and eat from the dustbins and left overs.
The homeless have a “well organised community” with the American society (as I see it) battling to address this challenge, and respecting their rights to live in the capitalist society that thrive on the slogan of “no food for lazy man”. I am not sure of how this intervention is working. Few minutes to my departure from Hollywood Boulevard where my host treated me to a delicious pizza as dinner, I saw the efficiency and speed of light response rate of the security agencies. In one of the restaurants, I leant that someone called 911, and in a jiffy, I saw about seven security vehicles and 12 armed security officials cordoning off the area to arrest an unarmed homeless person for “breaching the security” of the place.
Nigeria has its own version of the homeless and its attendant socio-cultural, economic and security challenges. The breeding, reduction and eradication of destitutes in Nigeria and the United States are worthy Solutions Journalism story pitch I will wish to take up.
Are American racists? While I will fact check claims like this, I am proposing that fact-checking organisations should include some element of solutions journalism in their editorial process by looking at responses to such social problems. By design, fact-checked stories provide evidence to support the verdicts, more evidence could be provided whether response to such a problem is either working or not. The limitations of such interventions would provide the needed insights for future interventions.