Squirrel News: Nourishing Good With Constructive Stories
Squirrel News is helping readers face today’s most troubling challenges with hope and clarity by sharing solutions-focused, constructive news stories. Read all about their mission in this exclusive interview with Jonathan Widder, Founder, as featured in Make The World Better Magazine.
/6 mins/ SparxTeam
Sometimes reading the news feels like wading through a mire, with no bright stories to interrupt the gloom. Curated, constructive news stories are needed to bring readers onto solid ground, shed light on solutions, and offer a much-needed reprieve.
We spoke with Jonathan Widder, Founder of Squirrel News, about how this application is sharing solutions-oriented stories and innovative approaches to help readers face today’s challenges with hope and clarity.
What was the “spark” that inspired you to start creating Squirrel News content?
Since 2015, I’d known about the ideas of constructive journalism and solutions journalism, and had dealt with these approaches in various projects. I saw how much readers longed for these kinds of stories but also how difficult it was for them to get a quality news digest of new solutions and societal progress. So, when the time came and my former job ended, I decided to take things into my own hands and founded an independent nonprofit to provide this news digest with my own team.
What do you consider to be your biggest success? Can you share any stories of the impact your work has had that have surprised you?
A few months after our launch, German national TV paid us a visit at home — as, everything else was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and a month later, an Emmy-winning comic, actor, and screenwriter from Los Angeles contacted us and eventually became the co-host of our new podcast. At the same time, I was elected as a LEDE fellow with the Solutions Journalism Network.
In a survey we conducted earlier this year, our readers stated that reading Squirrel News improves their mental well-being and helps them to make sense of the world.
But the most surprising moment happened on our podcast when we interviewed a researcher and activist for open prisons from India: prisons without walls, wardens, and guns. She was an expert on the topic and had successfully lobbied for a spread of these prisons across India — but when we asked her whether she knew the very similar prison model in Brazil, it turned out that she didn’t. We were able to make her aware of that, so she could connect, exchange, and potentially join forces with the activists in Brazil.
How do you feel having a platform and community help to make the world better?
It feels good to provide something that many people are looking for and to regularly have readers thank you for it. You definitely have the feeling that you’re on the right side of the world, and it’s a good and probably also important feeling to contribute to solutions and not to problems.
What are some of the challenges you typically face in creating content or building out your audience?
I guess in our digital era it’s just difficult to get people’s attention, as there are so many different media outlets, organizations, and other people diffusing information — established media, news outlets, blogs, social media, and so on. Then, of course, there’s our very tight budget. We started things without any investors or big funding, so it’s always difficult to find the necessary resources to spread the word about our work.
Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects you’d like to share?
We just released the first major update of our mobile app since its inception, where we’ve made several major improvements and added a number of features to make using Squirrel News even more fun. Now we’re working on a funny and quite unique format to present our news in TikTok and Instagram videos.
How can people help support your mission?
People can read our news on our mobile app, newsletter, or website; spread the word about Squirrel News, both online and offline; and support us with recurring donations to make sure we can continue our work.
Bonus: Why did you choose the name Squirrel News?
I thought a squirrel is a good symbol for what we do, as we collect solutions-focused news, just as a squirrel collects nuts. Apart from that, I was looking for something more entertaining than those usual dry names with three letters. I had the impression that many journalists take themselves a bit too seriously — even though they often do important work — so the squirrel is also an antidote against that.
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