Preventive journalism derives from investigative journalism, but differs from it in two important ways: It includes potential solutions for emerging problems and it assumes that journalists and editors will follow up on whether these solutions are working.

Though it looks at problems before they become crises, preventive journalism it is not speculative. The issues it investigates are already serious and deserve public and government attention.

Understanding Government's $50,000 prize is the first concerted attempt to pull preventive journalism into the mainstream of American journalism, though it has made appearances in past debates.

Among the early proponents was Michael O'Neill during his tenure as editor of the New York Daily News in the 1980s. O'Neill was responding then to what he saw as the threat
to public discourse from television. In his 1993 book, "The Roar of the Crowd: How Television and People Power Are Changing the World," he wrote that preventive journalism would "search out the causes of social breakdowns before they turn into the failures and violence which the TV shows now celebrate."

Today's focus is different: Understanding Government is calling for reporting that will stop growing disasters in their tracks. The organization's prize announcement calls for targeting "inept leaders, misguided policies, and bureaucratic bungling before they lead to disasters like the bad pre-war intelligence about WMDs and the travesty that was the response to Katrina."

A recent example of preventive journalism is the Washington Post's three-part series on troubled public schools in Washington, D.C. by Dan Keating and V. Dion Haynes. It includes a lively look at the problems but also a set of solutions embodied by the Philadelphia public schools, whose reform efforts could be a model for other big cities.