Journalism students at the University of Oregon will soon have the opportunity to learn how to bring together two storytelling methods to shed light and spark action: investigative reporting and solutions journalism.
Launching this summer, The Catalyst Journalism Project will teach students how to combine the traditional methods of investigative journalism with the innovative practice of solutions journalism, which uses evidence-based reporting to show how citizens and community leaders can help solve some of society’s most vexing problems. Research has shown that solutions-oriented stories can make audiences feel more engaged, informed and optimistic.
UO School of Journalism and Communication Instructor Kathryn Thier, Assistant Professor Nicole Dahmen and Assistant Professor Brent Walth have joined forces to develop and launch The Catalyst Project, which emphasizes both experiential learning for students and academic research for faculty.
“Investigative reporting often seeks to reveal secrets of civic importance that people in power don’t want the public to know,” said Walth, a Pulitzer Prize winner who teaches investigative journalism in the SOJC. “One of the great secrets that solutions journalism reveals is that there are paths through problems that many people think cannot be solved. Bringing these two reporting techniques together is going to be a powerful combination.”
With a partnership and funding from the Solutions Journalism Network, as well as funding from the Tom and Carol Williams Fund for Undergraduate Education and the SOJC Petrone Faculty Fellowship, The Catalyst Journalism Project aims to further journalistic practice in a way that helps restore public trust in the media while preparing students to become leaders in a field that is struggling to find new ways to engage audiences. The name “Catalyst” represents journalism that prompts community reaction and positive change.
Students who participate in The Catalyst Journalism Project will learn how to use both investigative reporting and solutions journalism techniques in tandem. Students will get hands-on practice reporting and publishing written and multimedia work they produce in and outside of class. Courses will start with a key theme or topic, and student stories will focus on revealing problematic truths — as well as what is being done to mitigate them — with an ultimate goal of increasing civic engagement.
“We want to help students make a serious exploration of how the traditional practices of journalism can help sustain democracy,” said Thier, who was one of the first in the nation to teach solutions journalism to college students. “Providing students the opportunity to study and practice this cutting-edge approach that we are pioneering will position them uniquely as they enter the job market to become leaders of a profession beset with profound challenges and opportunities.”
The initiative also includes public lectures, discussions and gatherings, and it will bring investigative and solutions journalism professionals to teach and collaborate with students and faculty. From a research prospective, Catalyst faculty will study pedagogical approaches and how the new model is moving the needle on journalistic impact, all with an eye toward theory development.
“Despite the growing practice of solutions journalism, there is a lack of academic understanding or theory-building,” said Dahmen, who studies solutions journalism and is the adviser for the student-produced iPad magazine OR Magazine, which recently won a Collegiate Scholastic Press Gold Crown Award for its 2016 “Solutions Issue.”
“As part of the Catalyst project, we have developed a research agenda that takes a scholarly focus to four areas relevant for solutions journalism: journalistic practice, audience effects, multimedia reporting and journalism education.”
Ultimately, Thier, Dahmen and Walth anticipate that The Catalyst Journalism Project will facilitate high-impact journalism created by students and knowledge about how journalism can help sustain a democratic society, while positioning the SOJC as the leading academic destination for solutions journalism education and research.