Story by Andra Brichacek
Photos by Nicole Dahmen
Ever feel like the news is stressing you out? You’re not alone. According to research, the 24/7 cycle of negative news is taking its toll on the nation’s collective psyche.
There is another approach to news, however, that takes a more holistic tack. Solutions journalism crafts rigorous and fact-driven stories documenting credible responses to societal problems. Rather than the traditional approach of reporting solely on things that have gone wrong, this type of journalism focuses on both what is working and what is not, delving deeper into the why and how.
Solutions journalism (or “SoJo” for short) has been making headway as an alternative to traditional, problem-focused news over the past year, thanks to the efforts of the Solutions Journalism Network, a New York-based national nonprofit dedicated to “reimagining the news.” Now the SJN is setting down roots in Oregon with the launch of a Portland chapter, following the debuts of similar chapters in San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York.
On March 8, more than 40 Oregon journalists, including UO School of Journalism and Communication students and alumni, attended the chapter’s launch event, hosted by the SOJC’s Agora Journalism Center. Samantha McCann, director of communities for SJN, led the event at the SOJC’s George S. Turnbull Portland Center with the network’s new Portland chapter head, David Lipoff, BS ’71.
The new chapter will provide monthly trainings and workshops on solutions journalism for Oregon journalists, as well as opportunities for networking and story development.
Andrew DeVigal, SOJC’s chair in journalism innovation and civic engagement, cited Open: Housing, the Agora Journalism Center’s initiative on homelessness and housing affordability in Portland, as an example of the type of coverage that could benefit from a solutions journalism approach.
“With this multi-partner initiative, we aim to foster inclusive, informed public conversations that drive solutions to Portland’s housing crisis,” DeVigal said. “Through the solutions journalism lens, we're engaging with individuals or organizations that are working to address housing issues with services, public policy solutions, market solutions and community-generated/DIY solutions.”
Event attendee Allison Frost, MS ’98, Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud senior producer, said solutions journalism has a role to play in the current media and social climate.
“This is a game-changing innovation that journalism needs — to revitalize the institution itself, to rebuild trust with news consumers and citizens, to hold lawmakers accountable to what’s possible (rather than what’s convenient) and to accurately reflect what’s going on in our communities and the world at large,” Frost said.
The SOJC first partnered with SJN 18 months ago when instructor Kathryn Thier introduced solutions journalism to the school's undergraduate curriculum. Students in the course produced six story ideas, with initial development from 14 students.
Five of those students were also selected to be reporters, editors and photographers for OR Magazine, an award-winning, student-produced iPad publication advised by SOJC Assistant Professor Nicole Dahmen. The 2016 “Solutions Issue” of OR Magazine — which featured five solutions stories — recently won a prestigious Columbia Scholastic Press Association Crown Gold Award.
The Agora Journalism Center supported the initial development of Thier’s solutions journalism course as well as Dahmen’s research into restorative narrative, another emerging genre of journalism that seeks to broaden the ways journalists tell stories. Thier and Dahmen, who are now pursuing additional projects at the SOJC centered on solutions journalism, helped organize the Portland chapter launch.
Erin Hampton, an SOJC journalism student who recently completed a UO Clark Honors College thesis featuring original research on solutions journalism and nonprofits, made the drive to Portland from Eugene for the event.
“Being able to attend the Portland SJN launch brought my solutions journalism journey full circle,” she said. “A year ago, I was just learning the basics of SoJo, and now I get to see the Solutions Journalism Network expand close to my home. It feels like the solutions journalism research I've been doing over the past year has been validated, and now it can reach so many other people in the area.”
Jason Bernert, BA ’11, was one of the many local journalists who attended the launch to learn more about the solutions journalism approach.
“When it seems the news is dominated by what’s broken, that’s a good time to start reporting on fixes,” said Bernert, who works in Portland as a multimedia journalist. “And as an SOJC alum, it’s exciting to see solution journalism taught and actively being produced by students in the J-school.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting will host the SJN Portland chapter's first training following the launch, a free two-hour workshop titled "Putting Theory into Practice," on April 3, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at OPB's SW Macadam Avenue office.
Andra Brichacek is the SOJC Communication team’s head writer and editor. She has nearly 20 years’ experience creating content for print and online media and has specialized in education since 2008. Follow her on Twitter @andramere.