Podcast: How Grady College will approach being one of nation’s first solutions journalism hubs

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At the beginning of August, the Solutions Journalism Network named Grady College one of the nation’s first solutions journalism hubs, a designation given to only three other colleges in the United States. In this role, Grady College’s Department of Journalism will be tasked with continuing to serve as an incubator for creativity, innovation and research in solutions journalism and function as a resource for students and professionals in the region who are interested in the field.

To further unpack what this designation means, solutions journalism experts Dr. Amanda Bright, director of the Cox Institute Journalism Innovation Lab, Dr. Kyser Lough, an assistant professor in Journalism, and Ralitsa Vassileva, a lecturer in Journalism, were recently interviewed as a part of Grady College’s Grady Research Radio podcast

Below is a transcription of the podcast, edited for clarity and brevity. 

Grady College: What is solutions journalism, and why is there a need for it? A quote from Kyser Lough about the definition of solutions journalism.

Kyser Lough: Well, solutions journalism is a method of reporting where the reporter goes out and, instead of just reporting on the problems communities are facing, they also look for what people are doing about it. 

It’s not advocacy. It’s not opinion journalism. The journalist is not creating the solution. They are simply using their same set of journalistic skills and tools to go out and report on what’s being done in response to a problem. 

It was kind of born out of this idea that we sometimes focus too much on problems. I mean, it’s good. We have to uncover and thoroughly define the problems a community is facing. That’s a very important purpose of journalism. But if we only focus on that, then all we’re showing our readers is that, you know, it’s just doom and gloom all the time, and we know that’s not true. We know there are people out there trying to address these problems. So why aren’t we reporting on that, too?

A lot of people just call it just good journalism. I think putting a name on it was important to help really define what it is, but at the end of the day, it’s something a lot of journalists have been doing. It’s just that we feel a lot of folks haven’t been doing it enough.

Grady College: Amanda Bright explained that solutions journalism entered the curricula at the college roughly four years ago as a very small piece of the capstone undergraduate reporting classes in journalism. Since then, though, solutions journalism has become a part of every undergraduate capstone class. At this point, every journalism student at Grady College leaves with knowledge in some practical application of solutions journalism. 

Many student-made solutions journalism pieces are available online at Gradynewsource.uga.edu. While looking through some of those pieces, I noticed that they are far from your standard text-based news stories. The students who make the pieces often weave in both audio and visual components. So, I asked Ralitsa Vassileva about teaching multimedia solutions journalism storytelling in her classes. 

Four students and two faculty pose for a picture in Utah in front of a grove of trees with a mountain in the background.
Kyser Lough and Ralitsa Vassileva (second from right) took a small group of students to the Journalism Solutions Summit in Utah.

Ralitsa Vassileva: In my sustainability multiplatform class, I required students to use four different media platforms to tell (a solutions journalism story) besides text. It could be video. It could be audio. It could be graphics. Whatever the story requires. While for my broadcast students, I challenge them at the end of the semester to produce short videos of a solution story, again, sticking to those principles of solutions journalism for rigorous reporting, which is not easy in a minute and a half to two minutes. But with the growing importance of short videos, this is a very effective way to reach audiences.

Grady College: What does this designation, being named a solutions journalism hub, mean? 

Amanda Bright: You know, we’re still trying to figure some of that out. Our four hub schools, we’ve had lots of conversations already about what that’s going to look like on each of our university campuses and what it’s gonna look like in our regions, because we’re really representing the Southeast. 

I think a lot of that is coming to fruition as it develops, but our goal is to be a place of teaching, training, learning and resource for our geographic area. We have several faculty members who are passionate about this. We have been practicing it for a while now, so we’ve learned some things. 

We want to bring in students who want to do this kind of work, researchers who want to do this kind of work, and industry partners and news organizations that want to do this and try to marshal those resources to grow what solutions journalism is and what it means for communities.

Grady College: What does this designation mean in terms of advancing solutions journalism research? What opportunities are there for collaboration with students and professional journalists in the region who are interested in this research? 

Kyser Lough: For me, the designation means a lot when it comes to research, because it further legitimizes what we’re doing here.

It can be difficult, as a scholar, to reach out to journalists and ask them, “Hey, can I interview you and (confidentially) ask you, you know, some of these complicated questions about the work you do.” Even just getting a response can be difficult. 

Or, if we want to partner with a newsroom, sometimes it’s not enough just to be somebody at the University of Georgia. They’re skeptical about what participating in this research means. Being able to come at it from, you know, “We’re from the solutions journalism hub. This is what we study. This is what we do,” I think that’s going to add a lot of oomf in our research and any grant applications that we’re doing. It’s important just in getting the visibility out there that this is a legitimate site of study. We’re a place where people who have questions can come to. If they are an editor of a newsroom and they want to know if this is having any impact, they can come to us and we can look at surveys, focus groups and other ways to assess what’s going on in their newsroom when it comes to solutions journalism and the audience.

I have several studies that I’m currently working on that I’m always excited to have other people come on board with. I’m also excited to have people come pitch an idea, and we’ll talk about the potential. 

Students who are interested can come to our Master’s program or our PhD program, and they can incorporate that into their studies. We can talk about independent study. We could also work that into their actual program of work for their thesis or dissertation. 

There are so many different ways you can take this and apply it, especially to different reporting topics, which is another thing that we’ve been hoping to expand on in the research. How does this play out in health reporting? How does this play out in education reporting, where you’re constantly hearing that either a school has super high scores or super low scores. We never really hear about what schools are doing to try and address those issues.

There’s lots of different topics we can apply it to. Somebody doesn’t have to come here and be a solutions scholar. They can come here being very interested in political coverage. As part of that, we look at solutions journalism and how that can apply to that specific topic.

Grady College: The experts included in this interview want to hear from you, the current and future students, educators and industry professionals in the region. Their contact information is listed below.

Amanda Bright: Amanda.Bright@uga.edu

Kyser Lough: KyserL@uga.edu

Ralitsa Vassileva: Ralitsa.Vassileva@uga.edu

Grady College named one of nation’s first 4 solutions journalism hubs

The Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) has named Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia one of the nation’s four inaugural solutions journalism hubs. In this role, Grady College’s Department of Journalism will continue to serve as an incubator for creativity, innovation and research in solutions journalism, which is focused on rigorously reporting on responses to social problems, and function as a resource for students and professionals in the field. 

“Grady College joins the Solutions Journalism Network hopeful that we can work in partnership with the other wonderful schools selected to continue our longstanding work on building trust through journalism that aims to enlighten, inform, but also to point to ways that society can work toward viable outcomes,” said Charles Davis, dean of Grady College. “Our newsrooms stand ready to join in this important venture. How we do our work must help citizens solve society’s most pressing problems in a complex, diverse world.”

By recruiting scholars, particularly in visual journalism, Grady will continue to add to the growing body of research on solutions journalism. Led by Kyser Lough, an assistant professor in Journalism, this research will investigate the production, distribution and effects of solutions reporting. Scholars and prospective graduate students can reach out at KyserL@uga.edu. 

The College will also build on the solutions journalism training that all undergraduate journalism majors receive now, and expand this pedagogy within the curriculum, focusing on local news, broadcast and sustainability initiatives. 

Since 2018, Grady students have been incorporating solutions journalism into their reporting. A “solutions journalism” section on Grady Newsource’s website includes over 100 stories. More than 30 of these pieces have been accepted and published by the Solutions Story Tracker, a worldwide database of rigorous reporting on responses to social problems. 

Leveraging industry relationships through the Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership, Grady will partner with newsrooms throughout the Southeast to help cover issues unique to the region and create larger collaborations of best solutions journalism practices.

“It would be great if someone at a small newspaper in South Carolina emailed me and said we would love to do a partnership,” said Amanda Bright, director of the Cox Institute Journalism Innovation Lab. “That would be really helpful as we start to build our foundation to see what the needs are.” Bright can be reached at Amanda.Bright@uga.edu.

Lough explained that the College was primed to accept a designation like this, which is an achievement he, along with Bright and Journalism lecturer Ralitsa Vassileva, largely give credit to Grady leadership and, in particular, Janice Hume, the Carolyn McKenzie and Don E. Carter Chair for Excellence in Journalism and incoming associate dean of academic affairs, for supporting. 

“We are always looking for how to teach better journalism, thinking about how we can continue to innovate while also keeping the basics foundations of storytelling,” Lough explained. “This designation is putting a name on what we are, essentially, already doing thanks to the support and encouragement from college leadership.”

Four students and two faculty pose for a picture in Utah in front of a grove of trees with a mountain in the background.
Kyser Lough and Ralitsa Vassileva took a small group of students to the Solutions Journalism  Summit in Utah.

In May, Vassileva and Lough took a group of students from the Department of Journalism to the SJN’s 2022 Solutions Journalism Summit in Sundance, Utah. And earlier this summer, The Oglethorpe Echo received a grant that will enable Grady students writing for the publication to report on solutions related to inequalities, including racial and ethnic disparities, political disenfranchisement and economic development, in the area. 

“Our students at UGA are particularly mission-driven. They’re doing this journalism because they want to make a difference in communities,” said Bright. “I think that is also what unites the solutions journalism hubs and the faculty who are interested in this. That’s what will help us grow. It really feels like a breath of fresh air, a little bit of hope in a challenging space.”

The other three institutions named include Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, and Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. 

“These four journalism schools have an amazing wealth of talent and resources, and the Solutions Journalism Network is excited to partner with them to help further the spread of solutions journalism. These new hub universities are showing a serious commitment to leading this important work in their regions and nationally, as well as collaborating with their peer institutions to undertake this mission,” said Francine Huff, SJN’s director of journalism school partnerships.

Cox International Center welcomes young Georgian journalists for digital media training

From March 28 to April 8, 21 early-to-mid-career journalists from the country Georgia are at Grady College taking classes in the area of digital media. 

Following a week at Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, the young group of international journalists is now spending two weeks in Athens, studying multi-platform storytelling, media engineering, convergence in the newsroom, execution of fact-checking operations and new trends in media business models.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the Georgia Media Education Program (MEP) is a partnership between the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research and the New Media Institute, both units of Grady College, along with Poynter Institute.

Tudor Vlad moderates discussion between Georgian journalists and Grady students.
Tudor Vlad moderates the discussion between Georgian journalists and Grady students. (Photo: Jackson Schroeder)

“We are very happy that this program, funded by a grant awarded to the Cox International Center in 2019, is finally taking place,” said Tudor Vlad, director of the Cox Center. “In the last three years, we’ve planned and rescheduled the visit of the Georgian journalists many times, due to COVID restrictions. Now, after five days at the Poynter Institute in Florida, our guests are here in Grady College for two weeks.”

Listening to lectures and participating in discussions in Grady classrooms, the international journalists are reviewing how storytelling has been impacted in the digital era, how U.S. media organizations work and develop new business models, how to effectively use social media platforms, how to transition from print to digital storytelling, the role of media in the process of democratization in transitional societies, and the relationship between media and government in emerging democracies. 

“It’s a great experience,” said Rusudan Panozishvili, a freelance journalist from Georgia participating in the program. “We are meeting really experienced professionals. We also are gaining some practical, hands-on experience. It’s overwhelming to be on this huge campus, which is really impressive.” 

Rusudan Panozishvili speakes to Grady students during March 31 lunch.
Rusudan Panozishvili speaks to Grady students during March 31 lunch. (Photo: Jackson Schroeder.)

During the day, the student group participates in courses taught by Amanda Bright, a journalism professor and the director of the Cox Institute Journalism Innovation Lab, Leah Moss, an instructor and the emerging media faculty advisor at the New Media Institute, John Weatherford, senior lecturer in emerging media studies and the New Media Institute, and David Hazinski, professor emeritus. 

The Georgian journalists certainly are not the only ones benefiting from this visit. On March 31, the group also participated in a lunch in Grady’s Peyton Anderson Forum with a cohort of current Grady students. The Grady students were awarded the opportunity to ask the Georgian group a series of questions about their country and professional experiences.

 “We think that their presence in our school is beneficial to them and also to our students, who have the opportunity to learn about media in emerging democracies in the former Soviet space,” Vlad explained.

 

Journalism Innovation Lab Team finishes in top six in nationwide competition

The first-ever Journalism Innovation Lab Team from the Cox Institute of Innovation, Management and Leadership finished in the top six teams in the nation, out of more than 50, in the 2022 Reynolds Journalism Institution Student Innovation Competition.

Team members Sophia Haynes, Cassidy Hettesheimer and Gabby Vitali, all journalism majors, created and tested a product called j-notes, which improves news literacy and relationships between audiences and journalists by lifting the veil on how reporters make decisions and cover stories. This web-based design allows for short-form, embedded videos from the journalists themselves that walk the audience through how a story was covered and why — to increase trust in the news.

“The journalists can explain why they decided to write something a certain way, how they found a piece of information, or show a video from the field,” the team said in their presentation. “The goal of j-notes is to build connections with journalists, increase transparency, and help audience members feel confident in knowing what to look for in trustworthy journalism.”

Screenshot of the news literacy tool j-notes in action.
j-notes consists of short-form, embedded videos that allow the journalist to speak directly with the audience.

The team started in fall 2021 with the creation of this research-based concept. Then, they developed a wireframe and made a brief presentation for RJI judges, who moved their team to the second round, where they built the product and tested it with audience members through in-depth, qualitative interviews. Then, the team created a final presentation for a panel of judges.

WATCH: View the final presentation for the UGA Journalism Innovation Lab Team:

On March 21, the UGA team was one of the top six finalists for an awards ceremony, which also included teams from the University of Oregon, University of Missouri, Ohio University, University of Florida and Purdue University-Fort Wayne. University of Florida took the top prize, which was $10,000.

Even though the UGA team didn’t place in the top spot, Vitali said she gained experience she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

“It was amazing to work with others with the same goal in mind and to bounce our ideas off each other in a productive way,” Vitali said.

According to Cassidy Hettesheimer, the process wasn’t without its challenges, but was ultimately rewarding.

“The process of brainstorming, creating and gathering feedback pushed us to be creative, collaborative and decisive,” Hettesheimer said. “I learned a ton participating in the RJI Student Innovation competition that will hopefully help shape how my teammates and I look at journalism in the future.”

Sophia Haynes said she had an eye to the future of journalism as well, as she did research and the wire-framing process in creating J-Notes, which she believes has a real application in news organizations.

“Hopefully, this idea doesn’t just stop here,” Haynes said. “I love the concept of short-form videos to engage readers in stories and to answer potential questions that may arise while reading.”

Dr. Amanda Bright, director of the Journalism Innovation Lab, said she could not be more proud of the team and what it accomplished in this first-ever endeavor.

“Our three team members were thoughtful, reflective and so professional throughout the process — from the conception of the idea through to the final presentation,” Bright said. “They truly created a product that would be a benefit to any newsroom to create stronger ties and trust between journalists and audiences.”

Bright said the Journalism Innovation Lab plans to create another team and enter the RJI competition again next year.

Cox Institute adds new directors, initiatives to benefit students and industry

A new organizational and leadership structure will expand the training mission of the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership.

The Cox Institute, which operates as a unit of the Journalism Department at the University of Georgia’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will offer expanded skills development and training opportunities programs for students and professionals through the newly-restructured Journalism Innovation Lab and Journalism Writing Lab.

The Cox Institute’s Journalism Innovation Lab will assume operation of the Digital Natives program, which brings UGA journalism students with digital news expertise into Georgia newsrooms to help local journalists and news organizations accomplish specific digital goals.  This program was launched by Dr. Amanda Bright, a member of the journalism faculty, who will continue to manage this project along with other digital innovation initiatives to develop the products, practices and people of journalism’s future in a new role as Director of the Journalism Innovation Lab.

“I’m thrilled to be able to create a space where students and professionals can collaborate and innovate toward the next iteration of journalism,” Bright said. “The Journalism Innovation Lab will be committed to encouraging students to think boldly about where our industry should go next, while meeting specific needs in the field to serve our audiences and a functioning democracy.”

The Cox Institute’s Journalism Writing Lab will expand its scope by operating the Covering Poverty project, which was relaunched earlier this year by students funded through a Scripps Howard Foundation grant. This fall, the project will recruit a new group of students and alumni to work in partnership with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Athens Banner-Herald.  Lori Johnston (ABJ ’95, MFA ’17), a lecturer in the Journalism Department who oversaw the relaunch of Covering Poverty, will become Director of the Journalism Writing Lab. She will continue to manage the Covering Poverty project along with other content initiatives.

“I am thankful to the Cox Institute for being forward-thinking and for the relationships we have established with these important media outlets, and others to come,” Johnston said. “I look forward to guiding students as they report, write and produce meaningful stories about issues, people and places. They will deepen their reporting abilities and delve into the craft of storytelling and service journalism to help newsrooms tell these stories now, and then take those newfound skills into their careers.”

In addition to the new structure and projects housed in the Journalism Innovation Lab and the Journalism Writing Lab, the Cox Institute will continue to provide students with leadership training opportunities through initiatives such as the Levin Leaders Program and skills development opportunities through a variety of fellowship programs.

“We are enhancing the core of what the Cox Institute has built over three decades to make our programs an even more integral part of the journalism education our students receive,” said Dr. Keith Herndon (ABJ ’82), whose title will change from director to executive director of the Cox Institute as part of the new leadership structure. “Adding two respected colleagues in Amanda Bright and Lori Johnston to our leadership is a win for the Cox Institute and for the students we serve.”

The Cox Institute was established in 1990 by the late Conrad Fink, a legendary journalism professor, as the Cox Institute for Newspaper Management Studies. Its current name was adopted in 2014 to reflect the news media’s digital transformation. The Institute honors the late James M. Cox Jr., who headed Cox Enterprises and Cox Broadcasting Corporation from 1957 until 1974. Its primary funding is from the Jim Cox Jr. Foundation.

Faculty Profile: Amanda Bright

Amanda Bright has always wanted to make an impact on her community, but over the years the impact—and the community—have expanded.

“I have always craved to have more impact,” Bright said. “I want to change people’s lives in a tangible way, and I want to do something to forward my community and not just be in my community.”

It’s for this reason that Bright started out as a community journalist, pivoted to teaching community college and high school journalism classes and now teaches digital journalism at Grady College.

Bright explained further: “Journalism and education—these are my two halves—and I am fortuitously positioned in this moment because I love the intersection of these two subjects. I think, legitimately, what’s going to make our society progress is an intentional focus on how to improve both of these areas and how they intersect.”

One way Bright is moving the communities of Grady College and UGA forward is by channeling her passions into classes that teach students multiplatform journalism, digital design, storytelling and how to be part of the solution.

“Part of my draw to solutions journalism is that idea that we should not just be about reporting all the problems, but also rigorously reporting on what people are trying to do to solve those problems and whether or not it’s working.”

She also teaches students, both journalism majors and non-majors, how to be digital citizens through classes like “Media Savvy: Becoming Digitally Literate.” Diving into topical issues like misinformation, filter bubbles and conformation bias, Bright teaches her students where to find accurate information and how to process it in an ethical, responsible way.

Bright was hired to not only teach but to also bring coherence to the various products of Grady Newsource, the capstone class for journalism majors, along with reporting from various other courses and programs. Bright used her vast knowledge of website design to direct the overhaul of the Grady Newsource website, social media accounts, digital newsletters featuring the week’s top stories and a soon-to-be released app that was created in conjunction with the college’s New Media Institute. The goals are to educate the capstone students in multiplatform reporting and also to invite the community to engage more with Grady Newsource.

“I am so invigorated that we have this space with Grady Newsource and we have new students every semester that have ideas and are willing to try new things,” Bright explains. “There is nothing more exciting than a blank check to innovate. That’s what keeps me going.”

Professor Amanda Bright talks with a student in the Grady NewSource studio.

Bright, who was named Journalism Teacher of the Year last year at Grady College, has made a big impact in a short time not only on the student community but also in the Georgia newspaper community, too. Earlier this year she directed the inaugural group of Digital Natives, an outreach project with the Georgia Press Association. The project paired student journalists with community newspapers to tackle specific digital goals. The students helped the newsrooms with projects like setting up Facebook and Instagram accounts to report news, incorporating infographics and video into news content and teaching how Google analytics can inform website decisions. The program was highly lauded by all involved and plans for the second year are already in motion.

It’s projects like Digital Natives that give Bright satisfaction she is in the right place at the right time bridging journalism and education.

“Journalism as a vocation is one of the most important things we can do,” Bright concludes. “It helps communities locally and globally ­. Its purpose of informing people so they can make good decisions is so mission driven, and training the next generation of journalists is important work. I cannot think of a better way to spend my time.”


Editor’s Note: This article was written for UGA News and can be found on the UGA News website.