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.

The camera eats first: Q&A with Kyser Lough

Assistant Professor Kyser Lough teaches in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications’ photojournalism program and studies visual communication, with an emphasis on photojournalism, as well as solutions journalism. In this interview, Lough discusses the continuing role of photojournalists in an age of ubiquitous imagery, and how he teaches his students to navigate that landscape. Read more about his research here.

How do you describe photojournalism research?

You can think of it several different ways, and the first is looking at the images themselves: What are the images telling us? How are they chosen? What’s being left out? Who is in the image? What kind of effects do these images have on people? That’s a big question surrounding conflict photography especially—we need these photos to see what’s going on, but what kind of toll is it taking on us to constantly see images of conflict?

What we often forget about is there’s a person behind the camera making these pictures, and that person has to physically be there. During the pandemic a lot of reporters were stuck at home; they were calling their sources and having Zoom meetings. The photographers had to go to these places to make these photos. So there are a lot of questions surrounding access and embodiment when it comes to being a photojournalist—how they have to use their bodies in the act of photography, not just to maneuver to make photos but also in negotiating for access to where they need to be.

It’s also fascinating to dig into photographers’ minds and ask about their process. How do they look for things to photograph? How do they decide what, who and when to photograph? When you combine that with talking about access and embodiment, it gives us a deeper look into the images.

As a visual communicator, what your thoughts about how the media world we live in has changed over the last two or three decades?

It’s definitely changed how we think of images. We toggle back and forth between seeing images as pure, unadulterated reality or pure, unadulterated fiction. It’s something we have to consider when we think about modern-day news literacy. In being worried about misinformation and disinformation, we need to really look at images. Part of that is putting the focus back on the image creator and the image owner. Just like we try and vet news sources, we also need to vet image sources and understand that many different things could have happened between an image being captured and us seeing it.

With deep fake video technology and ever more sophisticated photo-editing software, how are we going to determine the truth of an image in the future?

There is fascinating work being done on this right now. Part of it is news literacy and training us to have a healthy dose of skepticism when consuming news. But on the other end, there are computer scientists developing algorithms to analyze and detect alteration in images and video.

From the professional side, there are organizations and people working to prevent it on the creation end. So instead of trying to detect a fake image, it’s about providing a certificate of authenticity: “This image is real.” The Content Authenticity Initiative is probably the biggest one right now, where they are working with Adobe and other folks to essentially create a uneditable chain of edits and history on a photo. You can see the date and time the image was taken, but also see that it was loaded into Photoshop and these different edits were made. If that’s widely adopted—and the problem is it has to be adopted—then we can use that to vet images before they are out there and manipulated.

Dr. Kyser Lough Assistant Professor, Journalism
“We toggle back and forth between seeing images as pure, unadulterated reality or pure, unadulterated fiction. It’s something we have to consider when we think about modern-day news literacy,” Lough said. “Just like we try and vet news sources, we also need to vet image sources and understand that many different things could have happened between an image being captured and us seeing it.” (Photo by Jason Thrasher)
On a more positive note, all this changing technology and media affords a lot more possibilities to photojournalists in how they create and publish and share their work. What do you teach your students about how to leverage that to their advantage?

We start with the core foundation that storytelling matters, first and foremost. It has to be a good story. It has to be a good moment. We have to be people-focused. We start there, and then we can think about the platforms we use to tell this story. It’s so easy to get lost in the shiny new thing and forget we have to start as good journalists and good storytellers.

Now that everyone has a camera in their pocket, do we still need photojournalists?

That’s such a great question. In 2009, an airplane landed in the Hudson River in New York, and one of the first images to spread from that was not taken by a photojournalist—it was taken by a man on a ferry with a cell phone. He uploaded it to Twitter, and within minutes it was all over the place. Of course, now that’s commonplace. We know when something’s happening, and we’re not just seeing pictures posted—we’re seeing people livestreaming from their phones.

It’s very important for society to have that ability, for us to be able to witness and surveil as private citizens. On the other side of it, however, I firmly believe it’s still important to have photojournalists and trained storytellers out there because of the ethics and sensitivity surrounding a lot of the stories we’re trying to tell.

Journalism should be independent. There should be no conflict of interest; the journalist covering the story should not be involved in the story. The journalist’s images, while not being completely objective, are still representative of an independent observer who has been trained in how to be fair and how to cover the story and how to skillfully use the equipment. We still need journalists to tell these stories and uncover instances where power is being abused, and especially to protect the vulnerable.

Are your students more sophisticated about visual communications, having grown up with Instagram and Twitter and all of these new media?

I like to think so. It’s hard to think back to a time when we didn’t have a camera in our pocket, although it hasn’t been that long when you think about it. The biggest shift has been in the visual literacy students have in how the cell phone camera has allowed them to regularly observe and document their daily life. Once on a study abroad program we sat down to dinner, and the students brought out their phones and took pictures of the food. The phrase they taught me was: “Phone eats first.” And I love it. There’s no shame in it. I mean, when else in history has it been this easy to just snag a picture of anything and then go back and use the photo as a memory device?

Dr. Kyser Lough Assistant Professor, Journalism
Despite all the new technologies in photography that have emerged over recent decades, Lough teaches his students that basic principles still apply when it comes to photojournalism. “Storytelling matters, first and foremost,” he said. “We start there, and then we can think about the platforms we use to tell this story. It’s so easy to get lost in the shiny new thing and forget we have to start as good journalists and good storytellers.” (Photo by Jason Thrasher)
What’s the best photo you’ve ever taken?

Recently I haven’t been able to do as much photography as I have in the past, because my priorities are research and teaching. But we take our students out into the world as much as possible to get experiential learning, so I like to try and turn the camera around on them and those have been my favorite recent photos—the pictures of my students photographing. I’ve really enjoyed documenting the process as they grab their cameras and go out and do things. When I’ve taught study abroad, I took pictures of them photographing, and at the end of the program I wrote them a note and gave each one pictures of them out making photos.

The other answer to that question would be the times that I haven’t taken a picture. This is something that I usually wrap my photo classes with, this idea that just because we can doesn’t mean we should, especially in the day and age when we all have a camera in our pocket. I challenge my students to think about when to take a picture and when to simply use your five senses to really sit in that moment. Not everything has to be photographed.


The above feature was originally written and posted by UGA Research, and can also be round on the UGA Research website

 

Photojournalism research reframes way visuals are used

In a culture that is increasingly reliant on strong visuals in digital and print media, new research shows that photojournalism continues to evolve and reframe why specific pictures should be used.

Kyser Lough, an assistant professor in journalism at Grady College, recently published two research papers: one studying how environmental photography could be more effective and the other examining feedback from photography competition judges and how their decisions impact media narratives.

In the paper “Journalism’s visual construction of place in environmental coverage” published in Newspaper Research Journal, Lough and his co-author, Ivy Ashe, a doctoral candidate in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, studied 1,330 images on the front pages of 45 national newspapers representing a year’s worth of coverage. They examined the way the environment is visually portrayed.

Lough explains that while most examples of environmental photography stereotypically focus on wide, expansive geographic pictures that provide a sense of place, this may not be the best approach.

“Photojournalism needs to have people,” Lough said.  “People are our community and if we are covering our community, we need to include people. People are a very important part of the environment and environmental photos because they provide scale—for instance, looking at the size of mountains or trees in the Redwood Forest compared with a person.”


“More importantly, people add humanity to pictures which help encourage more impact,” Lough said. 

The researchers studied the images various ways, looking for different visual characteristics. One of these involved assigning the photo to one of four tiers in an emotional hierarchy from basic to complex: informational, graphically appealing, emotionally appealing and intimate.

As an example, a wide-angle picture of a mountain range would be a graphically-appealing picture whereas a picture that is a close-up portrait of someone suffering loss in a wildfire, is classified in an intimate tier.

Most of the photos evaluated were informational photos, but the goal is to have photos that are at least graphically-appealing emotional, if not intimate.

The research by Lough and Ashe indicate that photo editors should consider environmental pictures with people, such as the photo on on the left, compared with wide-angle pictures like on the right. Environmental pictures with people  show more scale and add humanity to visuals. (Photos: (left) Ivana Cajina, Unsplash; (right) Luca Barbo, Unsplash)

Lough explains it is hard to get an intimate photo of the environment because they are traditionally associated with tight portraits of people conveying a story. However, with more encouragement from photo editors, photojournalists can be encouraged to take more environmental pictures with people to make a connection.

Another implication is to aim for a more human-focused connection that prompts people to take action. Previous research has found that many people support protecting the environment, but not many act on this support. Emotionally-appealing photography could change this.

A second recent study by Lough examined the discussion between judges during deliberations at two national photo competitions: the Best of Photojournalism competition sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association which is headquartered at Grady College and the Pictures of the Year International competition through the Missouri School of Journalism.

In the paper “Judging Photojournalism: The Metajournalistic Discourse of Judges at the Best of Photojournalism and Pictures of the Year Contests,” published in the Journalism Studies journal, Both competitions open their judging rounds to the public, so Lough studied hours of this deliberation about what judges deemed as award-winning photography.

Discussions were divided into three main categories: thematic conversations where judges talked about photojournalism as a profession; discussions that focus on the photographer and his/her process; and a category that discussed the image, including story-telling qualities and composition.

Lough explains that some of the most insightful conversation took place when judges talked about the photojournalism profession. In one exchange, judges were discussing final images in the news category. The final images all represented death or suffering of people of color and the question was whether that was how we think of news and issues.

Lough continues: “I thought it was surprising and refreshing that the judges were talking about topics like that.  and that the judges were asking ‘do we want to reward this’ and ‘what are the implications of us elevating this photo?’ That’s the whole thing we talk about with journalism awards—what message does this send to current and future photojournalists about what they value and how they should behave ethically and otherwise? I liked that there was that self-awareness there.”

This provides more insight and implications for photo editors, especially, in deciding what pictures they choose to print.

Lough appreciates the value of these discussions and what it brings to the education of the students who serve as volunteers at the competitions.

“The students can witness these conversations and learn a great deal,” Lough concluded. “That’s where the education is.”


Editor’s Note: Links to the papers can be found below or by emailing Kyser Lough at KyserL@uga.edu.