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.

Students attend Solutions Journalism Summit

Sharing answers, and not just reporting on challenges, is the foundation of solutions journalism. For four Grady College students, discussing applications and the impact of these concepts in a small setting was an inspiring way to cap their college careers.

The group from the Department of Journalism attended the 2022 Solutions Journalism Summit presented by the Solutions Journalism Network May 5-8, 2022 in Sundance, Utah.

For Sarah White, who was days from graduation, the weekend provided a new understanding of the future of journalism.

“A theme I saw repeated throughout the weekend was that solutions journalism can be a source of hope and power for both journalists and our audiences,” White said. “I went into the conference with the basic tools needed to create solutions stories, but I came out with a new understanding of the impact of these stories. We should be constantly striving to create journalism that moves our communities forward, and this Summit showed me that solutions journalism is a tool to facilitate that.”

Attending the Summit was proposed by Kyser Lough, assistant professor of journalism, who had attended two of the conferences in the past and knew it would benefit the students.

“I was proud of how much the students contributed to the summit,” Lough said. “For our breakout sessions, anyone could stand up and suggest a topic to discuss and then others who were interested could join. It might feel intimidating for a student to stand up in front of this group, but all four of our students pitched breakout sessions at various points through the event.”

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.

The summit was set up to be an “un-conference,” which encourages small-group and one-on-one engagement and conversation versus formal panels. There were roughly 65 people there, which invites more discussion.

Breakout sessions included topics like data reporting, gaining trust of marginalized communities, how to involve student journalists and the community in solutions journalism, and caregiving and solutions journalism. Some of the students even hosted their own breakout sessions on burnout and the strengths and weaknesses of the Gen Z workforce.

“I left the conference with many new connections and a deep appreciation for the education I had received from Grady College,” Caroline Kurzawa said. “It is experiences like this that make Grady such a special institution – willing to pour knowledge and resources into their students.”

Grady College was the only group of journalism students there, and many of the other participants were publishers, editors, journalists, teachers and researchers.

Solutions journalism is taught throughout several courses in the Department of Journalism. Last semester, two Newsource broadcasts were dedicated to solutions journalism, which Vassileva shared during the summit.  The department also brought in special guest speakers likeCathrine Gyldensted an investigative journalist expert on solutions journalism who wrote “From Mirrors to Movers,” a practical guide to the five elements of solutions journalism. Lough and Vassileva were able to network with other professors at the Summit and talk about best practices in their teaching.

Students were given the opportunity to apply to go to the summit and four were selected the four who would get to go.

“If we want our graduates to be the leaders of what’s next in journalism, then they need to be out there meeting others who are focused on excellence in journalism,” Lough concluded. “The connections they made at this event will go far, not to mention the ideas the students were able to contribute.”