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Columbia's Tow Center for Digital Journalism Releases Report:

Engaging Communities Through Solutions Journalism”


Reporting that focuses on rigorously analyzed responses to social problems, or ‘solutions journalism’, has been gaining adherents in newsrooms around the United States. A new study suggests that residents in underreported and stigmatized communities will respond positively to solutions journalism, and this type of story may help them envision a way to become personally involved in improving their neighborhoods.

The report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism examines how solutions-oriented journalism1 can be applied at the local level, building upon preliminary research2 showing audiences respond favorably to this type of reporting. The report provides a model for community-based solutions journalism projects and offers a rare glimpse into how residents from stigmatized areas feel about how their community is covered.

Tow Fellows Andrea Wenzel, a doctoral candidate at USC Annenberg; Daniela Gerson, community engagement editor at the Los Angeles Times; and Evelyn Moreno, program manager of the Metamorphosis project, worked in collaboration with the Metamorphosis research group to conduct six focus groups with 48 African American and Latino residents of South Los Angeles. These followed a solutions journalism project which connected community organizations and local and ethnic media to produce a series of stories leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots. Focus group discussions examined how residents responded to stories about their community that used the solutions journalism format.

From these conversations, the following recommendations for media outlets and organizations working with media emerged:

  • Media reporting on stigmatized communities should explore solutions journalism as a pathway to repair damaged relationships of trust with residents who have felt neglected or harmed by coverage historically.
  • Reporters should be careful that while pursuing ‘characters’ for a story about a stigmatized community that they do not uncritically reproduce negative stereotypes.
  • News organizations should encourage follow-up coverage and lasting relationships with communities, including cultivating local talent to develop reporting resources from the community.
  • Community foundations should invest in programs that train community members in how to communicate with journalists, and journalist in how to effectively listen to communities.

The authors pointed out that one of the most encouraging experiences in the study was that at the end of each discussion session, participants asked how they could learn more about the issues raised in the solutions journalism stories. They concluded the report suggesting: “Solutions-oriented journalism does not offer a magic bullet to engaging audiences either as media

The full report is now available here.


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