The emerging field of "solutions journalism" just got a big lift in the form of a $2 million gift to Temple University from alumnus Steve Charles. In acknowledgment of this gift, Temple's School of Media and Communication (SMC) has established the Steve Charles Chair in Media, Cities and Solutions.
It is the school's first donor-endowed academic chair and the largest one-time gift in its 132-year history.
Let's first get a better handle on what we mean by "solutions journalism."
The field is predicated on a subtle shift in a journalist's job description. Traditionally, journalists uncovered injustice, corruption, and wrongdoing in society and and left it to politicians or public policy experts to take the next step. Journalists generally don't don a policy wonk hat to rigorously come up with solutions to a given problem. You don't see a front page story on the Times titled "Fives Ways to Solve the Looming Entitlement Crisis."
But developments suggest this paradigm may be shifting. As we noted late last year, grantmakers like the Ford, Rita Allen, and Hewlett Foundation have been pouring money into the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that works with news organizations and journalists to transform coverage of complex issues that communities face, and to emphasize "rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems."
The motto of solutions journalism might well be: If it succeeds it leads.
The appeal here to funders is obvious. Such reporting can be a useful tool for funders that want to build momentum toward the kind of best practices. It's also a flexible tool that be used globally, nationally, or locally.
In this case, the focus is largely local, but with an eye on bigger arenas.
"Anchoring the new chair explicitly to media and cities will strengthen our commitment to Philadelphia specifically and to meeting urban challenges in the 21st century more broadly," Temple's SMC Dean David Boardman said.
The new chair is designed to support and study a solutions-based approach to journalism and media, aimed specifically at making a positive difference in urban environments such as the university's North Philadelphia neighborhood.
And what does the donor himself think? Well, to hear Steve Charles say it, the primary benefit of the solutions journalism is the fact that, optimistically speaking, these "solutions" won't be relegated to a standalone neighborhood in Philadelphia. After all, most solutions, by their very definition, can be implemented elsewhere—the term in the business world is "repeatable"—thereby magnifying the degree of positive social change.
"This concept of training folks to look for solutions in our cities—not just happy, feel-good stories, but real, repeatable solutions—is something that I just feel so good about," Charles said.