By Thom Fladung
Plenty of people have talked about what’s wrong with journalism over the last decade. Shrinking newsrooms. More mistakes as fewer people do more work under more time pressure. Too much bias. Plummeting public confidence in the media.
Some of the criticism is valid. Some is a tried-and-true tradition. (Check out some time what people were saying in the yellow journalism era in the late 1800s and early 1900s.)
Amid it all, a movement is growing in Northeast Ohio to take an old idea – solutions journalism – and make it work in the digital age.
We want to talk about that.
The Cleveland Leadership Center, as part of its Civic Dialogues series, will present a discussion of the solutions journalism movement, open to the public, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 8 at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights. The program is called We are Cleveland: Media, Leadership and Change, and it’s presented in partnership with The Press Club of Cleveland and Hennes Communications. (For more details and to register, see the Leadership Center website.)
The panel will feature some of Northeast Ohio’s leading journalists – the people driving the move to solutions journalism. But this will be more than a panel discussion. Along with the newsroom leaders, we’ll have journalists who do the stories seated at tables in the audience, talking about their work. After the panel discussion, the newsroom leaders will join their colleagues at the tables, for small group discussions.
We also want to break down the barriers between the media and the readers and viewers. This is your chance to ask your questions about how the news is reported, directly to the people doing the reporting.
Here’s who we have coming so far: Chris Quinn, vice president of content for cleveland.com; Doug Oplinger, managing editor, and Betty Lin-Fisher, business and consumer reporter, from the Akron Beacon Journal; George Rodrigue, editor of The Plain Dealer; Micki Byrnes, president and general manager, and Margaret Bernstein, director of advocacy and community initiatives, WKYC-TV.
What is solutions journalism? Well, it’s not new. Joseph Pulitzer practiced the form 130 years ago. He called it “crusades” – newspaper stories aimed to provoke an outcome.
“Solutions journalism” highlights a big community problem, but also offers a solution, often an approach that’s worked elsewhere or on a smaller scale.
And “advocacy journalism” goes a step further, urging the community to adopt that solution.
WKCY calls its effort “See the Possible” and says “It’s not another tag line. It’s our commitment to help move Northeast Ohio forward. To serve the greater good of our community by shining a light on the projects, events and people who are shaping a brighter future for us all.”
In a column on the subject, The Plain Dealer’s Rodrigue wrote: “We’re spending at least as much time seeking solutions as spotting problems. We’re vetting the solutions carefully, in keeping with the highest standards of our craft. We don’t want to ignore things that work, or make too much of things that aren’t proven to help.”
The Beacon Journal is leading a statewide effort, called the Inform Citizen project, to cover election season differently. “Often, we identify problems,” Oplinger said in a story by Lin-Fisher about that project. “This time, we want to explore solutions, too, so that citizens feel they have an opportunity to participate in conversation, take action, make a difference.”
And cleveland.com has formed a team of journalists dedicated to watchdog journalism and public interest and advocacy. “It’s a team that that blurs the traditional line separating reporters and opinion writers, teaming them up to have an impact,” Quinn wrote in a column about the effort. “The reporters will search for solutions in use elsewhere to some of the problems facing Ohio, and the opinion writers will strategize and advocate to bring those practices to our region and the state.”
Plenty to talk about there.
Please join us.
Thom Fladung is a vice president at Hennes Communications and a 33-year veteran of newspaper newsrooms, including serving most recently as managing editor of The Plain Dealer. Fladung will moderate the June 8 event.