Despite the growing practice of solutions journalism, there is a lack of academic understanding and theory-building. As part of The Catalyst Journalism Project, we have an engaged research agenda that takes a scholarly focus to four areas relevant for solutions journalism: journalistic practice, audience effects, visual journalism, and journalism education.

Academic journal articles from Catalyst faculty:

Visual solutions journalism: A theoretical framework | by Jennifer Midberry and Nicole Dahmen
Solutions journalism, which is defined as rigorous and fact-driven news stories that include responses to social problems, has gained momentum in U.S. newsrooms. To date, research on this journalistic practice is scant, and has primarily focused on text. This study synthesized literature about solutions journalism, visual communication theory, and photojournalism norms and ethics. The result of this analysis is a proposed set of best practices that suggests visual solutions journalism should be comprehensive, humanizing, and precise. Then a content analysis and a social semiotic analysis of visuals from solutions journalism identified newspaper stories were conducted. The content analysis identified visual trends in current solutions journalism reporting. The social semiotic analysis assessed visual work that best exemplifies solutions journalism and photojournalism tenets. This semiotic analysis yielded support for the proposed best practices for visual solutions journalism. The findings advance visual communication theory and offer photojournalists and editors a set of practical guidelines for applying solutions journalism tenets to photography.

A narrative solution: The relationship between solutions journalism, narrative transportation, and news trust | by Kathryn Thier, Jesse Abdenour, Brent Walth, and Nicole Dahmen
Lack of trust is a paramount problem facing journalism. Solutions reporting, which focuses on credible responses to societal problems, could help improve news trust. In addition, narrative journalism has been associated with several positive outcomes. This study tested the novel idea that solutions stories and narrative transportation can positively impact news trust and story-specific beliefs. A 2 (story frame) × 3 (story topic) between-subjects factorial design experiment with a representative sample of US adults (N = 608) was used to test these relationships. Participants who read solutions stories and who were more transported had greater faith that the articles they read were fair and truthful and also indicated greater agreement with story-specific beliefs. However, analyses indicated that transportation did not act as a mediator between solutions stories and the outcome variables. Findings suggest that crafting engaging journalism stories including solutions could be good for the industry and for democracy.

A new reporting approach for journalistic impact: Bringing together investigative reporting and solutions journalism | by Brent Walth, Nicole Dahmen, and Kathryn Thier
Investigative reporting identifies social problems and names people in power who should be held accountable. Solutions journalism is an evidence-based reporting approach that covers credible responses to social problems. To consider these reporting approaches in tandem, this research uses a quantitative content analysis to examine both investigative and solutions reporting in an effort to determine to what extent a combined reporting approach of these two genres may already exist in journalistic practice.

Creating engagement with solutions visuals: Testing the effects of problem-oriented versus solution-oriented photojournalism | by Nicole Dahmen, Kathryn Thier, and Brent Walth
An increasing number of news organizations are reporting stories about responses to persistent societal problems, a reporting form known as solutions journalism. While this type of reporting practice is typically text-based, visual reporting can also be solutions journalism. Photojournalism theory and practice pose particular insights for advancing academic understanding of solutions journalism. This study uses an experiment to examine effects of exposure to problem-oriented versus solution-oriented photojournalism for three different story topics. The study examines important variables such as narrative engagement, interest, self-efficacy, and behavioral intentions. Study data suggest that narrative engagement can play an important role in involving audiences in visual solutions reporting, with data showing that solutions visual reporting is more engaging on average. Further, when audiences are more engaged in the visual solutions reporting, participants report more positive outcomes for interest, self-efficacy, and behavior intentions. Study findings have implications for both journalism theory and for the practice of visual solutions journalism.

Putting broadcast news in context: An analysis of U.S. television journalists’ role conceptions and contextual values | by Nicole Dahmen (with Jesse Abdenour, UO, Karen McIntyre, VCU)
Contextual journalism calls for depth of news reporting rather than “just the facts.” A national survey of local television (TV) journalists indicated the increasing popularity of this more comprehensive reporting form. Although news sociologists contend that local TV routines facilitate the production of quick, less substantive stories, TV respondents in the present study highly valued comprehensive, contextual news styles—even more than newspaper journalists. Building on the work of Weaver and colleagues’ “American Journalist” project, TV news workers in this survey preferred contextual roles, such as alerting the public of potential threats and acting in a socially responsible way, but also valued traditional broadcasting roles, such as getting information to the public quickly. TV news roles were compared to those of newspaper journalists to analyze how professionals in different media view their work identities.

Covering mass shootings: Journalists’ perceptions of coverage and factors influencing attitudes | by Nicole Dahmen (with Jesse Abdenour, UO, Karen McIntyre, VCU, and Krystal Noga-Styron, CWU)
Using data from a national survey of US newspaper journalists (N = 1,318), this study examines attitudes toward news coverage of mass shootings. Participants generally agreed that coverage had become routine. Journalists were largely supportive of coverage of perpetrators and were ambivalent about acknowledging a relationship between media coverage and a contagion, or “copycat,” effect. A participant’s age was generally the strongest predictor of attitudes toward media reporting on mass shootings. Findings also indicate differences in attitude according to job title, role perception, and whether or not a journalist had covered a mass shooting. A majority of respondents appeared to favor traditional, “neutral” approaches to coverage of mass shootings; however, journalists also wanted to see more comprehensive reporting, including coverage of solutions and community resilience.

The contextualist function: US newspaper journalists value social responsibility | by Nicole Dahmen (with Karen McIntyre, VCU, and Jesse Abdenour, UO)
A survey (N = 1,318) evaluated US newspaper journalists’ attitudes toward contextual reporting – stories that go beyond the immediacy of the news and contribute to societal well-being. Results indicated that journalists highly value professional roles associated with contextual reporting. Responses revealed new journalistic role functions, including the ‘Contextualist’, who placed high value on being socially responsible and accurately portraying the world. Analyses showed that younger journalists and female journalists highly valued three genres of contextual reporting: constructive journalism, solutions journalism, and restorative narrative. Additionally, a journalist’s belief in activist values such as setting the political agenda and pointing to possible solutions predicted more favorable views of all three forms of contextual journalism, while belief in an adversarial attitude predicted less favorable views of restorative narrative.

Opportunities and challenges for initial implementation of solutions journalism coursework | by Kathryn Thier
As journalism schools continue to respond to industry disruption, some are adding curricula about practices that reframe traditional journalism. In this article, I examined experiences of some of the first university instructors of solutions journalism—critical reporting on responses to social problems—to explore the opportunities and challenges of initial coursework implementation. Using the nominal group technique and interpretative phenomenological analysis, I found two themes: (a) solutions journalism courses inspire and (b) teaching an emerging practice within an established field. Findings suggest this pedagogy is important as disruption continues and need increases to find effective journalism practices and education strategies.

Images of resilience: The case for visual restorative narrative | by Nicole Dahmen
A recently labeled genre of journalistic storytelling, termed “restorative narratives,” intends to cover the story beyond the immediacy of the breaking news, and in doing so, to help individuals and communities move forward in the wake of large-impact events. Specifically, this research emphasizes visual reporting, which functions both effectively and in concert with the tenets of restorative narrative. Through photographic analysis and in-depth interviews with visual journalists, the study concludes that visual restorative narrative can potentially provide a venue for the professional photojournalist that is beyond the scope of what can be accomplished with citizen-provided content. And, in doing so, restorative narrative can indeed be a future—and thus a sustaining value—for visual journalism.

Conference paper presentations from Catalyst faculty:

Seeking to restore trust: U.S. audience perceptions of contextual reporting | by Nicole Dahmen (with Jesse Abdenour, UO, and Karen McIntyre, VCU)
Journalism Research and Education Section, Annual Conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, Eugene, OR. June 2018 

Pairing investigative and solutions journalism: A new model for accountability journalism | by Brent Walth, Nicole Dahmen and Kathryn Thier
Journalism Research and Education Section, Annual Conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, Eugene, OR. June 2018 

Visual solutions: Testing the effects of exposure to problem-based versus solutions-based photojournalism | by Nicole Dahmen, Kathryn Thier and Brent Walth
Visual Communication Studies Division, Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, Prague, Czech Republic. May 2018 

Mending a fractured relationship: A solutions journalism framework for re-considering the journalism/nonprofit relationship | by Erin Hampton, Nicole Dahmen and Kathryn Thier
Mass Communication Division, Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, Prague, Czech Republic. May 2018 

Picturing the solution? An analysis of visuals in solutions journalism | by Nicole Dahmen (with Jennifer Midberry, Indiana)
Newspaper & Online News Division, Annual Conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Chicago, IL. August 2017 

Restorative narrative as contextual reporting: Model for journalistic sustainability in the landscape of modern storytelling | by Nicole Dahmen
Journalism Studies Division, Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, San Diego, CA. May 2017 

Conference panel presentations from Catalyst faculty:

Bringing together investigative and solutions reporting for a new approach to accountability journalism | Brent Walth and Nicole Dahmen (with John Schrag, executive editor, Pamplin Media Group)
What is Universe? Conference, Portland, OR. April 2018

Social and solutions journalism: a new way of teaching the next generation of reporters | Kathryn Thier (with Holly Wise, Texas State, and Hub Brown, Syracuse)
Imagining Tomorrow’s Media: Creativity, Innovation and Monetization, Broadcast Education Association Annual Convention, Las Vegas, NV. April 2017

Engaging the next generation: solutions journalism as a solution? | Kathryn Thier (chair)
International Journalism Festival, Perugia, Italy. April 2017.

Solutions journalism and restorative narrative | Nicole Dahmen and Kathryn Thier
Association of Alternative News Media Digital Conference, Portland, OR. January 2017.

Solutions journalism | Kathryn Thier (chair)
Frank Gathering on Public Interest Communications, Gainesville, FL. February 2016.

Invited talks from Catalyst faculty:

Invited keynote speaker on Slow News Visuals | Nicole Dahmen
Slow News Conference. Eugene, OR. June 2018 

Invited keynote speaker on Visualizing Voices of Resilience | Nicole Dahmen
Visual Communication Studies Division Pre-Conference, Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, Prague, Czech Republic. May 2018