At first the idea was simple: teach a solutions journalism course on addiction reporting.
Just four months and one epic student/faculty all-nighter later, I am truly blown away by the work my students produced as the result of 15 weeks devoted to on-the-street, in-the-community, solutions-driven reporting. This project — named ‘Living Free’ after a handwritten quote one student collected from an individual in long-term recovery — deserves a look by all in the recovery and journalism communities.
Now not only did students explore the importance of language, empathy, and a solutions-focused approach in their reporting, but they also as part of this process broke some pretty big news. Just days before their deadline, two of our editors discovered that in 2016 a man died of alcohol withdrawal while waiting for a bed in the behavioral assessment clinic at Girard Medical Center — after he had been authorized treatment — which is a symptom of a much larger issue: a lack of beds for those who need them in this city.
Some may say, “Well that sounds like old-fashioned, investigative reporting. What happened to the solutions approach?” And my response to that is this: Now more than ever, journalists need to rethink the way they tell stories and expand upon the tools in their toolkit. The solutions approach? Well it’s just another tool — albeit a valuable one — in that kit.
By exploring this approach to storytelling through this class and project, we are not advocating for the abolition of investigative, hard-news reporting. Instead, we are advocating for journalists to apply the same rigorous approach to reporting on how individuals are responding to the social problems we’re often investigating.
So please read, provide feedback, and most importantly share this project and these stories. We hope that this is just the beginning of something larger for our school, our students, and the greater journalism and recovery communities.
Jillian Bauer-Reese, Assistant Professor of Journalism
Klein College of Media and Communication