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607. Collaborative approach to solutions journalism benefits Philly’s diverse population

The Philadelphia Journalism Collaborative might be a new name, but the group’s leadership is building on five years of success and experience in solutions-oriented journalism that’s helping improve relationships and coverage of communities in the city. 

Derrick Cain, Resolve Philly’s director of community engagement, and Gene Sonn, the organization’s senior director of collaboration, both spent years working with PJC’s predecessor, Broke in Philly, and know it’s an effective way for newsrooms of all shapes and sizes to pool efforts and resources to better address community issues. 

“Collaborative efforts often start out bright and fizzle out. It takes work, it takes extra time and effort,” but that didn’t happen with Broke in Philly, Sonn says. What’s different about PJC, also based under the umbrella of Resolve Philly, is that instead of a single-minded focus — economic mobility and poverty — the collaborating newsrooms now can work across a broader scope of solutions-oriented coverage. 

“Broke in Philly was a collaborative reporting project that grew to 29 newsrooms looking at economic mobility and efforts to fight poverty in Philadelphia,” which holds the distinction of having the highest level of concentrated poverty of all major cities in the United States, Sonn says. “While poverty hasn’t been fixed or solved in Philly, five years of intense, solutions-oriented reporting on it was a good run and we had a desire to move to a different topic. Also, frankly, we’re feeling pretty sure our partner newsrooms weren’t going to abandon that topic. After five years of reporting and building up expertise, there were things that are going to continue to be reported on in our partner newsrooms. We wanted to build capacity in our city in a different way.” 

For Cain, better journalism and coverage comes directly from talking to Philadelphians about the problems they see every day and working to make things better. 

“Oftentimes, when you’re having conversations in general, we tend to focus on the issue itself, not really talking about how we can come up with solutions to that problem,” he says. “Even in communities when we’re having conversations, when you start to focus on solutions, you feel hope. I think that, for me, is something that is mission-aligned with me. Anything I do, I have to keep the mission in mind.” 

Cain points to an example from 2020, when a community news organization published a story about people experiencing homelessness having difficulty accessing masks during the early days of the pandemic.

“People in the neighborhood were putting masks in trees,” he says. “To me, when we talk about a problem, yes it was a problem that there weren’t enough masks, that people experiencing homelessness didn’t have access to masks, but here was a solution that other people in the community could do.” 

Sonn credits Cain and the community engagement team for their dedication to building and sustaining those relationships and bringing back to newsrooms topics residents feel are important and not getting enough coverage by local media. 

“Because they have built those relationships, they’re able to surface what people need to know that’s not currently being addressed,” Sonn says. “Partner newsrooms can take those questions and run with them. Every story that’s done for the collaborative can be published in its entirety by any member of the collaborative. It’s not about what goes on the centralized website; we’re trying to get solutions-oriented reporting out to the widest possible audience. We need to be present in legacy media, things like the Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY, hyper-local digital only ones in the neighborhoods and groups in between.” 

Allison Taylor-Levine

625. Community collaboration key to evolving local journalism

Allison Taylor Levine, CEO of Local Journalism Initiative, discusses how LJI’s Delaware Journalism Collaborative, which has brought more than 25 partners throughout the state together to report on polarization and possible solutions, strengthens local journalism in Delaware and our democracy.

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