Two and a half years ago, Erin Millar had a decade of reporting about education for different news outlets under her belt, but she felt something was missing.
Much like many reporters who write about a specialist subject on a daily or weekly basis, she understood the "systemic issues that were preventing the field from moving forward" and sometimes "felt like a total broken record reporting on the same stories that fit into the news cycle", she told Journalism.co.uk.
"Every time I tried to pitch to my editors more ambitious projects or work that was more solutions-oriented, I could never get them off the ground.
"At the time there were fewer resources to be spent in Canadian media and this solutions-oriented work didn't fit at all into the news events-driven cycle."
So Millar got together with two other journalists, Christine McLaren and Colleen Kimmett, and co-founded Discourse Media, an independent media organisation whose work would have solutions journalism at its core and a new way of funding reporting that mattered.
Discourse Media's initial business model was a "one-stop freelance shop", where newsrooms with fewer financial and human resources would pay to contract fully developed and fact-checked journalistic projects around particular topics of interest, rather than just individual stories. These would carry the news organisation's branding and not Discourse Media's.
The way news organisations compete in is still serving the business model, but it's not serving our audiences, the communities that we're reporting forErin Millar, Discourse Media
At present, this model still accounts for 25 per cent of the company's revenue, but Millar said she sees Discourse Media almost as a "digital journalism production company".
Its team, with eight people at its core, expands and contracts depending on the projects they are working on with other freelancers and collaborators.
The projects bring in 50 per cent of the revenue and they are primarily funded by foundations and non-profit organisations. The remaining 25 per cent comes from workshops, talks and public engagement work done by Discourse Media to raise awareness of the issues they report on and share their learnings.
The company's most recent collaborative project was published last week. The Discourse Media team spent the last six months working with nine journalists from a variety of news outlets to produce Power Struggle, a multimedia investigation about energy poverty in different areas of the world, looking at what can be done to improve access to energy in the current landscape of climate change.
The topic was chosen in partnership with non-profit research organisation Waterloo Global Science Initiative, who had already explored the issue from a scientific perspective.
Each of the nine journalists pitched their idea under this umbrella as part of Discourse Media's Access to Energy Journalism Fellowship (AEJF).
While each chapter of the investigation was individually researched by the journalists, they received editorial guidance from Discourse Media before and throughout the time they spent abroad.
"We did work with them to shape the stories a little bit, to make sure they had that solutions-oriented, systemic angle.
"We wanted to have a good mix of stories and make sure that we weren't only reporting about solar lights in Africa, for example, but rather showing the bigger picture.
Three members of the Discourse Media team were in charge of collating the data from the reporting and producing data visualisations, as well as designing all the digital components of Power Struggle and producing some written pieces about global energy that tied in together some of the journalists' main findings.
"We really do think there are a lot of resources in media and that they are not always spent very efficiently.
"There's promise in asking 'hey, how can we work together to do something more ambitious?' and Panama Papers is a wonderful example that could just not have happened without collaboration.
"I guess the way [news organisations] compete in is still serving the business model, but it's not serving our audiences, the communities that we're reporting for."
It might not be the big news hit, it's more the slow burn of change that we're trying to report on that we're trackingErin Millar, Discourse Media
Now that Power Struggle has been published, what follows is an engagement phase, said Millar. Discourse Media will be spending the following months talking about the issue at different events, making sure it "gets in front of the people in the best positions, and makes an impact", and conducting follow up reporting, a process they call "the long tail".
The organisation is also hoping to raise the money to fund another cycle of the Access to Energy Journalism Fellowship.
"Our method is about advancing public dialogue about issues with the hope of contributing to solutions, so we never just publish the content and walk away.
"We don't have particular solutions in mind, but we think there is a role for journalism in catalysing ideas and forward-looking conversations.
"It might not be the big news hit, it's more the slow burn of change that we're trying to report on that we're tracking."
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