August 14, 2017

Joseph Lichterman is a little more than a week into his new job finding solutions for sustainable journalism. But he already has a better sense of the current media landscape than a lot of people. That’s because, for more than three years, Lichterman covered the media for Nieman Lab.

His new fellowship at The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is created by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that advocates for journalism that not only identifies problems but also points toward solutions.

The job is still very new, but Lichterman plans to look at what newsrooms around the country are doing well, and maybe not so well, and offer case studies with best practices for replication. As a refresher, solutions journalism looks not just at problems and issues but for ways those problems are getting solved.

Lichterman spoke with Poynter by phone about his new role:

So, you’re talking a solutions journalism approach to the landscape of local and sustainable news? What does that mean?

Yes, that’s it. Local’s obviously a focus here at the institute, but I think part of this will hopefully be beyond just local news and look at other areas that will obviously be applicable to local news. But if you’re a niche news site or even a national news site, the hope is that you’ll be able to find something useful out of our work also.

You’re also going to be looking for successful business models, right? I feel like there are a lot of contenders but they’re yet to be proven. Is that fair? Where will you start?

There are a lot of contenders. It’s still very early days, and so I’m definitely open to all sorts of options, but at least early on, a couple of the areas we’ve identified that we want to look more into are things like memberships, subscriptions and events — these sort of direct relationships with users and the community that seem to be working. [We don’t want to just] say, “here’s what’s working,” but to learn how they implemented these models, learn what’s been working, what’s not working and what the challenges were, so if other outlets want to replicate it, they have an example and have some steps they can take.

Where can people find the results of your work?

That is something we’re in the process of figuring out… We’re having conversations right now in terms of where it will live and the formats it will ultimately take. You’ll definitely hear more about that as we progress.

You’ve been covering the media for a few years at Nieman Lab. What are you bringing with you from that work into this work?

The thing about Nieman Lab is there’s such a focus on innovation in journalism. Having that background and having, I hope, a pretty decent overview of the industry and the different things people are trying and different outlets and news organizations that are doing cool things, we can hopefully draw on that to reach out to people and build a community around this work. I think my history of coverage at Nieman Lab will be helpful.

We’re not looking to replicate Nieman Lab or Poynter or anyone else who does a great job covering the industry. I think we’re trying to figure out a way to make this unique. I think the solutions focus on this is something that’s really unique and something I’m excited to try out.

What are you the most excited about with this new position?

I’m really excited to be able to be part of The Lenfest Institute and the Solutions Journalism Network, which both are working closely with newsrooms around the country. Hopefully, [I’ll] be able to draw on their resources and be able to communicate some of the things they’re working on and the lessons learned there. I’m excited to continue to talk to people across the industry and figure out what would be most useful for people and how to hopefully make a difference in a lot of newsrooms around the country.

What are you the most freaked out about?

Trying to get my couch out of my apartment in Boston, if anyone is interested in that. Professionally, we’re starting something new. I don’t know that freaked out is the right way to describe this, but it’s something that’s new for me, and I’m excited about the challenge of figuring out, with everyone here, the format for this and how to present it. The tone and tenor and all the stuff we need to figure out is exciting but a good challenge.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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