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Why Is The Tyee in the Vancouver Art Gallery?

We were selected to be part of the 'WE: Vancouver' exhibit. And to explain our idea for better journalism.

By David Beers 10 Feb 2011 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.

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Investigating a better future.

The Tyee is pleased to be included in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s WE: Vancouver -- 12 Manifestos for the City exhibit, which runs from Saturday, Feb. 12 to May 1.

The show, says the VAG website, "includes the work of more than 40 Vancouver-based cultural producers" whose "impact on our perception of the city is broad and opens up alternate models for living and new possibilities for thinking about this place."

The Tyee was included for its approach to journalism and social change. Specifically, the curators were interested in a term we've coined for much of what we produce here at The Tyee. We call it "catalytic journalism."

Most of today's journalism asks: "What went wrong yesterday? Who is to blame?"

Catalytic journalism investigates: "What could go right tomorrow? Who is showing the way?"

Want to see some examples? Click on these in-depth series published by The Tyee:

Rough Weather Ahead: How BC Must Prepare for Global Warming by Chris Wood

The 100-Mile Diet: The Wildly Successful Local Food Series by James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith

2010: More Homeless than Athletes? What It Will Take to Get People off Streets by Monte Paulsen

Green Homes, Out of the Box: Building Houses from Shipping Containers by Monte Paulsen

Growing the Local Bounty: Reports from Farmlands in Flux: Ontario and BC by Colleen Kimmett, Jeff Nield and Justin Langille

Catalytic Journalism is different from advocacy

As practiced by the journalists, artists and other communicators of The Tyee, catalytic journalism consciously seeks to play a role in helping positive change occur, but is different from advocacy.

The process starts with a problem most people recognize exists.

The journalist then investigates possible solutions by focusing within the community but also outside, wherever successful, applicable experiments might be found. Perhaps a small experiment is working so well we should scale it up? Maybe our better future is already happening in some way elsewhere in the world. Those are good stories for journalists to tell.

The resulting reporting is rational and fact-based and can catalyze change by giving key actors the information they need to act creatively to solve the problem.

Key ingredients: Time, focus and expertise

Our experience at The Tyee is that journalists who can invest time to develop a deep expertise in a focused subject area -- what newspapers call 'beats' -- are best situated to create catalytic journalism because:

-They know the problem and fixes tried already.

-They are trusted within the circle of people focused on the problem and can act as a credible go-between exchanging information about opportunities.

-They are attuned to any new approach appearing on the scene and poised to jump on the story.

Five Catalytic Journalism success stories:

Tyee journalism has helped catalyze positive change in many instances. Here's a bit more about the examples we offered at the top:

Saving the Fraser Valley from flooding. Journalist Chris Wood's investigation into the impact of climate change on B.C. turned up a suppressed government report predicting dikes along the Fraser River would not prevent historic levels of flooding, much less higher levels climate change will bring. Wood's August 2006 report in The Tyee was immediately picked up by major news outlets, and the issue became the focus of an in-depth series by The Province newspaper. In early 2007, the federal government authorized $33 million on Fraser Valley flood mitigation. Wood's series was funded by Tyee readers' donations through our Fellowship Funds.

To read Wood's news breaking story exposing the dike threat, click here.

Launching the 100-Mile Diet. In June of 2005, Tyee writers James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith wanted to report what they were learning about benefits of local food sustainability. But they knew that dry talk of the oil-intensive global food system wouldn't engage the public. They decided to eat only food grown within 100 miles of their Vancouver home and write about the experiment in a series of articles for The Tyee. The 100-Mile Diet went viral, featured by nearly every major news outlet in North America, and spawning an international book, a reality television series and the 100-Mile Diet Society.

To read the very first 100-Mile Diet story ever published, click here.

Taking the Measure of Fixing Homelessness. Before Tyee reporter Monte Paulsen spent a year focusing on root causes and workable solutions to homelessness in Vancouver, B.C., most media coverage was sporadic (bursts of stories during cold weather) and aimed at tugging heartstrings. Paulsen tallied the billions of dollars that leaving people on the street costs taxpayers, showing the cost-effectiveness of getting people under roofs. Paulsen's methodical math also showed the city and province were claiming to provide more housing than was the case. A year after Paulsen's series ran, a new team stepped into city hall, having run on solving homelessness. And the province has funded a dozen new social housing projects.

To read a story from the series focusing on a complex yet solvable cause of homelessness, click here.

Out of the box idea for green, affordable homes. Reporter Monte Paulsen noted that Vancouver is one of the world's most expensive places for working people to live, and a major port. So as part of a larger Tyee Solutions Society project on green building, he investigated whether metal shipping containers could be converted into green (recycled) and affordable homes here, as has been done elsewhere in the world. As part of his inquiry, Paulsen helped create a public event, bringing together a container company manager, architects, art students, city planners and regulatory officials to brainstorm solutions in a design charette that drew wider media coverage. Result: Vancouver city council has asked vendors to submit expressions of interest in building such worker-affordable housing on city-owned land.

To read a story with images explaining how this approach can 'revolutionize' urban housing, click here.

Making local food more affordable for low-income people. Building on the 100-Mile Diet, reporters Colleen Kimmett, Jeff Nield and Justin Langille traveled to Ontario and B.C.'s Fraser Valley to investigate what's working to strengthen local food economies. The resulting Tyee Solutions Society series ("Growing the Local Bounty") was published on The Tyee, in an Ontario daily newspaper, a national farmer's magazine, and elsewhere.

At the same time, David Beers was invited by the Museum of Vancouver to curate a series of expert discussions on sustainable food issues. One of the panelists was Meeru Dhalwala, co-proprietor of the acclaimed Vij's restaurant. Informed and inspired by her experience on the panel, Dhalwala has formed a task force of other experts in the food industry aimed at tackling the fact that much local, sustainable food is not affordable or available to low-income people.

To read about the panel discussion that inspired Meeru Dhalwala to organize a task force, click here. And to read the whole "Growing the Local Bounty" series, click here.

Help us catalyze more positive change

We seek your support in making more catalytic journalism possible through The Tyee Solutions Society. If you are interested, please contact Tyee Solutions Society executive director Michelle Hoar.

And we salute the Vancouver Art Gallery, and all the other cultural producers in the WE: Vancouver exhibit, for their positive catalytic contributions to Vancouver and beyond.  [Tyee]

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