Discourse Media

This Entry has been submitted.

Discourse Media: Collaborative solutions journalism

Global (Canada, USA, Australia, Finland, Uruguay, elsewhere)Vancouver, Canada
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Discourse Media is dedicated to innovating new, collaborative models for producing journalism in the public interest. As journalists, we aim to contribute to positive change with multimedia storytelling that is forward-looking yet critical.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if journalists collaborated with communities, change-makers and other news media to tell stories about high-impact solutions?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In order to tackle the challenges facing our societies, we need constructive public discourse about paths forward. Yet the media landscape is dominated by breaking news events and conflict. There is value in journalism that reveals wrongdoing, but it also results in growing weariness. It can harm public support for meaningful change and create a perception of barriers that seem insurmountable to potential change-makers in communities.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We founded Discourse Media to produce rigorous journalism that probes not just problems we face, but also solutions. We are innovating collaborative approaches to producing clear-eyed journalism and compelling multimedia stories that make complex issues more accessible and help us understand how communities are tackling challenges. We aim to capture narratives that show how and why promising strategies overcome barriers and succeed, or fail, over time. Through our first six iterative projects (focused on change in education, urban development and food systems) we learned that collaborating in new ways with organizations, experts, media outlets, funders and communities improved the quality and impact of our journalism.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In the spring of 2015, citizens in Metro Vancouver voted in a funding referendum that will define the future of transportation in the region for decades to come. Many residents reported feeling uninformed about the issues. Much of the news coverage on transportation issues in the region centred on political conflict or opinion. News media neglected the complexity of the system as a whole. The region needed issues-focused, evidence-based coverage that fostered productive dialogue. We created Moving Forward, an independent data journalism project, to make the complex issues at hand accessible and engaging to the general public, and to contribute to a shift in the media dialogue away from the horse race towards the issues.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

By collaborating with media outlets including CTV, the Vancouver Sun, News 1130, the Atlantic's City Lab, the Tyee and others, we contributed to a shift in the public dialogue. We produced accessible, shareable interactives, infographics and articles that sparked media coverage that dove deep into transportation issues. This provided an alternative to the dominant narrative that pitted politicians and citizens against each other by uniting Metro Vancouver residents over their shared interest in the future of the region. In addition to those reached through mainstream media, we saw thousands explore our coverage (as many as 10,000 in one day) on our website and through our data apps. We also saw our content spark conversations between thousands on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Through a partnership with PlaceSpeak, we asked citizens to assign topics for our reporters to investigate.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Moving Forward is Discourse Media's 6th iterative project. We are refining our strategies for building and listening to audiences engaged in how to address steep challenges facing our societies. We see potential impact in collaborating closely with them along with changemakers, organizations and experts to produce deep reporting on social challenges. And we have seen that media outlets can achieve more ambitious journalism together than they can create in isolation, a challenging strategy in a competitive environment. With new funding models emerging, media is open to new approaches.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have secured seed funding from a family investor. Our revenue is generated primarily from projects, which comes from: 1) crowd-funding campaigns (audience) 2) foundation support 3) commissioned by non profits 4) commissioned by media outlets 5) companies seeking sponsored content We have a detailed plan for revenue that includes marketing products based on technology and journalism methodology developed in our initial projects.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The Solutions Journalism Network is advocating for and funding solutions journalism in the United States. There is no similar organization in Canada. The Tyee Solutions Society is producing solutions journalism published on the Tyee platform. We differ in that we are engaging regional and national mainstream media outlets, which reach broader audiences. Other Canadian journalism non-profits and start-ups are addressing other challenges facing journalism, but none are focused on solutions and social change.

Founding Story

Having reported on education for over a decade I came to believe that we are in desperate need of a deeper understanding about how to educate young people to succeed in today’s world. Yet, too often my reporting was forced into typical news narratives focused on conflict (ie. parents are angry about some change to curriculum) or politics (ie. the teachers’ union is squaring off with the province). We founded Discourse Media to experiment with how to produce forward-looking, serious journalism that applied a critical eye to possible solutions to wicked problems, such as those facing educators. How can we best report on social change? How can we fund it, in a sector reeling from cutbacks? These are the questions we're trying to answer


Erin Millar, co-founder: over 12 years as a journalist reporting from over a dozen countries. Work has been translated into 20 languages and published in 34 countries. Christine McLaren, co-founder: journalist and researcher who contributed to cook Happy City and spent 3 years travelling the world as resident writer of BMW Guggenheim Lab. Nelly Bouevitch, engagement manager Full team here: http://discoursemedia.org/about/team/