The Klein College of Media and Communication celebrated the creation of the Steve Charles Chair in Media, Cities and Solutions on Wednesday, April 6. The chair was established with a $2 million donation from Klein College alumnus Steve Charles.
The donation, the largest one-time gift in the university's history, will support research into solutions journalism, a branch of journalism that focuses on exposing solutions to social problems.
Charles, Klein College '80, grew up on a farm and transferred to Temple from Lancaster County. After graduating with a degree in advertising, he founded immixGroup, a firm that helps technology companies do business with the federal government. In 2011, Charles established a scholarship fund for Klein College students with an interest in studying business and entrepreneurship.
The program included remarks by President Neil Theobald, Provost Hai-Lung Dai, Klein College Dean David Boardman, New York Times journalist David Bornstein, Klein College Professor George Miller, and Steve Charles.
President Theobald thanked Charles for his generous donation. "This is a university that is very much focused on the kinds of issues that your chair will allow us to seek solutions to," he said. "So thank you for all that you are going to do for Temple, but I would say even more for what you're going to do for the America because I really think these problems that we're facing in large cities today are emerging problems in the country."
Dean Boardman said the initiative highlights the power of media. "Mr. Charles and I believe journalism and media, so often cited today as an amplifier of the bigotry and inequality that plagues our cities, can and should be a catalyst for progress," he said.
Charles also spoke. He reflected on coming to Philadelphia for the first time and being overwhelmed by the poverty he witnessed. These experiences, he said, led him to believe that solutions to social problems should come from the bottom up, not from the top down.
"What excites me about this is that as we identify things that work and we are able to communicate them more broadly," he said. "We can create an environment for policy makers working in Washington, looking at things from the top down, to actually make better, more informed decisions."
David Bornstein, New York Times columnist and co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, highlighted the power of media in shaping public perception. "The way people imagine the world has a tremendous impact on what people imagine they can do with their life, what they can do in their communities and whether or not they trust other people," he said.
He reflected on creative solutions to social problems that he encountered in his travels. From banking system fixes in India to networks of nurses to care for AIDS patients in South Africa, he said, social problems that seemed impossible to fix had effective solutions.
Similar solutions are also present in the US. "These programs are working in dozens or hundreds of places around the country, but you still will hear the criminal justice story of when the story goes wrong and not the story of the children who's trajectories were dramatically altered," he said.
He said journalists should seek out stories about these successes. They should shift their attention from casting blame and instead focus on what they can do improve conditions in their communities by learning from cities that have identified and fixed similar problems.
"Solutions journalism really boils down to not stopping once you've done the story about the problem, but instead saying who is doing better? Is there anyone doing better against this problem?" he said.
Dean Boardman said solution journalism fits with Temple's mission and history "The values that this chair reflects have their roots in the founding of this great university," he said. "When Russell Conwell opened his Baptist temple to working class folks in the neighborhood in 1884, he created an enduring bond between what would become Temple University and the city that is his home."