Two Huge Nerds: Questioning Institutional Effectiveness


Diana Shalenkova is a freelance photographer based out of Philadelphia. She picked up her first DSLR after moving to the States from Saint Petersburg, Russia as a teenager and since has filled more hard drives with photographs than she can count. While she still must work multiple jobs to make ends meet, her goal is to expand her client base enough to work for herself full-time. When she’s not out shooting, she can be found biking, attending shows around the city, or playing WoW with her cat in her lap.

Julie Christie is the Enterprise Editor for the Temple News. She hopes to focus her journalism career on data journalism and criminal justice. Julie interned at The Reentry Project over the summer and developed a passion for solutions journalism.



At its heart, this beat is solutions journalism – covering responses to social issues, questioning the effectiveness of the responses and investigating reasons for the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of said responses. Basically, any solutions stories in Philly will touch on effectiveness. A well known example of this is in Philly is the ReEntry Project, which covers prisoner reentry.



It’s probable that many readers already know about the ReEntry Project, because it’s humanizing, perhaps even topical to many not directly tied to the prison system – something which, unfortunately, not all solutions stories manage to do. It’s important to maintain institutional transparency not just for journalists, or for people whose jobs or lives might be directly tied to a specific institution, but for the general public. Saying that something is happening isn’t enough: it’s important that we know the whole story – whether or not it’s working, who is really being helped or affected, and at what cost.



From our bios, you already know that Julie is a solutions journalist, and I (Diana) am a photographer. What brought us to institutional effectiveness is our shared passion for social issues and how they play out for the city and for the public. We both spend a great deal of our time examining how different programs and institutions play out for the residents of our city, with Julie examining datasets and me talking to and examining the lives of people who are going through change or attempting to receive help. Together, we are able to cover the full spectrum of a social issue – both the facts and the humanity of it.



  1. PHA’s MENTOR Program – It’s a program that’s supposed to help provide housing for people returning from incarceration in order to “interrupt the cycle of recidivism”, according to the linked article. However, the MENTOR program is extremely limited, offering housing to only 20 “qualified program participants”, which is rather insignificant when considering that about 40,000 people return to Philadelphia each year from federal and state prison as of 2011. 
  2. SEPTA Key – the forever most topical of all topics to any Philadelphian. Seems like Philly’s finally stepping up to the 21st century and getting rid of tokens, and in the same breath causes outrage at the $10 minimum and fare increase.
  3. The Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program – It does good, but who does it really help, and how cost effective is it to a city with an already struggling budget?

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