10 ways to find stories other journalists are missing

December 2, 2010
Category: Uncategorized

Bringing diversity to our storytelling has to be an intentional act — one that requires strong leadership and coaching. Finding untold stories, covering hidden communities, making sure our source lists capture wide-ranging perspectives and experiences — these things don’t always happen naturally. Here are 10 steps that can help you coach for diverse storytelling.

1. Step out of your comfort zone.

Take a different route to work. Eat lunch at a neighborhood you haven’t spent much time in. Drop in on a random community meeting. Visit a church you’ve never been to. If you’re a sports fan, go to a concert. If you’re a music fan, go to a game. Get out of your routine.

2. Find a guide.

If you want to learn more about a neighborhood or community, find a respected, trustworthy person who can guide you through unfamiliar terrain. This person needs to understand your mission as a journalist, communicate that mission to community members, and persuade community members to help you. This person can also help you with language and cultural barriers. Some examples of guides include a pastor, a social worker or a street cop.

3. Accept the fact that you don’t always know what you don’t know.

As veteran journalists, we often feel that we’ve seen it all. But great journalism is all about constant learning. So look for stereotypes and assumptions — yours and others — and find ways to step beyond them.

4. Understand your own filters.

We’ve all grown up within our own cultures and traditions. Our families and friends taught us how to think, and we’ve either submitted to that or run away. But whatever our histories are, we all have filters — ways of seeing things. Be aware of your biases and prejudices, and try to compensate for them.

5. Be a diplomat.

When venturing into unfamiliar terrain, move slowly and delicately. Be honest about who you are and why you’re there. Ask questions with sincere curiosity. People can sense when you ask questions with an open mind, and when you have an agenda.

6. Break bread.

There’s nothing like eating with somebody to foster trust and intimacy. And you might even like the food.

7. Take the time. Then take some more.

You build trust and credibility over time. Spend time in different communities, building relationships, even when there’s no breaking news there. Get to know people before the next controversy or tragedy occurs. People don’t like it when you only drop by their neighborhood when bad things happen.

8. Invite folks into your newsroom.

Bring diverse groups into your newsroom to meet with your staff and to get some sense of how your news org works.

9. Travel for difference.

If you have the opportunity, get out and travel. There’s nothing like being far from home to see things differently.

10. Remind others that we’re pushing for accurate and complete coverage.

We could argue that there are moral and business reasons to support diverse coverage and staffs. But diversity is also about making sure that our journalism is accurate and complete.