Constant knowledge exchange and collaboration on story ideation and creation are among the ways communities and news organizations can realize better relationships.
Newsrooms must recognize communities for their contributions to story coverage. Communities can also become the accountability buddies of news organizations. Reporters and editors must let communities help reflect on bias in their reporting, discover untapped story angles and lead newsrooms toward more diverse and inclusive coverage.
Even with the best intentions, an almost all-white newsroom staff can still miss opportunities to cover and properly represent all the communities in their area, speak predominantly to authorities and fail to humanize communities of color. It often takes the entire community to address their concerns once they note biased coverage and prompt news organizations to make their staff demographics and stories more reflective of the communities they cover.
It shouldn’t take another letter to the editor, another George Floyd tragedy or another Atlanta spa shooting for news organizations to keep reflecting on their coverage. Here are four ways newsrooms can turbocharge their community engagement in 2022.
Newsrooms should facilitate constant knowledge exchange with the communities they cover.
Don’t wait for constructive feedback from communities. News organizations must take a proactive approach. Recognize and tap into community members’ expertises by inviting communities to share their knowledge and perspectives at virtual and in-person meetings. (Look at Krautreporter and De Correspondent.) Vice versa, sharing content strategy (like NPR did) and explaining editorial decisions of news organizations will help nurture more news literacy and more trust of news in communities.
Action item: Newsrooms can conduct information needs assessments with communities that they rarely hear from but want to know better and cover more often. Reporters should ask community members what they are dying to know and interact with them on the platforms where they are most active. News organizations need to clarify what they would like to learn from the communities, and respect the time, knowledge and contribution of their sources. Hearken and GroundSource are great tools to help reach some marginalized communities. Last, but not least, let communities talk first. The most effective listening starts with reporters holding their tongues and asking follow-up questions when community members finish talking.
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Collaborate with communities on story ideation and creation.
To make it easy for communities to share their stories, newsrooms need to provide multiple communication channels, specify what kind of content they are asking for, show why communities’ insights matter and describe what final products would look like. News organizations don’t have to struggle to find inspiration. The Pandemic Poetry and Meet the Muggles have shown that highlighting voices from communities helps news organizations cultivate deep bonds with those communities.
Action item: Highlight personal anecdotes from community members. After the information needs assessment from the previous step, newsrooms should be able to reach out to communities via the right outlets, online and offline, and in the right ways. Reporters and editors also need to ensure their stories represent diverse communities in terms of race, gender, occupation, geo-location, age and other social categories. Initiating hard, but much needed, conversations is feasible as long as news organizations treat community members with respect and appreciation.
Recognize and highlight how communities help improve story coverage and how they educate newsroom staff.
News organizations have multiple platforms to do that nowadays. The most effective ways depend on where communities get together online and offline and the methods they use to communicate with news organizations. If they send direct messages, for example, DM them the stories that include the user-generated content.
Action item: Reporters can share community members’ voices, especially when they inspire news coverage and provide great food for thought. The smartest news organizations talk about how their communities inform and educate them. If community members share tips on social media, tag them and talk about their contributions. If commenters on websites have sparked meaningful conversations, give them a shoutout in a story. Need some inspiration? Take a look at how the Financial Times highlighted the best comments in a year.
News organizations need to keep an eye on demographics of communities as well as their staff and sources.
The staff demographics should match those of the communities that news organizations cover as much as possible. A few newsrooms have started staff audits, separated staff from managers in the reports and shared their results with the public. However, source audit and actionable insights are still long overdue but worthwhile, as stories are more likely to feature communities of color when journalists of color are involved.
Action item: Check the census, do staff audits and share the results and takeaways with communities every year. Source audits are more labor-intensive than staff audits, but news organizations don’t have to start from scratch. NPR’s source questionnaire is a great starting point, and KQED has walked through every step of source auditing, from getting buy-in from newsroom leadership to sharing actionable insights.
News organizations can’t improve their work without input from the communities they cover. Let 2022 be the year when newsrooms see communities as active collaborators throughout the entire story creation process instead of passive recipients of news.