Successfully fill coverage gaps with these tips for journalists

By Stacia Affelt

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Driven Media co-founders Hannah Doksanksy and Samantha Harrington frequently meet with their sources in their community to build trust. Doksansky (right) captured a moment with young immigrant Iman Hajalkhdair (left) in Westbrook, Maine. (Photo courtesy of Harrington).

Many communities feel there is a lack of coverage about issues that matter to them, and even when underserved communities are the focus of new stories, studies show the coverage is often inaccurate or reinforces negative stereotypes.

For example, only a third of Hispanic people and a quarter of African American people believe their communities are accurately portrayed in the media, research by the Media Insight Project found in 2014.

News consumers aren’t the only ones aware of news gaps; many journalists also have taken notice. I spoke to a few individuals who saw a lack of coverage about Latinos, Native Americans and young women and responded by aiming to represent these communities more accurately. Here is how they suggest journalists fill news gaps:

Do Your Research

After Amanda June of Phoenix, Arizona, noticed a lack of Latino and Native American voices in local news, she was inspired to start her own media organization, The Visionary Business Magazine in December 2014.

In order to build trust in the community you plan to cover, she recommends partnering with existing media that covers the ethnic communities to learn what the ongoing issues are first. This is something June found success with when she first started out.

Research could also help journalists understand how certain communities feel and how they want to be treated, she said. June said many Native and Latino communities in Arizona had a common distrust of the media. “If you’re not aware of what some of [these community issues] are and how they affect media in certain areas, then you’re kind of setting yourself up for failure,” she said.

Latino businessman and activist Remy Arteaga said the coverage of Hispanic communities is often negative. Arteaga is the executive director at the Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative based at Stanford University.

A 2014 report by The Sentencing Project showed that “many media outlets reinforce the public’s racial misconceptions about crime by presenting African Americans and Latinos differently than whites — both quantitatively and qualitatively,” the report, “Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies,” said.

Rather than encourage existing stereotypes, Arteaga said research is the best place for journalists to start reporting on undercovered communities.

Arteaga specifically suggests searching keywords to find the leaders in the community you’re covering and speaking to them. For instance, if a journalist were looking into the Latino community, they would search “Hispanic,” “award” and a specific location. “It would probably take an hour’s worth of time…[but] the payoff is nice,” he said.

Talk to Many Sources

Even if journalists have done hours of research, reporters and producers shouldn’t assume they know all the facts about a given community.

Samantha Harrington and Hannah Doskansky are two of five journalism students who started Driven Media, “a roving girl-power newsroom.” Inspired by the fact that only 20 percent of news stories in the U.S. media feature women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film, Driven Media aims to fill the gap by travelling the country to tell the stories of young women.

While on the road speaking with immigrant women, Harrington and Doskanksy said they quickly learned the individual stories they told didn’t represent the immigrant community as a whole.

They also didn’t assume they knew everything about the experience of being an immigrant.

“People ask me, ‘What makes you, a white female, think that you can tell the stories of immigrant women?’,” Doksansky said. The answer, she said, was to find a way to connect to the sources. Ultimately, Doksansky said she thought of her sources as women first and that is how she related to them.

Spend Time in the Community

Harrington of Driven Media said she underestimated the power of building lasting relationships with sources. Instead of trying to get as many people to talk to her as she could, she invested in a smaller number of sources instead.

“Half the time we spend with these people is just hanging out,” Harrington said. As a result, “we were able to do their story more justice. They trusted us.”

June said immersing yourself in a community also requires going to events and constantly talking to community leaders to see what is going on. “Staying in touch with a lot of community members is how I go about finding new stories,” she said. “People will always open up.”

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