My tips for inclusive reporting

In College Goals, Tampa, Uncategorized on January 13, 2008 at 2:34 pm

This post is part of the January Carnival of Journalism being hosted by Adrian Monck of Views of the News Biz.

There are mosques in Tampa, Fla. There are Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu Temples. Ethnic food stores include Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Jamaican cuisines. An Ethiopian restaurant just opened, and there is a coffee shop owned by a Kenyan woman across the street from my university.

Unfortunately, there’s not much media coverage of Tampa’s diverse communities. We might see a small article about a new ethnic restaurant opening or a religious feature about an Eastern faith. What we don’t see are extensive articles that put the community in context and provide a diverse view of the problems our city faces everyday.

In Tampa, if the wife of a sports star dies at the hospital while giving childbirth, it’s a front page story for a week. If a Latina gives birth to two stillborn, mutated children in two years from the pesticides sprayed on the crops she picks, it’s swept under the rug.

If a little white girl goes missing, a media frenzy stirs to make sure she’s found safely. If a little black girl gets hit by a car driven by an attractive, white, female schoolteacher, the media will only stir if the black community protests in outrage over the inequality.

I am especially sensitive to inclusion. It could be because of my extensive background in anthropology, but I think it is more because I care about everyone equally. One of the reasons people find newspapers boring is the industry’s lack of innovative, inclusive ideas that show them a side of the world they’ve never seen (which is our job, by the way).

Here are some tips to starting out on the inclusive path.

Erase the word “minority” from your vocabulary.

There is no such thing as a minority vote or voter. Saying a politician courts minorities is false. Ethnic groups vote over strong cultural and moral lines, so saying one politician is courting all minorities is saying there are two cultural groups in existence, white and other.

The word minority is vague. It doesn’t describe a population in enough detail. Instead, use statistics to show that a particular group is a small segment of the population. Use the specific group name in every article about them, and even better yet, use even more identifiers to show who they are. For example, with all of the groups in India, from castes to tribes, saying someone is from India really doesn’t say much about them.

Step outside your comfort zone and explore your city.

Check out a church that caters to the group you’re interested in. Eat at their restaurants. Shop in their markets. Find their associations.

There may be a Cuban Club in your city; find it. If tensions are flaring between two gangs, instead of writing a quick brief about the violence, find the church nearest to the location of the incident and get to know the people who attend and their concerns for the area.

Go on fact finding missions to local governmental meetings and stay the entire time.

Here’s what the last school board meeting I went to looked like:

The meeting started with standing room only. The board recognized sport teams for doing outstanding work. The local paper took pictures, TV stations took video, they got the student’s names, and half the room emptied as the sport teams headed home.

A new high school was named for a leader in the Hispanic community. The local paper took a couple of pictures, the TV stations that were left took video, they got his name, and half of the remaining people left again.

A group of women were recognized for community service work they do for local schools. The local paper took a picture, got their names, and the only people left in the room were parents protesting a district line change for two middle and two high schools. The parents were a diverse group of people in the lower middle class and service men and women from the local military base.

The cameras were gone, the TV crews had left about two hours before. Print journalists were either on hand or watching from the video feed on the community network, because there were small pieces in at least one paper that did nothing to explore the issues or the people involved. It just said angry parents were at the school board meeting; an entire group of passionate, informed people who were trying to be active in local government were ignored.

Look for conventions.

There are so many types of conventions, it would be impossible to list them all. But, conventions are a good way to network with potential sources. When was the last time you sat down to drinks with a furrie? Or, a Southern Baptist leader? Or a leader in the BDSM culture? Or, a Christian hip-hop artist? Conventions usually offer press passes for free, which means you get free access to an entire group of people who are actively involved in their community. They’re usually glad to sit down for 10 to 15 minutes for drinks or coffee, especially if it’s a convention that lasts the entire weekend.

Keep your eyes open for community newspapers and phone books.

In Tampa, there are phone books for the Hispanic community and businesses that support the GLBT community. There are newspapers in Spanish and geared towards African Americans. Whenever I see a newspaper on display, I check it out. If it’s free, it’s for me, and if I have to pay a dollar to tap into insight into a community I’m not familiar with, I’ll do that, too.

I hope this list helps everyone think outside the box at least a little; the U.S. is not a country built on the backs of White Anglo Saxon Protestants. It’s a country of diverse immigrants, and I’d like to see this fact represented more often.

  1. I’m surprised to hear of this cultural segregation or exclusion in newspaper reporting in Florida. I would have expected it in the Midwest or anywhere where there are fewer cultures commingling. I agree; the more we learn about each other, the better we develop empathy and understanding of each other.

  2. There are two papers in my town that do a better job than the others in diverse reporting: the St. Pete Times and Creative Loafing. the St. Pete Times is connected to a Jschool, and Creative Loafing is an indie paper. Also, the special Sunday sections of The Tampa Tribune also contain some pretty good articles on diversity, but they’re usually from the AP, religious articles, or about topics like Easter hats.

    Here’s an example: after Bhutto was assassinated, a politician held a candlelight vigil for her. It could easily have been a front page story, taking up most of the page with a jump. Instead, it was two or three paragraphs long, didn’t really mention Bhutto’s impact on her own society or the Pakistani Americans’ thoughts on how she impacted the world and mainly focused on the fact that there were too many press and how some people thought it was a way for Ronda Storms to drum up good press. (Storms is a controversial figure who successfully banned gay pride in libraries and other local government installations in Hillsborough County.)

  3. That’s an interesting read, especially for us in Britain. We have different communities and different relationships between them and what we still call the majority community.
    Here at my think-tank Polis we had an excellent speech from the Culture Minister last year (he’s black…) who talked about he way that new media could be used for either increased fragmentation or connection between different groups in society. I think that journalism has a responsbility to think about this and act – if only because we are all going to need all the little (and big) audiences we can find to sustain our businesses. And it’s more complicated that just going to conventions or representing certain official groups, because in our post-modern world we are ALL increasingly going to have multiple identities, so journalists must be careful not to use easy labels, even when they are trying to do the ‘right’ thing.
    One big problem we have in the UK is that journalism is not getting more diverse. As the mainstream jobs becomes more professionalised they require higher education degrees or very competitive journalism qualifications. And middle-class parents are prepared to subsidise their children thorough the internships and low-paid appreticeships that now make up entry in to the trade.
    Let’s hope new media can open up the diversity of both the practice and the make-up of journalism.
    Charlie Beckett
    Director, Polis at LSE

  4. […] My tips for inclusive reporting […]

  5. Hey, I agree on dropping the minority word. I was voted “Minority Business Person of the Year” by Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

    In my acceptance speech, I told 700 prominent business people and city leaders that I hope that next year we can abolish this award.

    There is no such thing as a minority anymore. Unless you are from Mars.

  6. I don’t think I know of a single person who thinks s/he is a minority. If we can’t describe someone accurately and with respect, what’s the point of writing about him/her?

  7. […] Wendy Bolm at My Musings 2.0 has some tips on engaging readers from minority communities. Her advice? Start by dropping the word “minority.” […]

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