Get to the Source:
A Teaching Plan
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When you need a good source, who do you call?
Society of Professional Journalists' Diversity Toolbox
It's not easy to break into an unfamiliar community and find great sources on demand. If reporters develop some background first, they will be ready to hit the streets when they're on deadline. Here are some ways to learn more about community issues and develop a broader sector of possible sources.
Bring in the community or go to them.
Reporters can organize a meeting with people from communities they don't usually include in their stories. First, acknowledge that there may be some longstanding and legitimate problems with trust. Then ask these questions:
• What do you wish we covered more?
• What do you think we get wrong?
• What is the history of your community in this issue area? (For example, a Latino medical reporter could ask why so many African Americans distrust the medical system.)
• Who are a few leaders in your community?
• Pick up flyers and brochures from community organizations to find out what they do and what issues the community finds most compelling.
Go out and look around.
Encourage reporters to do at least one activity every week that takes them into another commu nity but that doesn't have anything to do with a story they're working. They could:
• Attend a cultural event.
• Go to church or another religious gathering.
• Go to a community meeting and just listen.
• Go to a professional networking meeting and talk to people.
• Go to a community barbeque or picnic.
• Volunteer for a day at a community center for elders.
• Go to an activist meeting for people with disabilities.
• Go to an exhibit that features transgender youth or a museum about African American history.
• Go to a coffeehouse or bar.
• Seek out voices beyond the self-appointed leaders in the community they may not represent the community well.
Listen, read and learn.
Ask reporters to read more magazines and newspapers, and to listen to talk shows or music format stations that serve populations they want to learn about. They could:
• Subscribe to newspapers or magazines targeted toward the gay, black, Latino, or Asian or Asian American communities.
• Listen to a local bilingual station.
• Listen to a Christian evangelical station.
• Read the newspaper sold to you by a homeless person.
• Read poetry or fiction written by urban youth.
Ask the question.
Race, sexuality, gender and disability often are topics that we skirt around. Urge your reporters to spend some time with sources they are developing and to consider direct questions like this, even when demographics don't seem relevant to the story. The answers might push the story into interesting new places.
• Do you think your race or ethnicity (age, gender, religion, economic background, etc.) affects the way you think about this issue?
• As someone not of your community (race, ethnicity, gender, other) what do you think I might miss when reporting about this?
Pay attention to language.
Consider learning a new language if your area has a sizable community that speaks another language.
If the community is primarily immigrant and speaks English as a second language, develop a relationship with organizations that serve immigrants to open doors for you, ease fears and help with translation.
Be cautious in selecting interpreters when reporting a controversial issue or when your interpreters may have a stake in the story.
For more ideas, visit the Rainbow Sourcebook.
© Society of Professional Journalists, Diversity Toolbox
Funded by the SDX Foundation