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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Diversity Toolbox

Covering your community's celebrations

By Sandra Gonzalez

Years ago, when I was a radio reporter in Fort Worth, Texas, I was invited to cover a Las Posadas event at a local Catholic church. It was a wonderful experience and a great way to share a slice of Latino culture with my listeners.

I remember songs being sung in Spanish, and being served a thick hot drink called champurrado. There were costumes and crowds moving around from place to place. This assignment made a rich radio story with all the great sound to work with, but I remember thinking this story would have been great to also tell with pictures. Now that our industry is so vastly multimedia, this is one of those stories that not only reflects the holiday, it shows diversity in covering your community. You should use as many platforms as possible to show and tell that diversity.

Rich cultural celebrations like this are happening all the time in your community — especially as we come upon the December-January season. But journalists too often get caught up in the same routine, covering the same stories. Instead, try something new this year. With so many different cultures across the United States — and in your own community — it’s easy to find new stories to tell, and help your readers, viewers and listeners learn something new about the community where they live.

Here are a few tips to get started:

GET EDUCATED ABOUT YOUR COMMUNITY

Talk to people in your community or check census data to get a feel for your area’s demographics. Churches and local or regional archdioceses are great resources for stories, too. They really know their communities. I was invited to cover Las Posadas by a pastor who reaches the Latino community through masses, both in Spanish and English. He was a great resource for my reporting.

This time of year is a great time for this kind of reporting because there are so many cultural events, including Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and more. Las Posadas traditionally starts Dec. 16 and goes on for nine days, until Christmas Eve.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Learn as much as you can about a culture before you go out to report a story.

In the case of Las Posadas, these events are in Hispanic communities across the country, and each is unique. Some are very elaborate in large cities, and others are very simple in neighborhoods; they may be indoors depending on the weather, but the focus is the same. The tradition goes back to Spain but has evolved through Mexico and into the United States. “Posada” means lodging and involves a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph looking for lodging before the birth of Jesus, and being turned down until they had to rest in a stable.

AVOID STEREOTYPES THAT MISREPRESENT A CULTURAL CELEBRATION

These events can include rich imagery and wonderful personal stories. But be careful. It’s easy for reporters who don’t know a culture to get caught up in one or two elements of an event. Make sure your stories go deeper to tell your audience something specific they may not know about the cultures of their neighbors.

Las Posadas includes songs, food and children breaking a piñata, but it’s a religious event, too. Don’t just include images of a piñata because it provides great video. Show the faces and the eyes of the celebrants and the colors of the environment. Capture the whole moment. It’s a day of history for that community.

There are journalism organizations that may be able to assist you with heritage and cultural terms including the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Black Journalists. You may have colleagues who are members of these organizations who may be able to help.

HELP YOUR AUDIENCE FIND WAYS TO ENGAGE WITH CULTURAL EVENTS, EVEN IF IT’S NOT THEIR CULTURE

Doing a holiday story today may blossom into another story next month because you took the time to cover this event in December. And it helps your audience know more about where they live.

DON’T PORTRAY CULTURAL COMMUNITIES AS “OTHERS”

Also try to avoid the U.S. as a “melting pot” or “mixing bowl” of cultures. These terms have become clichés and don’t adequately portray our community. As the U.S. Census reveals, our country is changing. Reflect that in your news coverage.

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