Are you really covering your coverage area?

June 25, 2018 11:30

Newsroom managers, when is the last time you looked at your coverage to ask who is missing, and why?

Across the country, communities are changing, and newsrooms have not only a mission but also a business imperative to serve the whole community.

It’s easy to lean toward stories from neighborhoods your reporters live in and communities they’re involved with, venturing into others only for brief coverage of breaking stories, but this leaves some communities neglected and stories missed.

While, as we see in our new report out now, TV newsrooms are becoming more diverse, they’re not yet reflective of the population overall.

Closing this gap is one key to better covering underrepresented communities, but that’s not the whole picture.

There are things newsrooms can do now to “repair the neglect,” says Amy Kovac-Ashley of the American Press Institute, even if they’re not hiring.

The proverbial first step is to recognize there is a problem, and be upfront about it, internally and externally.

Take an issue you’re covering and think of all the people in your coverage area, across the socioeconomic ladder, who could be affected by it. Then use data to assess your coverage and locate the gaps.

The next step, Kovac-Ashley says, is listening. Often, she says, journalists think they’re good at listening, but are really just listening to get to the next question, to get a soundbite for today’s story.

A new four-part publication by the American Press Institute dug into how building coverage of neglected communities and rebuilding trust starts with rethinking the way newsrooms listen.

 “Some of that is literally just showing up,” Kovac-Ashley says.

In additional to active listening techniques like allowing quiet and giving questions time to breathe, focused listening means redefining the whole goal of spending time in a community. It means spending time in parts of your coverage area not only when news is breaking, but going back the next day, not just to get a story right now, but to listen and learn.

Being there at other times can help your reporters think about stories in a different way, reframing stereotypical coverage.

Spending time in neglected communities, listening with empathy and without agenda, is also an opportunity to reintroduce audiences to your newsroom and its role. Kovac-Ashley says this process can take time; trust in news media may be low among communities historically neglected or even misrepresented.

It takes time to pay off for newsrooms, too, which means newsroom managers need to think about how to support reporters’ ability to step out of the day-to-day rush to spend time out in the community just listening.

Some newsrooms are focusing wholly on community-centered reporting, but a good start would be taking an hour or two here and there to stop by a local library or community center.

While it takes time management, going into the community instead of requiring people to come to you connects your newsroom with the pulse of the community, learning what people care about and worry about, leading to potentially strong enterprise and investigative work.

Shoe-leather reporting isn’t a new concept, but thoughtfully applying the traditional technique to better covering traditionally neglected communities takes a renewed effort.

Is your newsroom working on covering historically neglected communities? Looking for ways to do better?