6 tips for journalists reporting on diverse communities

As journalists increasingly look for fresh ways to engage audiences and better understand the needs of diverse news consumers, a new report explores how social media subcultures — Black Twitter, Feminist Twitter, and Asian-American Twitter — interact with the news.

Part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to advance diversity and excellence in journalism, the new report, one of the largest on this topic, holds important lessons for journalists on better covering and engaging with these communities. In addition, to emphasizing the urgency for newsrooms to hire staff from all backgrounds, it proposes deeper methods of engagement, connection and transparency. Adapted from the recommendations section of the report authored by Meredith Clark, here are six tips for reporters seeking to better cover and engage with these communities:

1. Do the work

Media professionals who truly want to improve their outlet’s position in the digital and social media landscape will invest the time to learn more about the communities and individuals they meet online.

2. Look behind the clicks

The context behind each click, share and “favorite” tell a much richer story than can be conveyed by numbers alone. Sometimes digital traffic is an indication of a cultural failure on the news outlet’s part: Tweets may be retweeted or favorited because the writer and/or outlet are being singled out for criticism. While it is tempting to ignore online chatter, dismissing the standpoints of underrepresented people in media contributes to further division between people who make news and those who need it most.

3. Build meaningful connections

Spend more time pursuing meaningful digital and social media engagement that may not immediately connect with your organization’s bottom line. This interaction can include participating in the online conversation as users second-screen a televised event, such as a weekly show or awards special. Make note of the best tweets of the night and their subsequent commentary. Develop a list of people to follow who offer insightful comment about what may seem banal or even alien to you.

4. Give of yourself

To avoid engaging in cultural anthropology — studying community members from a distance rather than connecting with them — media professionals should give of themselves online as well. One key suggestion from the individuals queried as part of the report research is that a journalist should show themselves to be “real people.”

5. Show your cards

Reporters can use social media to provide timely answers to questions about stories after they are published, often developing potential leads for follow-ups. Another actionable suggestion is for journalists to make a weekly habit of detailing how they worked on one story. Social media offer an opportunity to be more transparent with readers. Outlets that appreciate this will find ways to push information about their decisions and processes to better connect with the groups they want to serve.

6. Question your world view

The dwindling of “objectivity” in news has contributed to the divide between media and devalued groups, including women, people of color, members of LGBTQ communities, and folks who fit all those descriptions. Objectivity is a value that was introduced and shaped by white men, often to the exclusion of others. When those others were included, their stories were told from a disconnected worldview that focused on what was easily measured and described from a majority point of view. Now, as the numbers of “minority” populations continue to grow, together we will soon occupy majority status in the country’s demographic profile.

Meredith D. Clark is an assistant professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia.