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The Whole Story
Immigration reporting: How to advance it and make it original
Black Americans: The best journalists know their history
Covering the heart of poverty, not just its victims
Reporting on the same-sex marriage debate
The Definition of Diversity
Diversity Style Guides Roundup
Build Some Background
Covering the heart of poverty


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Diversity Committee
On both chapter and national levels, SPJ provides an open forum for the discussion of diversity issues in journalism. This committee's purpose is to promote a broader voice in newsrooms across the country and expand the depth and quality of news reports through better sourcing. Its ongoing project is the compilation of experts — primarily women, gays and lesbians, people of color and people with disabilities — through the Society's Diversity Source Book. The Society's relevance to its member is based on inclusiveness.

Diversity Committee Chair

Sandra Gonzalez
Reporter
KSNV-TV
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Diversity Committee Members

Tracy Everbach
Associate Professor of Journalism
University of North Texas
E-mail

Sally Lehrman
Santa Clara University
Montara, Calif.
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Sally Lehrman holds Santa Clara University’s Knight Ridder — San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Public Interest. Also an independent journalist, Lehrman specializes in covering identity, race relations and gender within the context of medicine and science. Her byline credits include Scientific American, Health, Salon.com, The New York Times, Nature, The Boston Globe and The DNA Files, the Peabody Award-winning documentary series distributed by National Public Radio. Lehrman is author of News in a New America, a fresh take on diversity in coverage and staffing, and served for a decade as national diversity chair for the Society of Professional Journalists. She was a 1995-96 John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University and is an Institute for Justice and Journalism Senior Fellow on race.

Walter Middlebrook
Assistant Managing Editor
The Detroit News
615 W. Lafayette Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48226
313-222-2429
E-mail

Jeremy Steele
Director of Media Relations
The John Truscott Group
124 W. Allegan St., Ste. 802
Lansing, MI 48933
517-485-8404
E-mail

Rebecca Tallent
University of Idaho
Moscow, Idaho
E-mail

Georgiana Vines
Retired Associate Editor
Knoxville News Sentinel
E-mail

Sherri Williams
Adjunct Professor
Syracuse University
Freelance Multimedia Journalist
E-mail

Home > Diversity > The Whole Story: Diversity Tips and Tools > Build Some Background

The Whole Story: Diversity Tips and Tools
Build Some Background

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 out 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 community 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 barbecue 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 in the community.
• 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 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 the 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.

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