Managing the blind spots in community news coverage
Session facilitator(s): Dana Amihere
Day & Time: Thursday, 10-11:15am
DANA: Hello, everyone. It’s nice to see such a large group. My name is Dana Amihere. Here! I’m Dana Amihere. I’m here because I love to give presentations, of course. And love to give slide shows. I’m having a few technical difficulties, bear with me. And I haven’t used PowerPoint in like five years, so, yeah. This is going to be a little interesting. So, a little bit about me. I’m interactive editor at the Dallas Morning News and I really care about this particular subject. So, I want to go off the record for a second.
We can go back on the record for the rest of this. That’s why I wanted to give this presentation. I wanted to highlight the fact that when we cover things, we really have to be cognizant of the fact that we have we’re agenda setters in our community. We are what we’re putting out information that we want people to know and that we also want them to talk about. And to have those conversations.
So, let’s get started. So, can you guys all see the numbers on that? Is it big enough? Okay. Great. One of the things I’m going to talk about and we’ll get to a little bit later is how you can do an audit of your news organization’s coverage to see if you’re if you’ve got these glaring blind spots in coverage. So, that’s what I did.
I did a do you guys know what this is? Some people are on chart beat still, god help you. So, it’s Texas. So, most the most posts that we have are tagged news in our system. 38,000. But the thing with the most page views is the Cowboys. And most engaged minutes that we have are in crime stories. So, that got me thinking. This is an audit in the past six months. Since December 28th to today. And in a previous audit that I did, I got our data analytics person in the newsroom to pull every headline that had been written in the past six months and I started going through and very unscientifically tagging what could have been considered a positive story, a negative story and then what community it was talking about.
And the results were not great. As you can imagine, most of the stories were about North Dallas, which is kind of the white, more affluent area. or if it was about South Dallas, below interstate 30, primarily poor, black, segregated. Those were more negative stories. That got me thinking.
How could we sort of avoid this these blind spots in coverage that were only covering stories in poor areas when there’s when something happens? That we sort of jump in and come to these neighborhoods when, sadly, there’s something bad that happened. Whether there’s a shooting or some sort of other crime related thing. When we’re only going to more affluent neighborhoods when more positive things are happening. When we’re talking about someone, I don’t know, doing something really good for the community.
So, we are all in this room different kinds of stakeholders. So, we’re reporters, we’re editors, we’re digital and data and visual folks. So, as reporters our responsibility to this community coverage is the fact that we’re the one you’re the ones out there covering the community. You control what sources are being used to make up the story. You’re the interaction with the public. Editors are the agenda setters in the newsroom. Truly. If you think about it, what goes in the paper depends on those editors. It depends on what stories they’re asking you to write and what stories they’re deciding in your 1A meetings to put on the front page and in the paper.
And then the data and visual folks, which is what I am, we’re telling stories with data. We’re telling people what facts are important in terms of numbers. And as I’m sure you guys have all heard, data can lie. I mean, you can make a chart pretty much say anything you want. It’s our responsibility to go forth and to make sure that we’re presenting the clearest picture possible and that we’re presenting it fairly.
So, this picture was, like, part of the presentation template. We’re going to talk about parachute reporting. So, I love the picture. He looks like he’s sniffing a cloud or something. I couldn’t get the parachute picture to go circular. I like this. We have all heard this, I tried to find attribution to it, and everybody from the Rolling Stones to the Dalai Lama. I tried.
What exactly is parachute reporting? The quote up there, if you can’t read it is politely, parachute journalism is the dispatching of globe trotting reporters and camera crew to cover the latest breaking news. There is nothing polite about some of the outcomes. We talk about a parachutist as usually a pejorative in the news business. Based on the sense that an outside journalist who stays in a country or town or community for a short time is unlikely to have a such feel for that area’s political and cultural landscape.
So, if I’m jumping into a community where something really terrible has happened and I have never been to this state, I’m probably not going to have the best context for not only what’s going on, but what to talk to. So, there’s some serious risk and pitfalls in doing this. So, like I just said, the practice of journalists going to places to report on people and topics that they have very little previous knowledge of can lead to a lot of problems. Especially for the community members who are targeted by journalists.
So, the first thing is accuracy. When you’re jumping feet first into a community, you don’t really have the luxury of time. We don’t always get it right the first time because we’re the people who are new to town. So, think about, maybe what’s an example? Sorry. Ferguson, Missouri. When Michael Brown was killed. We had all these journalists descending on Ferguson trying to cover the situation, cover the protests that were happening and community police relations. And most of these journalists have never even I had never even heard of Ferguson, Missouri, before this happened and I’m sure a lot of other journalists hadn’t either.
So, we don’t have the luxury of time, necessarily, to get to know that community. And then also there’s credibility. Are we using the best sources possible to tell the story? Are we being diverse and inclusive in our considerations for who we’re sourcing for our stories? Especially when we don’t have that luxury of time. When we don’t know the community and we don’t necessarily know who to ask to be our source. Are we asking, you know, the best community activist or the most informed community member? Sometimes it’s just like this person’s there. They have the information that I need. And let’s go from there.
And then context. Do we have enough information to offer a helpful perspective and commentary on the issue at hand? What’s the baseline for readers to understand coverage of a story? And how do we make it accessible how do we make the information accessible for the people who are new to a subject and not really familiar with the background information on it? And how do we also make it interesting for the people who are very familiar with this issue? How do we make sure that they’re getting the new information without us going into tons of back story?
So, there’s also we talked about parachute reporting. So, what is the satellite reporting? I did not coin this phrase. But Heather Bryant who is a 2017JSK Fellow at Stanford talks about this in a Medium post. She calls it parachute reporting’s pernicious cousin, which I love. And she’s basically saying, how do we use journalism to enhance the community? She called satellite reporting the monitoring of the news from a variety of external sources and using one or more of these stories, usually from the newsroom, as the basis of our own story with little or no additional reporting and varying levels of attribution and follow up. So, basically we’re reporting on something that’s happening over here and we’re basically doing it from our newsroom. It’s more or less aggregation. We’re not adding to the conversation. We’re sort of adding to the noise of what’s already out there.
And we’re saying, okay, we’re putting out this information. We got it from the AP or The New York Times or the Washington Post and we’re aggregating it for our readers rather than really getting into the context and the nuances of the situation and giving perspective to it.
So, the picture the person in this picture is Robert Clive Maynard. So, he was a journalist and a publisher and an editor and the former owner of the Oakland Tribune. He’s also the co founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland. And he has a really great quote that I love. That gets into what we’re going to talk about next.
So, the society is split along five fault lines, and we try in vain to paper over them, fill them in or pretend they aren’t there. These underlying forces, like those in the center of the earth, will thwart us until we come to see our differences as deep but completely natural things, as natural as geologic fault lines. So, these fault lines are basically things that divide us. Basically fault lines that are current nature. How do we get past the fault lines in our coverage that divides us from our readers and our readers from each other? So, I’m going to skip a slide. And I’m going to talk about his five different fault lines.
And then we’re going to split up into groups and talk about how we do well and how we do not so well in covering covering different issues and making sure that these fault lines don’t appear in our coverage. So, I’m not going to read every quote because you can all read. Everybody in the back can see that? Good? The first one is race.
And I think this is more prominent and to the forefront than ever before. Especially as things keep happening in terms of community police relations, different people protesting about how they’re treated by other racial groups. So, as journalists, we’re not immune to the facts of race and racism just because we’re delivering the news. We see it and experience it in our lives just like the people that we cover. And in our coverage, we can’t we have to be sensitive to that fact. That we experience it, they experience it, and we have a very a unique responsibility to make sure that we reflect those the things that our readers go through that we go through.
So, class. As we have been called the enemies of the people, and we have been called, as journalists, elitist, we have a responsibility to not just write about the people who are like us. Most of us in this room are educated, we’re tech savvy, we’re I’m looking around the room and I’m seeing a lot of like millennials and around that age. I’m not guessing anybody’s age. So but we write about sometimes what we know. And what we think our readers want to know. We write for who we consider our target subscriber. Who we consider our target reader. And that’s not always a good thing.
We want to disseminate information for everybody. Not just the people that we think need it or deserve it. So, the third thing that Maynard talks about is gender. And I love this quote so much I’m going to read it. One of the greatest challenges facing journalists, both men and women, is to resist the culture of casual stereotype in our everyday work. So, as we know, there’s still this huge divide between men and women.
Inherently in our culture, it’s sort of ingrained that one of these groups in certain situations is the lesser. I mean, we also see that with the racial fault line. And other fault lines that I’m going to talk about. And that’s something we have to be sensitive to in our coverage. Back to the last story that you wrote or worked on. Did you have in your source then an equal number of perspectives from men and women? Were most of your sources on a on an expert level men or women? So, we’ll talk about that a little bit more in a bit.
Generational fault line is something that I think we don’t think about a lot. But who are we writing for? Are we writing for those of us who are just young and not necessarily more informed, but have access and use this access to information that we constantly get on our phones or on social media? What about those who don’t necessarily use those things? The older folks that we write for? If we’re a publication that caters more to older subscribers, are we also targeting younger people? Are we also targeting them as with the information that we’re providing?
And the last one is geography. I think that this speaks to basically geographic segregation. So, like I said before, Texas not Texas Dallas is very divided in terms of where people live. If you live in the North, you’re more likely to be affluent than you are if you live in the south. That’s like many of the cities you live in. It’s not necessarily north/south divide, but it’s apparent when you drive into a certain neighborhood or part of your community. That’s something we have to be cognizant of. Are we only covering a certain community when we’re talking about issues that divide? Or negative issues?
And a lot of these fault lines overlap with one another. So, what we’re going to do right now is split into five different groups and each group is going to take a fault line. What you’re going to do or what I’m asking you to do is think about the topic that I’m going to give you in terms of that fault line. What kind of coverage have you seen based on that topic? Is it are there some examples of news organizations who are covering the topic very well and they’re being very inclusive and being very diverse in their coverage? And what are some examples of organizations that are just missing the mark? That aren’t doing it well and how can they improve?
So, I’m going to let you guys pick what groups you want to be in rather than just splitting everybody up by numbers. So, let me go back through. So, I’m just going to point to different parts of the room and you guys can, like, self divide.
All right. So, the race group I want to be in the far back corner. Okay? The class group is going to be on this side in the far back corner. The gender group is going to be right under that painting of a brick thing. I don’t know what it is. It looks like a wall. Yeah. The generation group is going to be right here around table ish area in the front. And then the geography group, we’ll put you guys like in the middle ish by the other what is that? Like fire extinguisher. Whatever. So, if you guys can go ahead and get up and move to where you would like to be. Hopefully there’s someone for every group. And once you guys are in position, I’ll tell you what topic you’re going to talk about.
So, everybody’s sort of settled into where they want to be. If you are the race group, raise your hand. Just so I can check where everybody’s at. Okay. If you are the class group, okay? And gender? Great. And generation? Awesome. And geography. All right. You guys did a great job. There’s actually people for every topic. I was afraid of this.
So, what you’re going to do is we’re going to consider a topic in light of how we as journalists, as a community, address this topic. And I’m giving you all higher education as sort of your default. But if your group feels strongly that is should be another topic, I’m going to give you the opportunity to choose. The only thing that I ask is don’t spend more than about three minutes choosing a topic if you want to do something else. I want you to spend the time talking about the topic, not like bickering over what it should be.
I’m going to give you guys let’s see what time it is. I’m going to give you about 25 minutes to amongst yourselves and I’m going to kind of check in with each group as you guys are talking move around the room. And then we’ll reconvene and we’ll share what you guys have to say from each group. So, you’ll nominate a spokesperson or two to share with the group. Okay? Sound good? All right. Go forth.
[Working in groups]
DANA: Hey, everybody. You guys have having such great conversations I hate to interrupt. But we’re going to bring it back so we can hear what some of your group conversations have talked about. So, can each group sort of nominate a representative to share with the rest of the bigger group? And we’ll start with the generational group here up front. You can either come to the mic or talk really loud.
I’m David from Nashville. And our team went from higher education to the issue of gentrification. There’s issues, whether in Palm Springs, or Nashville or Philadelphia, people are being priced out of markets and pushed out. Even young people trying to come into the cities and finding it very unaffordable. There’s a lot of mutual interests finding your place in the community. We discussed people who need to have a voice.
We can offer those voices and we have seen coverage from California, The New York Times, a Harper’s magazine article there that’s showing affluence is keeping people out. Is you can’t afford to live in a place because of high taxes or from young people because they don’t have money and have too much student debt to get into neighborhoods near their work. I think telling their stories is Paramount.
DANA: Great. How about from the gender group? And then tell us who you are and where you’re from.
Hi, everybody, my name is Julia. I’m from the gender group over there. And we talked mainly about places where gender and higher ed, where coverage of that was bad. We didn’t have any good examples. The main one we talked about overall was sourcing and how like a lot of time when is people source stories about higher ed topics they go to people higher up in the department or maybe because of sort of ingrained systemic discrimination against women. And the tenure process is not necessarily for people who don’t want to put up with the bullshit tenure processes to not take care of yourself or other people.
We talked about coverage of issues at universities like sexual assault where oftentimes there’s more coverage given to the accused than to the person who was the victim. We talked about how sometimes when universities put out research or do research they don’t include non binary people in that research or they don’t have a category about that and how newsrooms can do a better job of, we have 5,000 men and 4,000 women in the freshman class and encourage them to gather the non binary data as well. And think about that.
Talk about sports coverage and how some women’s sports are covered similarly to men’s sports. At the University of Wisconsin, women’s and men’s hockey are considered the same. Others they’re secondary or they ask questions not related to their sports performance. We talked about how specific research that may be about women’s lives or women’s experiences could be considered not newsworthy. There was an example how nurturing and teaching go hand in hand. That research may not be considered newsworthy because it’s so fluffy compared to male characteristics and how that is in a male profession. That’s another thing we saw. And that is where I’m going to stop.
DANA: Can we hear from let’s see the class group?
I’m using that privilege not to go to the mic. My name is Candace and in our group we talked about how clearly how class impacts higher education and vice versa. So, I think some of the important takeaways are about how we report on class. The fact that we only talk about college education as a topic within higher education. We don’t talk about trade education or things that don’t happen inside of four year colleges. We don’t talk about how local or state politics impact people’s abilities to get to school. Like, for instance, how mass transit impacts your abilities to be able to get to a university or to a community college.
Team, people, help me out. Hold on.
We talked about how there is very little accountability to how people talk about the reporting that comes out of colleges. So, college students aren’t discussed with seriousness. We talked about how academic writing is often seen as something to aspire to when it’s just bad.
[ Laughter ]
It isn’t necessarily good. That
We also talk the about the style of student, how the coverage is all about people at traditional four year institutions that are 18. And most of the people in higher education are not this way. And that doesn’t receive anything in the news whatsoever.
We talked about the data
And how it’s used. And often how the singular narrative of class for students that are accepted into always the child who has transcended and how poorly that actually works for students.
And because higher education is not a serious beat for most newsrooms, the data that you get around higher education comes directly from the source. Which in most reporting we wouldn’t let happen. We would go and challenge that. But as Sara said, who covered education, it’s a fluff beat that we don’t think, you know, really matters. And so, we accept what we get from universities. Especially around conversations about how kids are fed out of the system.
There are, you know, all of these minority students in our honors college. But we don’t talk about the kids in the middle section that are likely to be in poverty and often don’t make it through the full four year system. And how not making it through the four year system, you leave with debt you’re to the able to pay. Arguably, if you graduate, you can’t afford to pay. But how those things happen, because we don’t report on higher education in a serious way, oh well.
One more thing. How higher education is seen as getting out of certain types of class differences, but it doesn’t necessarily do that as a credential. And in many ways preserves the class differences even when you go into the positions that you are trained to. You may come from a different class and go into a position like journalism, but you are as compared to your colleagues who don’t have that. How does that affect your trajectory?
And how institutions of higher education influence the communities around them and if they’re really large ivory towers in small world communities how that changes the economy of those places.
DANA: Great. Could we hear from the race group? Anybody? Anybody?
So, we we started out talking about
DANA: Can you introduce yourself?
Audrey, “New York Times.” We started talking about some “New York Times” coverage of recent like how we cover Asian American communities and sort of the monolith that’s often presented as the Asian American community with regards to higher education and with regards to stances on affirmative action. We also talked about the idea of the model minority myth and how often Asian communities are either glommed on with other people of color whose experiences are different and also glommed on with White communities because of other factors.
We sort of went rogue after that and sort of left the particular topic of higher education more in favor of, like, how do we tackle these things on a bigger perspective. And one thing we identified was there’s sort of more short term things you can do in terms of, well, if you are touching content you at least have the ability to shape that content or push for the things and fill in the blind spots where you see them. And the problems, like the structural and more institutional things.
And it sounds like our group was maybe more of the big thinker category. Or maybe we talked about so much what we can do today, we’re talking about the bigger things. More diverse people in the room, at the table, writing stories. But also thinking about that relationship between a reporter and an editor and how, like, what is the voice that your institution is sort of assuming to be what you’re writing for and how how or if you should push back against that or sort of what the idea is who this person is that we’re writing to really does change and what ends up coming out of it.
DANA: Great. And our last group, geography.
I take notes because I’m like I use Word, I’m ancient. Amy Blakely, we were geography. I’m coming this morning from Durham, North Carolina. Forgive me if words don’t make full sentences at this point. We had geography. I’m in PNFP I’m sorry for these people and I love asking questions. I asked what were people at the table what were our geographies. And it was really interesting because everyone has been all over. I mean, mainly US, well, all US here.
But just that idea of, like, you know, there’s something in your presentation about sort of this space of journalists where you probably do have the class of higher education to some degree and then you also have the chance and the curiosity and the personality to maybe not stay in one place. But then what about all these people that we’re covering and how do you not parachute in and how do you get the real local story whether it’s from the local journalists, which is important. Or if it’s from that person who knows their community but maybe isn’t Google able.
So, we talked a lot about sorry. One of our areas of interest was not necessarily just the rural areas, but these places that aren’t necessarily, you know, central to The New York Times coverage or big L.A. Times or whatever. Except in crisis. And as it applies to higher education or just education we didn’t just stick to higher education. But how often, you know, the only time you hear about certain schools is when, like, you know, there’s a shooting. Or there’s no heating or air conditioning, depending on the time. And it’s not really getting a full picture.
And then we were lucky to have someone who just finished a knight Fellowship on looking at how geography
It was one of the) is about that level of distribution of news and how it relates to where people are and how they get that information. We talked about the fact that there have been efforts to go ahead and look at news on a geographic basis in education. And how it still tends to be people working amongst themselves. And when people do finally get together and go, oh, it’s really the whole issue. It’s few and far between because it’s an idea about working together to say that they’re working on geographic issues and similarities. But in reality it’s guesswork. We’re going to check a box on a grant application.
So, it’s very hard to go ahead and really look at similarities in issues related to education. Not just higher education, but from my experience elementary school education and high school.
And the idea of also the fact that we don’t take advantage of the people that are on the ground at the local level when these national stories do get run. It tends to be a case of, we’re just going to parachute in, get the bare minimum and then get our outside expert to talk about it when there could have been a reporter on the ground for years looking at this story. And it could have been as easy as picking up the phone before you land, which from my understanding is something we used to do as a profession. To find out, A, what’s going on? Who should I talk to? And just some of that common courtesy has gone away and it makes it really tough to go do do justice by the people in those communities.
DANA: Great. It sounds like you guys had some really productive conversations and I hated to interrupt you all.
So, where do we go from here? Okay. So, title of this slide is our process is easy? It absolutely is not. You guys have explained some really in depth complexities that you have to deal with. So, I’ve created a flowchart for you to show you how you might be able to make this into a process. And the first two are highlighted because they are things that you can do right now and things that you possibly are doing right now. And then the things that are in gray are things that you can work toward. The third and last thing.
So, the first being referring to demographics and circulation. So, we want to reflect our readers in the community through our coverage. Like I talked about earlier, Dallas is 24% black, but does the Dallas Morning News coverage reflect that community as well as other communities of color? And affluence and white as well. So, the second thing is analyzing our sources. Who are we talking to? Who are we asking to be part of our stories? So, we can put readers and community knowledge to use for us. So, as an average, the Huffington Post had what they call a Ferguson fellow when that whole situation was going on.
So, as other national media outlets withdrew from Ferguson, the Huffington Post stayed and continued to cover Michael Brown’s story as it continued to unfold. They collaborated with the Beacon Reader, a now defunct journalism crowd funding platform to create a fellowship for a local resident to continue to do the great work that she was already doing.
And then another example is I’m going to butcher her name, but I’m going to try not to. Mollie Bloudoff Indelicato. She created a searchable database of experts in science. She was responding to something that she heard about experts not being available in the field who are female or people of color. And she’s like, okay. Well, I can totally prove this wrong. Because there are. And the database now has, I believe, a couple hundred women and people of color who have volunteered to be experts in stories and provide their contact information.
Will you repeat the name?
DANA: Diverse sources. Bloudoff and Indelicato. So, it’s a great resource if you haven’t seen it.
So, the third thing is and something to strive for is finding a new normal. Make this idea of community coverage that covers these blind spots something that is a habit in your newsroom and not a fad. It’s not just the new thing that we’re going to try out. It’s something that we’re really going to commit ourselves to. It’s something that we’re going to examine as we put out stories. And as we even pitch stories. Are we covering where are we covering this community where this event or this thing that’s going on? And our sources, are they reflecting that community and diversity and inclusiveness?
And then the last thing gets back to the numbers that I showed you at the very beginning. So, analyze the turns in your news organization over time. Try a periodic content audit to stay on track. Look at I looked at the stories and how they were tagged within our CMS. You can do something similar. If you if you have a CMS that works that way with a tagging system. Or you can just simply go through your headlines, go through junior stories as an individual writer.
Am I being inclusive? Am I covering things for the right reasons? Yes?
I have a question, you were speaking at beginning about your own process of doing that. Was that something that you were doing on your own time or did you have sort of buy in to do like what kind of research did you have to do to get that research done? It sounds like a lot of it was hand coding for positive or negative. Can you talk about the feasibility?
DANA: Sure. I think it’s very feasible. So, I went about it two different ways. The numbers that you all saw in the chart in the beginning were actually numbers that I gathered from Parsley. It was as simple as just looking up the tag. And then I also looked up some of the stories that are tagged that in the system on the website. Trying to get a sense of whether it’s more positive or more negative
And then the other thing that I did is we actually have a data analytics person in our newsroom. If you don’t have that, it’s something that you could also do yourself in Parsley or Chartbeat. I was feeling lazy and asked him to pull all of them. It was as simple as pulling the last 500 headlines and coming up with my fairly unscientific method of positive versus negative. Like, was it a shooting in a poor neighborhood? Was it someone making a huge donation to an art museum and in a more affluent area? You have to come up with that barometer for your community and for your news organization. It’s not necessarily something I can hoist upon you.
I would urge you to try and figure out, okay, what are the issues that are most important in my community and are we covering them well? So, does that answer your question? Okay. Great. And then the other thing, how do we look beyond these fault lines in coverage? If you don’t want to go by the flowchart, this is the breakdown of what I’m trying to get at. So, check up and check in.
So, we can be advocates for this community coverage that covers these blind spots by just periodically checking in on the communities that we’re supposed to be covering. I mean, have a couple people on your beat that you can talk to and just ask, hey, what’s going on? Is there an event? Is there an issue that is somehow impacting the community that you haven’t seen covered? It’s something that we do anyway. We talk to sources and try and piece together information for our stories. It’s something that we can do all the time, not just when we need something from them.
And especially in communities that are underserved and under written about, they appreciate that. They appreciate that you’re not just parachuting into their community and caring when something is wrong. They appreciate the fact that you care enough about their community and about their neighborhood to say, what’s happening here? What can I do to cover you not only accurately, but fairly?
And then the last thing is, check in with your colleagues on how you’re dealing with these fault lines. Like, look at each other’s stories. Say, you know, you really could have used a more an array of more diverse sources in this story. You could have contacted this source that I have that may have been more reflective of the community. So, in that sense, we can be accountable to each other. Not just wait for our editor or whoever is supervising us to say, you know, this could be more balanced, this could be more fair. We can do that analysis of ourselves.
So, that is the end of my presentation. So, I would like to thank a couple of people. Sorry, I’ve got a million slides. All right. So, thank you. This is my email address and my Twitter handle. If you would like to discuss this more or have questions for me or just want to reach out. A couple people I want to thank, Ryan Pitts working with SRCCON for putting up with me as I pestered him through putting this presentation together. And Emily Goligoski, she is great. I think she worked with the Puzzle Project? Membership Project, I’m sorry. Membership Project and she helped me copy edit and review this presentation for content. If you have questions or just want to chat, hit me up after the session ends.
[ Applause ]