segunda-feira, abril 03, 2006

Journalism with a difference

Teaming Up to Tell the Untold Stories
Thomas T. Huang

How editors and reporters can work together to tap into the diversity of their community
To thrive, we need to present our readers and viewers with more untold stories. By "untold stories," I follow the definition offered at a recent Poynter seminar: "compelling stories about different communities that often go unnoticed and ignored."

These are the kinds of stories that will bring readers back to us. But these are difficult stories to find and to tell. They must strike a delicate balance. They must reveal authentic differences within our cultures and communities, yet also evoke a universal theme that any reader can connect with.

The key to finding -- and telling -- the untold story lies in the editor/reporter relationship. The reporter must find a story that everyone else has passed by. The reporter must persuade the editor that it's a tale worth telling. The editor must trust the reporter's judgment. But the editor must also ask the hard questions that can sharpen the story's focus and make it even more compelling.

Having been on both sides of the relationship, I can offer these tips to finding, pitching and working with your editor on the untold story.

1. Diversify your source list. Before you tackle the untold story, develop good sources in diverse communities. Visit and re-visit the gathering points: churches, schools, community centers, clinics, nonprofit organizations. You will find the wise guide who will teach you about her community. Once you develop your source list, promote it -- and yourself. Let your editor and staff know what you've got -- and help them by offering your diverse sources for their stories. You want to become known in the newsroom as the reporter with the diverse Rolodex (or whatever you use these days).

2. Start small. First, find the small stories in these communities. Don't immediately try to get the Big Project. These small stories will help you gain credibility with your sources and create a track record with your editor. You can also start mainstreaming your diverse sources into traditional stories that aren’t necessarily related to race or culture.

3. Lay the groundwork with your editor. Talk to her about your personal mission to get diverse people and untold stories into the newspaper. For more on personal mission statements, see "Making Journalism Your Mission." Invite your editor to lunch at a restaurant in the community you're exploring. Get her to stop by a community event or church service. Create a community connection for her -- something she can experience, visualize and identify with. At the same time, give her published stories that exemplify what you'd like to achieve. Get her to share stories she admires.

4. Find allies across the newsroom. Identify the reporters who are good at covering diverse communities, or who get diverse sources into their beat stories. Befriend the staff photographers who are out on the street and are always coming up on good stories. Find mentorship from an editor who is not on your team, but who is interested in diversity issues. You don't want to shop stories around, but this editor could guide you on how to pitch your stories.

5. Find the untold story. Easier said than done, of course. But for story ideas on your beats, look for intersections of culture -- and I use "culture" broadly here, to include not just racial and ethnic cultures, but also those of gays, the elderly, the disabled and a multitude of others. Do you see any examples of cultural conflict or bridge-building? Dislocation or fusion? A struggle over cultural identity? For more, see "Framing Stories."

6. Consider your own untold story. One reason you've been brought into the newsroom -- besides being a talented, dedicated journalist -- is your personal background. You bring with you a different history and experience. Don't leave all of that at the door when you walk into the newsroom. Many newspapers now encourage their staff members to write first-person essays and columns that provide different cultural viewpoints. We need more of that, because it's often the first-person stories that get at the complexities and nuances of these issues. For more, see "Race, Unfiltered."

7. Sell the untold story to your editor. Every editor is different, and you're going to have to figure out what works best with yours. Here are some of the things I expect the reporter to think through before I approve an assignment:

Does the story have a simple premise? We know that the premise will evolve after more reporting, but for now, can the writer frame the story in two to three sentences?
Is there a central question that the story will try to answer?
Is there a person who can humanize the story -- who is articulate and reflective, who will give us access? Can we tell the story through that person's experience?
Will the story touch upon a universal theme, something that the reader will identify with and care about?
What's fresh about this story when compared to other stories on similar subjects?
Will the story get beyond stereotypes and clichés?
Do I sense that the reporter is committed to getting the story and will follow through?

8. Work with your editor. Update her whenever any of the answers to the previous questions change or become clearer.

Reporters and editors don't have to be combatants when producing untold stories for their news outlets. They can become true partners in the craft. In fact, it's crucial that they do so -- all for the sake of getting the best story.

recebido do Poynter