Editors embrace storytelling through community-centered lens

By Natalie Hamilton

ASNE conference session explores engaging untapped audiences 

Arresting teenagers set to leave the United States to fight with terrorists in Syria and Iraq, the FBI paints a picture of hardened criminals.

The youth from Minneapolis, Minnesota, are plotting to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), authorities say.

Reporters from the Minneapolis Star Tribune speak to their families. They uncover a different story.

Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Paul McEnroe speaks with Fadumo Hussein. This photo was taken a day after federal agents came to her home and arrested her youngest son, Guled Omar. Authorities say he was plotting with other young men to join ISIL. In 2007, another of Hussein’s sons, Ahmed Ali Omar, left the U.S. as part of the first wave of Somali-Americans in the Twin Cities to fight for Al-Shabab. Photo: Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Paul McEnroe speaks with Fadumo Hussein. This photo was taken a day after federal agents came to her home and arrested her youngest son, Guled Omar. Authorities say he was plotting with other young men to join ISIL. In 2007, another of Hussein’s sons, Ahmed Ali Omar, left the U.S. as part of the first wave of Somali-Americans in the Twin Cities to fight for Al-Shabab.
Photo: Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune

They hear about typical teenagers who goofed around, played basketball and finished high school. One young man has a job at Target and studies at a community college. His family immigrated to the U.S. in search of peace.

The Star Tribune’s coverage explores how a group of young men from Minnesota were drawn into ISIL’s campaign of terror.

The story serves as an example of what happens when journalists make a bigger investment in community.

They dig deeper. They have longer conversations. They connect with people beyond the band of usual suspects.

Ultimately, they’re better equipped to craft more thoughtful, authentic and accurate stories, editors say.

The Star Tribune’s coverage reflects the paper’s adoption of a community-centered approach to journalism.

Suki Dardarian, Star Tribune senior managing editor/vice president, shares her thoughts with The Engagement Hub.

“In my view, a community approach means just that,” Dardarian says.

“You go out into the community and listen and try to figure out what the angle of the story is or what the framing of the story is as you’re standing in the community as opposed to standing at city hall or at the police station or in the middle of the newsroom.”

“I think it’s a core principle of journalism that a lot of us do but the way this process frames it, it really helps the newsroom be more deliberate about more broadly sourcing and understanding a story.”

Disruptive Ways to Engage Untapped Audiences

Dardarian and other editors will discuss the subject of engagement during the upcoming ASNE/APME conference. The session is called Flip it! Disruptive ways to engage untapped audiences. Running Oct. 17 from 10:45-11:45 a.m. at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, it explores the need for journalists to develop closer ties in all of the diverse communities they cover.

Participants will learn innovative engagement techniques and join facilitated conversations about story development and community engagement on hot coverage topics, including:

•Muslims in America

•Race and lessons learned from Ferguson

•What’s next with immigration

Groups will discuss myths, innovative ideas/solutions to problems, great journalistic work and what each editor is taking away from the conversation to advance the cause at home.

Why Community-Centered Journalism Matters

For Dardarian, the approach makes sense for her newsroom and is one she has embraced for some time.

“As a reporter decades ago, you knew the best way to get a story was face-to-face with people, listening to them and really understanding them and feeling (the story) in your bones before you set out to craft it.

“While you don’t always have that luxury, it’s critical, particularly on significant issues in our community, that we take the time to invest in thinking through a story that way.”

Dardarian has been involved in numerous community engagement efforts over the years and they’ve all reminded her of the value of strategically thinking through who the sources are and how to frame a story.

For Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Día (The Dallas Morning News), a community-based approach has value from the perspectives of diversity and authenticity.

“It helps you to be educated and gives you a better mapping of your constituencies, your audiences and your communities,” Carbajal says.

“It helps build a larger network of expertise and knowledge.”

Getting Started

A community-centered approach encompasses both deeper sourcing and connecting with under-served areas of the population, Carbajal says. Deeper sourcing requires time. It involves driving around, meeting people, hanging out, arriving early and staying longer.

He also suggests trying a systematic approach, such as using a story checklist, to ensure as many new sources, new elements and new angles as possible are being incorporated into coverage.

It’s an evolving process.

“It involves constant education about the way our audiences are changing and the education to understand the new layers, the new aspects and the new trends to help us have a better reading of the community,” Carbajal explains.

His newsroom is currently utilizing the community-based approach to tackle a variety of stories, including immigration issues.

Building a More Complete Narrative

Gilbert Bailon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor, says telling a richer story involves thinking beyond the official and institutional sources. It may involve going into a community several times and having many conversations to develop a rapport.

Bailon highlights the paper’s coverage of a shooting in a St. Louis, Missouri housing project where there has been a lot of crime. After the initial spot news story, journalists went back to explore what’s happening more broadly in the neighbourhood, comprised of African-American residents.

The reporter had several conversations with community members about the neighbourhood and discussed their interaction with police as well, as this community has had multiple problems.

“We spent time out there, capturing what life was like,” Bailon says.

“We got people to talk to us in a much more open way. This was a way to put a more reflective view on the humanity and the people and the difficulty they face but also the perseverance as well,” he notes.

“We had to go back multiple times in some cases to do that – to piece together a more complete narrative as opposed to just anecdotal…this allowed us to burrow underneath a little bit more.”

Looking Ahead

Social media and other digital innovations have changed the landscape for journalists, heightening the need for closer community ties now more than ever.

“I think we have to be even more determined to spend more quality time with the people who are in our community and the people we cover,” Dardarian says.  “You’re never done. It’s about continuing to frame and re-frame the story and look at it from a diversity of viewpoints.”

This story is written by Axiom News

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