Integrating Diversity into Your Reporting Routine

Wagner, Venise

As the population in our communities grows more and more diverse, journalists are faced with the challenge of portraying the communities they serve more fully, accurately and in-depth.

Yet, diversity in journalism has earned a reputation for tokenism and pandering. Add to that the deadline pressure of getting good stories and getting them fast. The following list is a guide that can help you navigate the difficult terrain of covering your community inclusively.

Self Examination


Everyone comes to this profession with a worldview and personal experience that shape their journalism. Scott Plous, a psychology professor at Wesleyan University, suggests that selective perception and unconscious biases influence judgments and decisions we make. Because journalists are assessing people, news events and socio-political structures, our biases can affect our news judgment. In order to become aware of our biases, we must make a greater effort to assess ourselves. Some people call this a “sense of place.” Others have conceptualized our differences in perception through a diversity “wheel” that recognizes the multilayered qualities of our experiences, including gender, race, class, cultural heritage, religion, education, age, disability/ability, sexual orientation, geography, nationality and professional status.

The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education uses Fault Lines (, a framework that helps journalists see perspectives of a story they might not otherwise consider. By examining your story through the prism of gender, generations, geography, class and race, you can identify varying aspects of the story.

For example, say you are working on a story about healthcare. Access and quality of healthcare vary by class, race and geography, and can change with age and generations. Check all your stories through the prism of differing perspectives.

Comfort Zone

The”comfort zone” is the reporting situation that you’ve established for yourself and one in which you feel most comfortable. What reporting situations are you most comfortable with? Where do you tend to focus your reporting? These are important questions to ask. If there are neighborhoods or types of people you avoid, ask yourself why and try to find ways to begin exploring those areas.

Types of Diversity Coverage

When considering diversity in news coverage, think about including specific cultural communities in your coverage of general issues, as well as in stories that relate particularly to those communities. For example, if you are doing a story about domestic violence, you can focus your story on how immigrants are trying to address the problem in their community. Or if you’re doing a general piece about domestic violence, you can include immigrant voices to provide another perspective.  Both types of inclusiveness should occur in your overall reporting.

What’s in a Label?

Be aware of the labels and identifiers you use for people. In some cases race/ethnicity may have no bearing on the story. With the example above, culture may have a significant bearing on how immigrant communities address domestic violence. In some communities there are cultural taboos against airing family problems. In some instances, language may pose a barrier in access to support services. So in a story about the cultural taboo of addressing domestic violence, a label is relevant and necessary. However, in a story about a domestic violence, race/ethnicity may have no bearing. Include a label that identifies people only when it’s relevant to the story.

Trusting the Horse’s Mouth?

As radio journalists, you often trust people’s words as the voice of the populace. While there is some truth in this statement, beware of the inappropriate and dead-wrong comments that sources may make. Don’t be afraid to provide the listener with opposing views or with a voice-over that corrects a false statement about a racial, ethnic, religious, political or other group. For example, let’s say you’re taping a black source who says something about black culture, like… “Black people don’t like to swim much.”  That’s a pretty broad generalization and is not true for all black people. And just because the comment comes from a black person speaking about black culture, that doesn’t make it true. You are the arbiter, the verifier and the authenticator, so it’s up to you to pinpoint the truth.

Checks and Balances

Be willing to have someone else read your story or script to check it for cultural nuance, complexities and balance. If we are unfamiliar with a community, it is good to have someone (generally within the newsroom) who is familiar with that community to check your story. This helps you avoid inaccuracies and lends your story more credibility. You can also check a supplemental style guide or other diversity resource:

Getting to Know Your Community


Explore the demographics of your community through the U.S. Census ( Enter a zip code and check out the stats including race/ethnicity, household income, housing, education, languages spoken, birth nation and employment. There is a wealth of information on this site. You can also check out other demographers such as William Frey ( Here, Frey illustrates population changes and migration around the country. Also, your state keeps track of demographics. In California the state demographer is the Department of Finance. In New York, go to the New York Data Center (

Exploring Terrain

After you find areas from the census that you are unfamiliar with, take a walking tour of that area. It’s preferable to a driving or bus tour because you can get a better sense of a community, taking notice of which buildings are in use, who goes in and out, and what may be happening there. Stop in shops, coffee houses, churches, centers, barber shops or beauty salons. Talk to proprietors and learn what you can. The more you visit, the more comfortable you will become.

Listening Posts

Find a diner, café or restaurant and have lunch. Choose a different one to visit every week or every month. Get to know patrons and proprietors. What do people talk about while there?

Local News

Read the neighborhood newspaper to find out what issues are at stake and what people care about. The paper can also tell you who are the movers and shakers of the neighborhood. These local perspectives are good points of entry for national stories, and the neighborhood newspapers can lead you to authentic local sources.

Guest Speaker

Invite someone from an unfamiliar area of your community—minister, community outreach worker, activist—into the newsroom to talk about issues of importance to the neighborhood. You might get some good story ideas.


Hold a community roundtable or forum and invite people to talk about issues of concern. You can choose one topic and have the community explore it.

Broadening Your Sources

The Usual Suspects

When you go out on a story, who are you most likely to talk to? Who are the experts you rely on when telling the story? Do they tend to be men, or white? Who are the victims in your story? Do they tend to be people of color? Begin asking yourself these questions, and then try to figure out what keeps you from expanding your source list from the usual suspects.

Credible Experts

According to a 2001 Media Tenor ( study on sources in three major network newscasts, 92 percent of sources were white, even though whites made up only 75 percent of the population. In contrast, minorities made up 25 percent of the population and were used as sources 8 percent of the time. These figures suggest that reporters often feel they have a hard time finding “minority” sources who are “reliable” or “credible.” You may ask, why should I go through the trouble of finding experts of color when they may not be the best expert?  But the reality is the U.S. has expert sources from every culture and race/ethnicity who have expertise in a variety of areas. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Rainbow Sourcebook is an important resource to find these experts (

Community Sources

One of the benefits of expanding a source list is finding a fresh perspective. To do this you might consider adopting the Pew Center for Civic Journalism model of sourcing ( This model approaches the reporting process from the grassroots level rather than with official authority figures. According to this framework, sources can be official (elected officer), quasi-official (minister or league president), connectors (people who are involved in several organizations/institutions), catalysts (long-time community members who work behind the scenes), or experts (community leaders with specialized expertise). Focus on the sources who are connectors and catalysts within a neighborhood. Rely on them to put you in touch with those in the community who can provide you with first-hand information.

Cultural Competence

Community Liaison

Seek out cultural brokers to help you reach through to culturally isolated communities. In some cases, brokers can act as a language interpreter, but more importantly, they can guide you in a cultural world about which you know little. Rely on this person to offer history and background, as well as an entrée into a community.

Humble Pie

When you are unfamiliar with a community, don’t be afraid to admit it to yourself and to others. Humbling yourself opens you up to learning what you don’t know. You are not the community expert.

Check out a piece by Ruth Seymour from Wayne State University in Michigan called, 8 Steps Toward Cultural Competence. You can find it on the Poynter website:

Read, read, read. Sometimes fiction and nonfiction provide us with a wonderful cultural window to peer through. Films and music are also entry points into new cultures. Take advantage.

Venise Wagner is an assistant professor of journalism at San Francisco State University, where she created a public journalism course that has sent students to write about under-covered communities. In twelve years at various dailies, her beats included reporting on issues in local black communities