Be Upfront About Your Capacity & Your End Date
It can be hard for a journalist to commit to working with the same community indefinitely. “Time at a newsroom does not go on forever,” says Terry, “Your boss will determine how long you are working on something.” Natalie says it’s a good idea to be clear with community members about your timeline upfront, especially if you’re working with a community that has been disenfranchised from the news. “You might be needing to bow out gracefully, but did you kind of tell all these people in their minds that you’re, like, now their go-to reporter? What do you tell people from the beginning about an end date on your work, because how long will you really stay embedded in a certain community?”
While reporting, Adriana tries to respond to everyone who is involved in the reporting process, even if they don’t end up in the story. She says it can be stressful for people who are waiting for a story to be published about them. As much as possible, she says to “give them back the thing that you’re building together,” by detailing how the story is coming together and letting them know when she’s talking to other people about similar things. Terry says it all goes back to responding and making sure your ability to respond is meeting the needs of the community, and not leaving them hanging in some way.
Do Your Work with Them in Mind
When you publish a piece about someone, they may or may not be your target audience, Natalie says, “Sometimes things are targeted towards the people who make the change rather than towards the people who are feeling the impact.” But you should still think of them as you craft your words and framing in a way that would not embarrass them. “If they had a criticism or concern, that should be relevant to you,” she says, and it’s a good idea to keep this in mind while you’re still writing, ensuring that you’ll be comfortable with them reading it after you’re done.
Own Up to Mistakes
Everyone’s going to make mistakes sometimes, and while it’s embarrassing to do so publicly as a journalist, sometimes owning up to your mistakes can build more trust than you had even before you made the mistake. Kavolshaia witnessed this at a TV station when they aired a story about a man who visited local hospitals dressed as Santa Claus. The story he told them was incredible but they immediately began getting comments from people who believed it was fake. The station didn’t shy away from their mistake, but kept investigating and openly reporting their findings. They ended up getting a lot of positive feedback for their transparency and their work to get to the bottom of what was really going on.
Follow The Evolution of Their Story
While you may not be able to follow a story or work with a community indefinitely, you might be able to check back in with certain people regularly. Kavolshaia says she asks to follow people on social media so they can keep up with each other and she’ll message them to check in on how they and their family are doing, or the work they’re doing. Sometimes this has led to other stories and opportunities to help amplify the work they’re doing.
- Gather did a case study on Vox’s ER bill database. Vox keeps the community in the loop every time they publish a new story related to the project! You can find this and other related resources on Gather under the Solutions Journalism topic.
* * Lightning Chat! * * Check out Alicia Bell’s talk on media reparations and Free Press’ Media 2070 project!
Learn more about the journalists who contributed to this guide!
Adriana joined ProPublica in 2016 as an engagement reporter. Since then, she’s collaborated across the newsroom on investigative series covering women’s health, immigration, and sexual violence. Her community-sourced reporting contributed to several awards including a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist series for explanatory reporting (Lost Mothers) and the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for public service (Lawless). Prior to ProPublica, she oversaw a national reporting series at 15 public media stations. She’s traveled the country with the StoryCorps mobile booth collecting hundreds of stories archived at the U.S. Library of Congress. In her hometown Chicago, she spent over a decade working as a journalist, media educator and radio producer.
Kavolshaia is a Fairfield, Alabama native with fusions of the Bayou state after spending 10 years in Louisiana. She graduated from Grambling State University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism in 2008 and Northwestern State University of Louisiana with a master’s degree in Sports Administration in 2012. Since beginning her career in 2005, Kavolshaia has developed her skills in writing, filming and producing for television, radio, as well as digital platforms. Now she’s applying those skills as a video producer with Reckon South. Over the past year Kavolshaia has worked with Reckon South, she’s produced several video and editorial stories including Reckon South’s 19th Amendment 100th Anniversary coverage while serving as a moderator for Reckon’s social media digital community groups—Reckon | Women and the Black Magic Project.
Terry Parris Jr.
Terry Parris Jr. is Engagement Director for THE CITY, an independent, non-profit news organization covering New York City. He leads THE CITY’s audience development and community engagement efforts — including crowdsourcing, engagement reporting, community events and social media. Projects include The Open Newsroom, an initiative in partnership with Brooklyn Public Library to make local news collaborative, and MISSING THEM, an ambitious collaborative journalism effort to track down every news yorker who died of COVID-19 and write a story about them.
Prior to THE CITY, he was a Deputy Editor at ProPublica. He’s won multiple awards for this work in crowdsourcing and social media. He was also part of the team that was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for the work they did on ProPublica’s Machine Bias project. Prior to ProPublica, he was digital editor at WDET 101.9 FM, NPR’s affiliate in Detroit. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University in Detroit.
Natalie Yahr is a reporter and podcast producer at the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work has been published by Wisconsin Watch, the Center for Journalism Ethics, Columbia Journalism Review and the New York Times and Scalawag, and some know her for her “guide to less extractive reporting.” Before moving into journalism full-time in 2018, she worked for community engagement news outlet Listening Post New Orleans, trained as a Spanish-English interpreter and supported adult students working to earn their high school equivalencies.
Guide and illustration produced by Maia Laperle. This guide was last updated in January 2021.