Advice from reporters

postandcourier

David Slade
The Charleston Post and Courier:

  1. Find a database with names attached. This way, reporters can find real people without blindly searching. Some databases can help narrow places to look for certain populations: Think census data or reduced/free school lunch statistics. Property tax records can provide names and addresses.
  2. Court documents can be another way to locate real sources. Viewing court records often gives reporters a better understanding of the problems faced by these sources, which can improve the relationship with a source. Good examples would be people facing foreclosure and those in protracted fights with the government over property taxes.
  3. Reporters should consider anything that can help eliminate randomness. For example, if 97 percent of students in one school district qualify for a free food program, there is a better chance of reaching out to families facing hunger. Food banks, pantries and other related organizations, including the PTA, can also be good sources.
  4. When approaching sources, be honest and sincere. Clearly explain the purpose of an article.  Try this: “Hello, I am trying to understand the problem of hunger. Can you help me explain to my readers what this is like? I am tired of just listening to government officials.”
  5. It is important to find first-hand experience or knowledge of a situation to better explain the subject you’re writing about. Suggesting that a subject has an opportunity to help people understand a challenge they face can be productive, and it’s true.
  6. Poverty-related subjects typically involve government programs. Not  understanding the way the program works can put the reporter at a disadvantage.  When talking to an official source, ask questions to help clarify rules and  procedures. Then ask an official how he or she would use the system to solve a personal problem: “If you were hungry, what would you do to use the system wisely?”

peninsula

Farida Jhabvala Romero
of the Peninsula Press (San Francisco Bay area, California)

  1. Analysis of data and numbers can greatly enhance a journalist’s understanding of the issue and help identify sources to reach out to. For example, police records led me to find local residents to interview.
  2. Before you approach private sources, gather information about their situation. Tell them what you know about the issue and ask  if they are willing to help you understand it. Chances are that some will open up and offer their own observations, which can enrich the story.
  3. Be open and honest when asking for information from official sources. Tell them what you are learning from interviews and data, and then ask them to share their perspectives.
  4. To find a third-party source, use the internet to locate researchers who have gathered and reported data.
  5. While covering a community, find the most knowledgeable local people  who know the most about the issue you are covering. They may refer you to a wider range of resources.
  6. A good story should center on people. Use numbers and other impersonal for context.

kqed

Sasha Khokha
KQED News(San Francisco Bay area, California)

  1. Reporters from every beat can cover hunger. Be knowledgeable about trends in your area.  
  2. Be open to the complexity of an issue. In the cases of poverty and hunger, many issues overlap, including race, geography, access and overall health indicators. Reporters should dig into these related issues.
  3. Hunger in America is different from hunger in other places. Here, obesity can be an important indicator of hunger, for example. Therefore, the medical community can provide useful sources for reporters.  
  4. Food banks can offer background information, as well as other important details and insight about hunger in an area. To find people who are experiencing  hunger, talk to trusted members of the community, particularly those who intersect hunger on a daily basis. That would include those who deliver or distribute food from a church or pantry.
  5. Always start a conversation by building common ground with a subject. Don’t start with statistics: “I understand that 60 percent of people are experiencing hunger in this community.” Instead, start with a life experience: “I understand you are receiving two bags of foods every week.”
  6. Don’t stereotype or pre-cast your story. For instance, a cluttered or filthy kitchen doesn’t speak to the issue of hunger. Leave it out. Similarly, drop preconceived notions. “OK, I need a single mom with several kids and no job.” Don’t make assumptions. Forget stereotypes. Be open. 
  7. Trust is important. Tell your sources why this story is going to help others and give them a voice.