Solidarity reporting on marginalized communities is all about getting the story right.
Dominant reporting practices often focus heavily on elites, officials, and people with institutional status. The problem with this approach is that people who experience marginalization end up sidelined, ignored, and dehumanized in news stories about their own lives. For example, news coverage of immigration often leaves out the perspectives of people who are immigrating. Coverage of climate change minimally represents people affected by extreme weather. People experiencing homelessness are often nowhere to be found in coverage of homelessness. And COVID-19 coverage has quoted officials far more frequently than communities of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The list goes on.
This means that the people who know the most about an issue – based on lived expertise – are missing or minimized in news coverage. Solidarity reporting can help.
Is this a new kind of journalism?
Solidarity reporting is not new at all! Journalism history in the United States is filled with examples of solidarity reporting, dating back to the muckrakers, Black news outlets, labor press, social movement journals, and more.
Solidarity is “a commitment to social justice that translates into action.” In other words, solidarity is more than a feeling, attitude, or pledge – it is about taking steps, like the ones outlined below, to put promises into practice.
Solidarity can help at each stage of reporting, from pitch to publishing, including decisions about:
- Newsworthiness: What’s newsworthy? Who is newsworthy?
- Source selection: Who am I interviewing?
- Interviewing: What questions am I asking in interviews?
- Framing and word choice: How do I craft the story?
- Impact: What do I hope people learn from this story?
5 Steps of Solidarity Reporting
Step 1: Develop a story topic.
With solidarity reporting, a story is newsworthy if it involves a community whose basic humanity is being disrespected or denied. This means going beyond a single individual’s personal circumstances and looking at the bigger picture. Communities experiencing exclusion, systematic violence, or disenfranchisement are all examples of potential solidarity stories. If a group of people lack basic safety, shelter, healthcare, or food – there’s likely a solidarity story to report.
Step 2: Identify and start reaching out to potential sources.
Solidarity reporting means talking to people who are experts because they’ve lived the issue. These sources may not have titles, institutional affiliations, or official status. Instead, they have firsthand knowledge – which means they know what’s going on.
Researchers, policymakers, and officials might also be relevant to the story, but be sure to talk to folks experiencing it.
Not sure who to talk to? Take a look at what’s already been written on the topic you’re covering – both in your coverage area and in other places that may experience the same issue. Who was quoted in those stories? What social media presence do members of this community have? Are there organizations working with folks affected by this issue? Who has done work to understand and address the structural causes?
Think back to how you heard about this issue originally – did someone tell you about it? Who is involved and who is harmed? Are there places you can go to connect with folks in person?
Step 3: Interview sources who agree to be interviewed.
Reporters often ask members of marginalized communities “how do you feel about that?” but ask people with titles “what do you think about that?” Asking how people feel is worthwhile, but solidarity reporting means asking people affected by an issue for their thoughts on it and what they want to see change – not just eliciting their emotional pain.
Sensitivity and respect are key. Many marginalized communities have seen themselves, their elders, and their children dehumanized in major news outlets for years, which may make them uneasy about speaking with you. Be mindful that even if you’re new to covering an issue, journalism’s past disservice to marginalized folks is not new. Past harms run deep. Position yourself as committed to writing an accurate story – not a sensationalist one.
Step 4: Frame your story – and be aware of the significance of your word choices.
Solidarity stories are framed as community-wide issues. This means reporting the ways in which the issue is not just affecting just one or two unlucky or irresponsible individuals, but is systematically affecting an entire community.
Personal details may help you represent sources as people – just don’t lose the story in these details. Solidarity reporting explains that an issue is not isolated to one individual. Be sure to provide the backdrop of what contributed to this issue, not just a spotlight on a character.
Word choice matters. For example, calling someone an “inmate” or “convict” is significantly different from referring to a person who is incarcerated. Reporting in solidarity means paying attention to how people self-identify, the significance of the labels your story uses, and the norms in the community you’re covering. Explaining word choices can be a useful and important sidebar in many solidarity stories.
Step 5: Reflect on the impact of your story – regardless of how many views or shares it gets.
Journalism is often talked about in terms of immediate and visible impact. In “journalism mythology” conversations, journalism may get credited for societal improvements and blamed for setbacks. It is worth keeping in mind, though, that journalism cannot singlehandedly cause or halt social change. Journalism does, however, contribute to and participate in shaping the conversations we have as a society.
The impact of solidarity reporting is not just a matter of how many clicks a story gets. Consider the impact of solidarity reporting in terms of representation: remember, solidarity reporting includes people who may otherwise remain excluded from news coverage. Solidarity reporting can help a broader public understand social injustice and what can be done about it. Bringing perspectives, needs, and issues into public discourse that dominant forms of journalism have regularly excluded is no small feat.
Reflect on your impact in terms of the kind of service your reporting has provided. Solidarity reporting, like solidarity movements, accrue impact over a long period of time – and, unlike viral stories that spike and disappear, are more likely to have a lasting impact on society.
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