We tell stronger, better-informed stories when we sample a variety of perspectives on what we’re covering. The best reporting draws on the experiences of experts, influential figures and laypeople from across the demographic spectrum.
A story could accurately claim, for example, that unemployment in the Washington, D.C., metro area in the fall of 2011 was quite a bit lower than the national average. But that fact would probably ring false to a resident of the city proper, where the unemployment rate was considerably higher at the time. And such a story would describe a world vastly different from D.C.’s Ward 8, which had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Any of these vantage points could make for a technically accurate story. But drawing on all of them allows for a much more nuanced report. Means and medians can be informative, but true insight often comes from surveying experiences all along the spectrum.
If we’re perceived as being unfair we not only risk losing the trust of our audience, we also put our reporting at risk. All individuals we report on should be able to trust that we’ll be fair not just in how we present their views, but in how we seek those views. This means we give those whom we cover the opportunity to respond to critical allegations in our reports, or to explain themselves when we suspect they’ve given us inaccurate information.
When sources — even those involved in some of the most controversial issues of the day — trust that we’re even-handed, our work benefits.
To present a complete picture of the world, NPR needs to cover a broad range of stories that will interest all sorts of people. So while it’s natural to notice news that relates to events or issues you’re personally interested in, it’s also crucial to ask yourself what other people – people who would disagree with you, who live in other parts of the country, who have had vastly different life experiences from yours – would consider news. This is especially critical if you and your colleagues share similar backgrounds and points of view; a lack of diversity among employees will lead to less varied story lineups. For our coverage to be truly diverse, it needs to reflect the views of many different groups. We talk to people from different political, socioeconomic and racial groups, and from different parts of the country and world. And factor the prominence we give certain stories into your thinking; regularly ask yourself which themes we might be overplaying and which we might be overlooking.
For example, in a city where traffic and pollution are big problems, reporters, editors and producers who daily drive in that traffic may want to pursue a story about whether a higher national gas tax would encourage people to buy smaller cars. But an equally valid option might be to look at whether a higher national gas tax would unfairly punish drivers in rural areas who have to drive a long distance for work and to go shopping for food, or those who need pickup trucks to do their daily work.
So you not only need to look at all the different angles of a story, but at all the different possible stories that help to fill in the picture of what’s taking place across the country or around the world.
When we say our reporting is complete, it means we understand the bigger picture of a story – which facts are most important and how they relate to one another. It’s unrealistic to expect that every story should represent every perspective on an issue. But in our reporting, we must do our best to be aware of all perspectives, the facts supporting or opposing each, and the different groups of stakeholders affected by the issue. Only then can we determine what’s best to include in the time and space we have.
Hearing from a variety of people makes our journalism stronger and more complete. In our reporting, we seek various perspectives on an issue, as well as the evidence supporting or countering each one. We try to understand minority viewpoints as well as those of recognized authorities; we don’t ignore perspectives merely because they are less popular.
Those individuals whose roles give them an outsized influence in how events play out will necessarily receive more attention in our news coverage. But it’s important for our audience to hear from a variety of stakeholders on any issue, including those who are often marginalized.
Realize that different communities – online and offline – have their own culture, etiquette, and norms, and be respectful of them. Our ethics don’t change in different circumstances, but our decisions might.
The foundation of respect in reporting on any community is awareness. Strive to be knowledgeable about the culture, and be attuned to gaps in your understanding. Often your colleagues can be a terrific resource to help you get up to speed on unfamiliar settings.
Consider as well how your conduct in a community will affect your reporting. As you adjust behaviors such as language and dress in different situations, think about what might be most helpful or harmful to effective reporting.
Also, appreciate that journalism can be an intrusive act, and conduct yourself as a decent guest of the community where you’re reporting. If the customary etiquette is to remove your shoes upon entering a building, for example, it’s appropriate to oblige.
And of course, factor in your own security. In unstable situations, for example, journalists can be targets of violence. At such times, the most appropriate consideration may merely be blending in. As always, we rely on your good judgment.
NPR journalists show sensitivity when seeking or using interviews of those affected by tragedy or grief. That’s especially true when we’re dealing with children, anyone who is nervous about being interviewed, individuals who have difficulty understanding us because of language differences, and those who might be putting themselves in danger by speaking to us. If interviewing a witness to a crime, we must weigh carefully whether we are exposing the source to physical risk by identifying him or her by name as a potential witness, and whether there is potential for the individual to be accused as a participant.
“Sometimes when you’re talking with people living under coercive or oppressive governments, you know that they’re putting themselves at risk,” says Scott Simon. We consider it our duty to make sure they are aware of the potential ramifications. And even if they are fully informed and willing to go on the record, we may determine it’s still best not to reveal their names on the air or online.
Recall NPR’s mission: “to create a more informed public, one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.”
As an NPR editor once wrote, “Our decisions about what to cover will be made with intelligence and imagination, seeking coherence and meaning amidst the jumble of events.”
Whether producing a show or a home page, a radio segment or a video story, we distinguish our journalism by striving to reflect the full spectrum of world events and human affairs, not just a single facet.