Build trust, spend time, reach new audiences

By Dakota Crawford
Ball State University

There’s not an easy way to cover unfamiliar communities. There’s no algorithm for building trust with previously uncovered sources and there’s no covering up perceived divides between reporters and new contacts.

The challenges in connecting with new audiences are numerous, but the payoff is worth it, said Alfredo Carbaja, managing editor of Al Día, The Dallas Morning News’ Spanish publication.

“We know quality isn’t easy, and it’s not cheap,” he said. “I really like the idea of flipping the coverage and thinking about how to portray some of the communities that are traditionally under-covered in our area.”

On Saturday during an #Editors3d conversation, Carbaja and a group of editors discussed challenges that come with finding and engaging new readers.. It was a group that sees promise — some light at the end of a dark tunnel — despite the hurdles they’ve seen.

“We had three reporters; middle-aged white guys,” one editor said, referring to coverage in Ferguson, Missouri. “We all kind of looked like cops to them.”

Another pointed out the importance of being embedded in communities all the time, not just when tragedy occurs. It can lead to a lack of trust with new readers, which he said is detrimental. That’s hard to do, given the trend of downsizing newsrooms.

On the same note, another editor cited the importance of recruiting the right reporters for connecting with new audiences. “That’s a key part of this,” he said.

“But it can’t be just a few black, brown and a few white [reporters]” another responded. “It’s all about skills.”

Suki Dardarian, senior managing editor and vice president at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, said culture inside the newsroom is important too. For her staff, one mental change started with changing slugs on stories.

The Star-Tribune covered terrorist groups’ recruitment of Somali residents in Minneapolis. The first slug was “Somali.” That evolved to “terror,” and as the staff challenged itself to really think about the core of the story, it became “recruiting.”

It’s all about having some level of empathy, and locking in with the audience’s needs.

Carbaja walked into a room “full of empty chairs” 13 years ago when he helped start Al Día. Now he works with a staff of 11 writers to cover the Spanish community in the Fort Worth and Dallas metro area.

He said his staff has spent time — with lunches in the newsroom, for example —  getting to know new sources. Those conversations helped his staff key-in on the Spanish community’s needs. Then, it’s about taken common myths and assumptions, “stuff about this side of town, or that side of town,” and deconstructing them, he said.

It all takes a lot of time. But it’s worth it, and it’s necessary to  engage with ever-growing, and often uncovered audiences.

“Deeper sourcing, that is the key element,” Carbaja said. “We need to go back to a lot more people, and spend time with them.”

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