Review ways in which the presence of media might affect group behavior when planning coverage of public rallies, large-scale celebrations, demonstrations and protests. Be aware in real time of the degree to which the station's coverage might be fueling the intensity of any situation.
Explain newsgathering processes to audiences. Such transparency will likely add to the station's credibility.
Look for opportunities to employ writers, producers, reporters and others who are skilled in the use of social media. Stations that do have such people on staff should respect their voices and involve digital platform staffers when planning, gathering and disseminating information.
Strive to have your newsroom staffing reflect the communities your station serves.
Do not engage hostile voices that attack credible reporting via social media. Doing so will likely only inflame tensions and damage the station's reputation for fairness. There is no benefit to the station.
Provide as much support as possible for new members of the staff from regions with significant cultural or climate differences.
Be thoughtful about the treatment of racially sensitive issues. Identify the racial constructs that challenge the newsroom and seek ways to overcome. Who shows up in your newscasts? How are people of color typically portrayed in daily coverage? How often are individuals from ethnic minority groups included in discussions of topics other than race? Avoid treating racial and ethnic groups as enclosed communities that have one voice, one set of interests, one set of social norms and one way of being in the world.
Define your newsroom’s values. These might include such things as trust, accuracy, fairness, consistency, responsibility, sensitivity, respect, accountability, inclusiveness and diversity. Make these readily available for all members of the staff. Decide how will you measure your performance on these values. How will you hold yourself accountable to live up to your ideals? Goals without measurements and consequences are certain to fail.
Encourage a vigorous discussion of all facts and facets of a story among the newsroom staff. Respect diverse voices in the newsroom without expecting individuals to speak for large segments of the population. Who is in the conversation? How can your newsroom be certain that contrarian voices feel welcome to speak up? How diverse is the body of decision-makers who decide what and how your newsroom covers contentious stories?
Develop detailed plans to cover big stories when they break. However, avoid “false balance.” There may be many opinions about an issue or event, but not all sides are equally informed. Compile a list of “stakeholders” in a story to consider the many people or groups that may be directly affected by the issue or event. Who is included and who is excluded? Diversity may be reflected in your coverage over time. In big stories especially, consider developing a resource page – a collection of all the stories you have produced so far to show that you have given may voices and points of view the airtime they deserve.
Institutional knowledge is important and should be preserved when possible. However, consider the creation of a central database and/or repository for relevant information about various communities.
Develop a local set of practices for building relationships with law enforcement, military and civil defense agencies to describe how you work together when the time comes. Doing so will allow the newsroom to consistently perform at (or close to) its highest level of expectations under difficult circumstances. These can become defining moments for the station’s ability to connect with all segments of the audience and maintain credibility. This can be achieved by developing practices locally, borrowing procedures that have proven effective in markets of similar size and demographics, or some combination of the two.
Establish standard protocols and an emergency preparedness plan for covering highly volatile stories. These might address a range of issues from general newsgathering policies and procedures to staff safety to overtime.
Develop standards and processes for verifying the authenticity and accuracy of information shared via social media platforms as well as the identities and credibility of the people who share it. Identify a point person whose role is to make sure information from social media is properly vetted, even (and perhaps especially) during fast-breaking news situations.
Decide ahead of time the ways in which the station will own up to and correct mistakes made because of material collected via social media. Stations should be willing to show that they are as eager to own and correct errors as they are to report new facts.
Explain newsgathering processes to audiences. Such transparency will likely add to the station’s credibility.
Integrate fact checking into routine, real-time newsgathering processes.
Create a small strike force of knowledgeable people or a “program practices person” who can make sure information gathered or disseminated via social media meets the station’s usual journalistic standards. Decisions about the use of language can be shared with the entire team so that staffers understand why certain decisions have been made.
Respect divergent and dissenting voices, even though they may be disruptive. They help to identify real deficiencies that might undermine success. An effective way to deal with dissenters is to engage them as to how they might solve a problem.
Exercise caution when assigning stories based on perceptions about a reporter’s racial or ethnic identity. Any reporter can be held accountable for covering stories on his/her beat when intersections with racial angles occur. Some reporters from ethnic minority groups may not wish to be assigned to routinely cover an ethnic community of which they are a member, believing it to be limiting. Others might jump at the opportunity. Conversations about these topics are important when assigning beats.
Acknowledge that individuals self-identify in multiple ways, whether consciously or unconsciously. Identities come into play primarily in social contexts. Digging into self-identity can help individuals and the entire staff better understand the importance of identity for colleagues, news sources and members of the community. Identity includes the combination of such things as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, world view, educational background, socio-economic background, county/region/community of origin, etc. Deeper discussions of this and the application to news coverage can facilitated by a professional or someone from your HR department. However basic, straightforward conversations can easily be led by newsroom managers.
Foster an inclusive, respectful and tolerant environment where the skills, talents and opinions of all individuals are valued and utilized. Newsrooms function best when they are collaborative and collegial. Carefully crafted staff surveys can help determine how well you are succeeding at this and identify areas that should be addressed. It might be wise to work with your HR department or a consultant in developing such a survey.
Host consistent, inclusive discussions among the staff to create higher levels of openness and trust, improving the exchange of ideas. Consider including personnel from other departments in these gatherings. Their perspectives can be valuable and constructive. Not all such meetings need to be conducted by the news director, so long as the facilitator is a recognized and respected leader on the team.
Acknowledge that journalism is a career in which professionals frequently relocate for new opportunities. However, personal and professional adjustments can be difficult for those who do not feel a sense of belonging.
Create and discuss lists of terms that might carry a negative connotation.
Promote newsrooms that function as teaching and learning environments in which team members are encouraged to deepen and broaden their knowledge and competence. Training may be one of the most overlooked success tools for a newsroom, providing benefits to individuals, the news department, and the station overall. Well-trained personnel are better at their jobs. Training communicates elevated standards, improves team cohesiveness, increases productivity and lifts staff morale and satisfaction.
Invest time and financial resources in training. Consider options that present the best return on investment. This can include having managers and/or staffers participate in onsite training programs, sending managers and/or staffers to industry-sponsored training programs or hiring professional trainers for onsite programs. It can be most cost effective to train managers or staffers who can then conduct on-site training for colleagues, but make sure they have the skill to teach others.
Develop methods of measuring the quality of coverage of various communities (macro-level assessments), including benchmarks for evaluating how closely the newsroom adheres to its own standards. Local or nearby schools of journalism (especially those with graduate programs) can be excellent partners in developing these tools. In addition, the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (http://mije.org) and some newsroom diversity/inclusion consultants can assist.
Conduct self-audits and take a comprehensive look at news coverage, including such things as coverage of diverse communities and the inclusion of diverse stories and sources. They need not, however, be exhaustive attempts to review the station’s entire news report. Even a snapshot that looks at such things as the inclusion of stereotypes and negative language and portrayals can help improve coverage. Small-scale self-audits can be done in-house. A bimonthly review of a set of predetermined measurements will help the station improve coverage of communities of color and provide important data for an annual review.
Create structured processes for engaging the entire community as well as various segments within the community before a crisis or major incident occurs.
Develop a comprehensive database of diverse sources across a broad spectrum of topics, including experts, politicians, public servants, practitioners, professionals, activists, community organizers, etc. Journalists rely on sources to provide information about things that are occurring or may happen in the future, making source development essential. Foster in-person relationships with each of these sources to build mutual trust that can be counted on when needed. Social media can be valuable tools in identifying existing and emerging leaders.
Develop a list of organizations with which the station should maintain a positive, ongoing relationship and make plans to meet with their leaders. Ask for invitations to their meetings and invite them to visit the station.
Utilize internal and external focus groups and engage them well ahead of a crisis for assistance in addressing difficult questions.
Assign beats by zip code, allowing reporters to study and become familiar with the characteristics of the areas to which they are assigned and to become familiar with neighborhoods and the people who live in them. It is important for journalists to understand the political, economic and social dynamics of the communities they cover. This can be done in markets of all sizes without sapping already scarce resources. If reserves and resources are available, consider creating a community relations position.
Ensure that your storytelling addresses and reflects the diversity of your community. In-depth knowledge of your audience demographics will help.
Develop clear, concise guidelines about staff participation in groups where membership might present a perceived conflict of interest. Journalists are members of the communities where they work and often have social, religious, civic and other affiliations. While this is to be expected, journalists always represent their profession and the stations where they work. Journalists who are members of organizations should freely disclose those affiliations. An annual review of any such guidelines will help ensure they reflect current station, industry and community standards.