Reaching out to people in the community and strengthening bonds with sources are crucial for journalistic success, said panelists at a virtual Society of Professional Journalists session about student journalists engaging with the people they interview.
Sarah Bennett, assistant professor of communications and media at Santa Ana College in California, spoke largely about how she emphasizes this concept in her classroom. She said she encourages students to communicate and be empowered in their education.
“Trust is a big thing that we talk about,” Bennett said.
Engagement is journalism, she said, and teaching this early on, means incorporating listening first and dictating what is important information the communities being covered need to know.
“There are so many wonderful newsrooms working on ‘community information needs reports,’” Bennett said. “I have worked with students every semester to tweak the language…but they are based on the Community-Centered Journalism book.”
Bennett said she uses Community-Centered Journalism, written by radio producer Andrea Wenzel, to teach students how to reframe the role of a journalist as a public servant who engages with their community.
Community storytelling shares not only what is happening in a community, but also who it impacts, she said.
“Our students really want to do this community storytelling,” Bennett said. “And the possibilities [for it] are endless.”
Bennett said she encourages young reporters to meet with sources face to face but said they should also be active online and on social media.
University of Southern California journalism professor Amara Aguilar agreed with Bennett and said her students found success by leaning into social media rather than shying away from it.
This allowed them to interact with the community [digitally] during the reporting process, she said.
“Really having these open questions and going in without an agenda is really effective in finding the pulse of your community,” regardless of the platform, she said.
A “human-centered” approach can change how journalists think about and conduct interviews, and lead them to do more than just focus on getting quick soundbites, Aguilar said.
She said journalists, both student journalists and professionals, should be versatile with their coverage and work to be representative of their communities.
“Sometimes it can be a lot about what we need [as journalists],” she said. “But this process lets us focus more on what [the] community needs.”