Total Community Coverage

October 27, 2008

People Count: Diversity Trumps Demographics in Election Coverage

Ultimately, elections are about numbers: Whoever gets the most votes (popular or Electoral College) wins. Therefore, it’s tempting for news organizations to view communities primarily as demographic blocks—essentially, as numbers.

The classic form for this type of election story is: “Here’s how Latinos are polling on issue X or candidate Y,” plus perhaps a few example anecdotes to make the story superficially appear to be more about people than numbers. This approach fits well with the too-easy horserace style of election coverage.

For instance, check out these recent stories…

It’s true that there is analytic value to quantifying politics through demographics. But when demographic polling becomes a news organization’s primary lens on a community’s politics, there’s also a danger. Demographics-focused stories may unintentionally promote stereotyping or even divisiveness because they prioritize characteristics over individuals in what is fundamentally a matter of personal choice.

When covering what local communities of difference think about political issues and the upcoming election, remember that these communities are comprised of people. Ultimately, democracy is about individuals. Therefore, individual community members can (and probably should) be routine sources of opinion, insight, and commentary throughout all of your election coverage.

Make sure that your stories about rallies, polling places, ballot counting, issues, commercials, campaign volunteers, and more includes a diverse base of sources.

For instance, when writing about candidates’ differences on energy policy, don’t just interview politicos and experts. The head of a Guatemalan-American family living in a rural trailer park would probably have a lot of interesting things to say about energy costs. So might an Asian-American college student living in a urban shared apartment. So might the managers of the local Jewish community center.

This approach offers the advantage of presenting communities of difference in a broader democratic context, rather than pigeonholing them. It also can make your election coverage more nuanced, lively, and less predictable. So go ahead and run the occasional demographics-based story—as long as it’s balanced by diverse sources throughout your coverage. Also, be sure to learn more about political diversity within communities of difference. (Here’s an example.)

October 20, 2008

Radio and Your Community Outreach Strategy

If your news organization wants to better engage particular communities, it helps to go where they are—rather than expect them to flock to you. If your news organization is trying especially to connect better with Hispanic and African-American communities, it might be a good idea to hit the radio waves…

Recently, reported that, according to research by Arbitron, “African Americans and Spanish-dominant Hispanics have the highest radio listening levels of all demographic groups, and continue to propel urban and Spanish-language stations to the top in major U.S. markets.”

When you’re trying to engage any community, it’s always easier to join a conversation than start one. In the case of reaching African Americans and Spanish-dominant Hispanics, consider how your news organization might build bridges or partner with local radio stations reaching these communities. This can demonstrate not just that you’re aware of them, but that you respect their media preferences and are relevant to them.

KDMC’s Total Community Coverage learning module discussed the ample possibilities for news organizations to reach out via local talk radio. But the possibilities extend beyond talk programming. If the leading radio stations reaching your local communities of difference offer mainly music or entertainment programming, talk to them to see how you might collaborate. This could include:

  • Contributing to or assisting with their programming (call-in shows, reviews, relevant headlines, etc.)
  • Featuring content or commentary from their staff or community in your venue (print, online, etc.)
  • Joint event sponsorships, or advertising on their station.

It’s possible you and your local radio stations share several goals for reaching and serving these communities.

(Thanks to Juan Tornoe’s Hispanic Trending blog for the tip.)

October 13, 2008

Knight News Challenge: Creativity Goldmine for Reaching Communities of Difference

The Nov. 1 application deadline for the Knight News Challenge is fast approaching. As a former News Challenge grantee, I’ve been mentoring several current applicants, helping them hone their proposals. Through this, I’ve discovered that the News Challenge Garage and the list of already-submitted public entries are a potential gold mine of talent and ideas for innovative projects that could serve all kinds of communities of difference…

The Knight News Challenge provides grants for experimental digital media projects that build or bind a sense of geographic community. Anyone, anywhere can apply. You don’t have to be “in the media business,” or part of a nonprofit or educational institution, or in the US to apply. This opens the doors for a level of creative thinking about media that goes beyond what I’ve seen elsewhere.

The Garage is an online community where News Challenge applicants can engage in public discussion about their proposals. This helps them sharpen their ideas, question their assumptions, and figure out the resources they’ll need before they finalize and submit their entires.

If you’re trying to figure out creative ways to use online or mobile media to connect with underserved communities in your coverage area, you really should take the time to peruse the Garage and the list of submitted entries. Even though only a few of these projects will receive News Challenge grants, many of them are very good ideas that could benefit your community and your news org. Also, many of the people behind these ideas might make good additions to your team as staff, freelancers, or consultants.

From a Total Community Coverage standpoint, here are a few News Challenge ideas that caught my eye:

  • Rural Information, Practices, & Peer Learning Exchange (RIPPLE). This existing online network seeks funding to expand. They currently offers rural communities “virtual tools to share ideas, find answers, and connect with experts on hosted discussion forums.” They wants to expand their services to rural Hispanic and tribal communities. Whether or not RIPPLE gets a News Challenge grant, if you want to reach rural communities of difference, you might want to explore working with or learning from Ripple.
  • Success Through Storytelling (STS). This project would establish “a central online hub for education news with five satellite sites operated by students attending four targeted under-served high schools and one school for adults in Stockton, CA. ...[We will] establish operating newsrooms in each school cover the surrounding community, telling stories that are over-looked by traditional news organizations. Stockton is a widely diverse community with four main high schools with majority populations of Hispanic, Black and Filipino students.”
  • Another existing site seeking to expand, explores St. Louis arts and culture with the goal of enhancing cross-cultural appreciation and understanding. This includes highlighting “the talent within St. Louis’s untapped Asian, African, Bosnian, and Latin communities.”
  • Mobile Crimesourcing in Mexico City. Sounds like something that might also apply to many urban inner cities in the US and elsewhere…

These are just a few intriguing projects that could serve communities of difference that I found in a quick search. Who might be hatching News Challenge ideas in your backyard—or that could benefit communities in your backyard? Might it make sense for your news org to get involved?

You can apply, too! Journalists and news organizations also can apply for News Challenge grants. If you have an idea that might meet their criteria, this could be an option to get the seed money needed to make it happen—no small matter in these tight economic times. I strongly recommend that you post your idea in the Garage today so you can benefit from the expertise of this community before finalizing your entry.

October 06, 2008

MySpace and Facebook: Gateway to Youth, Latinos

If you have (or know) teenagers or college students, you may have noticed that they’re MySpace and/or Facebook junkies. These social media service are powerhouses of online visibility. According to Alexa, right now MySpace is the Web’s third most popular site, after search giants Google and Yahoo. (YouTube currently ranks fourth, but then Facebook is fifth.) These services are not just for kids, struggling musicians, and attention-seekers. They’re actually direct conduits to the next generation of many important groups and communities that are often underserved by mainstream news…

If you’re not familiar with MySpace and Facebook, they both work in similar ways: You create a free account, and then collect “friends” (other users whom you know, want to know, or find interesting for some reason). By collecting friends, MySpace and Facebook users create their own unique virtual communities. They can communicate with their “friends” individually or en masse, and via groups that self-organize on either site.

Social media is geared toward individuals, but organizations and groups can have a presence there too. And many do, from companies and nonprofits to informal communities and clubs. This allows them to reach as many people at once as they care to have friends.

For example, many political campaigns (including Barack Obama and John McCain) have MySpace accounts—ostensibly to reach the younger voter base. Interest groups such as the Save Darfur Coalition are there, too. Even The Onion is on MySpace, which expands its readership and fan base considerably. The Orlando Sentinel is on MySpace, too. You’ll find a similar array of organizations and groups represented on Facebook, too.

Does your news org have a MySpace or Facebook presence yet? If not, you can sign up for free. It’s probably best to be on both services—but if you don’t have time for both, ask young people in your community (and especially youth from communities of difference) which service they prefer, and go with that first.

Once there, who might you “friend?” (Yes, on social media sites, “friend” is a verb.) You can friend whoever you wish. On MySpace, use the “find people” function to search for potential friends according to interests and more. Check for a city or neighborhood group near you. In Facebook it’s harder to search for friends or group by geography—but if you find a few local users or groups, check who they’ve friended for more leads.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to spend some time reaching out to people and groups on these sites in order to entice people to friend you. In social media, “If you build it, they will come,” almost never works. You’ll need to start engaging these users where they already are—by leaving comments on their pages, participating in forum discussions, etc.

If there’s a Hispanic presence in your region, consider also creating a presence for your news org on MySpace Latino. This Spanish-language site offers the same deep, rich, personal experience of MySpace, plus some extra interests highlighted (such as Latin music). If you want to reach millions of Spanish-speaking MySpace users all at once, consider advertising on MySpace Latino. You could have thousands of fresh eyes on your organization by this time next week.

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The Knight Digital Media Center has partnered with the Maynard Institute on this special workshop with the goal of helping news organizations develop strategies that will ensure their online content reflects meaningful interaction with “Communities of Difference.” By sharing ideas that support these communities as well as bridge them, we believe online news organizations can play a much greater role than their legacy counterparts in contributing to social and civic dialogue. Communities of Difference are defined simply as everyone who is not like me (or you). In this time of vertical associations built on personal interest and affinity, there is even greater need for horizontal connections or intersections.

This blog reflects the way four USC Annenberg graduate students interpret what they hear during the three-day workshop: Total Community in Cyberspace—Growing Your Audience. We invite you to comment on what you read or to contribute your own insight and ideas to the concepts we are discussing.

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