How to Find Underrepresented Voices for Your News Story

For NBC Nightly News, producer Michelle Cho recently put together a story about the challenges facing America’s Chinatowns. Cho says it’s important for journalists to include a variety of voices in their work.   

“Our country is built with different people from all over the world, who are voting, working and banding together to do anything that they can,” she said. “We want to shine a light on what they are dealing with, and why and how they got to where they are.” 

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Watch the video above, or read a summary of her remarks below, about finding characters — what TV journalists call on-air sources — from underrepresented communities.  

Tips for finding characters from underrepresented communities 

  1. Research the story thoroughly and look at previous local coverage in print and broadcast. 
  1. Find community activists who would be interested in speaking with you or connecting you with more potential sources. 
  1. Investigate the area you are covering using digital maps, then find local contact information for local businesses to find potential interviewees.  

How to persuade people to talk to you 

When approaching people, be comfortable with your elevator pitch. You’re not going to explain your story and what you want in five minutes; you want to do it in 15 seconds. You have to be concise, efficient and confident. 

The importance of a pre-interview 

Before Cho decides to include someone in her story, she asks them questions to get a sense of how they are as a speaker and if they’re receptive to sharing their story. If she decides to include them in an interview, then she’ll have a rough idea of what they are likely going to say. 

Characteristics that your on-air sources should have 

  1. They can speak well and are knowledgeable about the subject. 
  1. They give complete answers to your questions. You don’t want a five-word response to a question. 
  1. They are engaging on camera. 
  1. They are interested in sharing their story. There’s no point in forcing someone to speak when they aren’t willing. 

Gallery: NBC Nightly News’ Michelle Cho in the field

SPECIAL THANKS to David Lom, photojournalist, Ben Adam, audio engineer, Vicky Nguyen, NBC News senior consumer investigative correspondent, and Michelle Cho.