Level Up: Reporting on Historically Marginalized Communities

Reporters are often told to find “diverse voices” for their stories, especially from marginalized communities. But what does that entail and what does that look like in practice? And how do you approach people without them feeling as if they are being exploited or tokenized? 

Watch the video above and read the comments below for advice from top journalists with NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo and NBC News NOW on reaching out to marginalized communities, bilingual reporting and more. 

Reaching out to communities

Sign up for our newsletter! Right Arrow

Zinhle Essamuah,“NBC News Daily” co-anchor: Never assume anything about the community or the individual you’re speaking with. Our job is not to speak on behalf of people. Our job is to pass the microphone. Make sure that that person is expressing their views. Ask questions that will get to the root of their ideology or their issue.    

José Díaz-Balart, MSNBC, “NBC Nightly News” and Telemundo anchor: I try to be familiar with as many communities as I can. You do that by in any and every way possible — listening to local radio, looking at the local press, but also speaking to people that you don’t know yet.   

Michelle Cho, “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” producer: Every time I start a story, I try to read the local coverage. See who’s spoken out to media, who’s been comfortable speaking out in the past.  

Brian Cheung, NBC News business and data correspondent: You have to know what the community looks like, what their day-to-day life is like before you even report on the impact of this news event.  

The important thing when you drop into a community is to just talk to people. One question that I like to ask is, “Tell me about what the outside world doesn’t know about this place? What is it about the people here that’s unique?”   

Alicia Menendez, MSNBC’s “The Weekend” co-host: What is at stake for these folks? What’s the biggest risk to them in sharing in an interview? This is particularly important in immigrant communities. Understanding what is at risk for them allows you to build safety and security into your interview.  

Vicky Nguyen, “NBC News Daily” co-anchor: Approach people the way you would want someone to approach your mother or your father or someone that you love and care about and that is with utmost respect and understanding. Not everyone is going to want to talk with you about a topic and that’s OK. You’ll find other sources but do your research. 

Bilingual reporting tips

Guad Venegas, NBC News correspondent: You’re speaking to humans, you’re human. Find that common ground when you come into the community. Make sure if you want to talk about a certain thing, you know how to pronounce whatever, to talk about [it] the right way.    

Gadi Schwartz, “Stay Tuned NOW” anchor and NBC News correspondent: If you’re bilingual, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand all the cultural nuances of a particular community. It is incumbent upon you to take your time to research that community. It’s best to do that in both languages.    

Sandra Lilley, NBC Latino managing editor: There are things that a person may be able to tell you in their native language that they may not be able to say in English. It gives you more of an added dimension to the story.  

Nicole Acevedo, NBC News reporter: Show that you took the time to research. Get to know where they’re coming from. It goes a very long way.   

Example: America’s Chinatowns: Inside the Push for Preservation

More tips from our experts
How to Report on Underserved Communities with Zinhle Essamuah 
Why Live Translation Is Essential in Journalism with José Díaz-Balart 
Tips for Bilingual Journalism with Sandra Lilley
The Truth About Name Bias