How to Report on Underserved Communities

Reporting on underrepresented and underserved communities can involve sensitive topics that require channeling your “soft” skills, like empathy and compassion. 

In the video above, NBC News and NBC News NOW reporter Zinhle Essamuah discusses her experience reporting on delicate subjects and what she does to connect with interviewees from disenfranchised communities not usually covered by mainstream media.

Tip: Establish trust with your interview subject

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“You have to look in their eyes, you have to make them comfortable,” Essamuah said. “I also try and keep in mind the larger context as to why they might be hesitant to talk to a media organization or journalist. I always try and make sure the person essentially knows their rights. To know what they’re answering and to know who they’re talking to.”

Tip: Be sensitive about language

“Allow the individual to self-identify themselves. What are your pronouns? How do you identify demographically? How do you identify socioeconomically? Those are things that are key to get right,” Essamuah said. “The worst thing you can do to someone who’s underserved, or underrepresented is misrepresent them.”

Tip: Be aware of areas where you may lack empathy

“That can be a hard thing to face in yourself,” Essamuah said. “But when you become aware of that, you can make an effort to learn more about a specific community or a specific issue. Knowledge can empower you to be more empathetic, it can give you the tools to do that.”

Tip: Don’t speak on behalf of people – pass the microphone

“As journalists, we deal with a lot of heavy topics. And over time, if we’re not mindful, they can start to feel far away,” Essamuah said. “It’s always important to remember as we’re talking to our subjects, that they are the people going through the crisis, that they are actively living through traumas. When we remember that, my hope is that compassion will grow.”

Tip: Take care of yourself

“Because we cover so many hard topics, it can be easy to lose hope,” Essamuah said. “Look at some trees, go hug someone, pet an animal. Those things make a big difference. My goal is to thrive as a person. I don’t want to just document how other people live, I want to live life fully.”