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Accessibility and accountability

Ensuring that a published work is accessible to the community, local team, and everyone you spoke with should happen throughout the reporting process. What we want to avoid is the default thinking that because stories often live online, that means that they are inherently accessible — that is not always the case. Think through how accessible your story is in terms of language, internet access, literacy, etc. (and not just to the people who you spoke to or worked with, but also to the communities you worked in).

  • Find creative ways to report, record, and publish. Think about all the ways a story can be shared. Are there different formats or avenues that are more accessible within a community? If you produced a documentary, could you host a community screening? If a particular social media platform is popular in a community, could you prioritize that platform for sharing? There are countless ways to repackage stories to make them more accessible — it’s just about getting creative.

Christopher Cheung said, “during the pandemic in Vancouver’s low-income Downtown Eastside, online news magazine The Tyee published a selection of stories related to the neighbourhood in a printed newsletter format. The newsletter was distributed throughout lobbies in the neighbourhood and was designed with larger text to ensure that it was easy to read. To this day, it’s not uncommon to see residents of the neighbourhood print out stories on their own and tape them to lampposts for others to read.”

  • Consider building additional resources. Increasingly, newsrooms and editorial staff are developing additional resources around their stories. This can take many forms, like teaching guides (PBS NewsHour’s Lesson Plans for educators), public talks (especially within communities and accessible to communities), behind-the-scenes (PBS FRONTLINE has an entire podcast dedicated to telling the story behind the story), and community forums for feedback and discussion. These are just a few examples of how you might consider creating a full suite of content around your project/story.

Yukari Kane is a founder of the Prison Journalism Project, which trains incarcerated writers in journalism and publishes their stories across the U.S. Kane said, “when we edit stories, we always keep an eye out for areas where we could create a handout to help our writers strengthen their craft. We’re trying to support the development of journalists. We don’t want to lower our standards, we want to help them get there.”

  • Consider translations. Your work might be published in a language other than the one that your interviewees speak. If they do not speak/read in the language of the final published piece, consider ways of translating and sharing the work.

    • Where possible, and if resources allow, news outlets can consider translating the full project. If that is not possible, consider building in time after publication with translators from your project to verbally share the story back to sources.
    • Ensure that any written forms and documentation, like release forms, are fully translated into the local language — especially if you are requesting signatures.
    • Where possible use text-on-screen instead of voice-over to privilege the language and voices of your interviewees.
  • Meet people where they’re at. This goes for all aspects of your reporting. Ask people about their experience with the media. Depending on their answer, this may mean that you need to provide additional context about why you are speaking with them and what will come from that conversation. Ask people how much time they have. Ask if there is a particular communication method that they prefer. Basically, shift your expectations and approach for each person you interview.

While speaking about City Bureau’s The People’s Guide to Community Benefits Agreements and Alternatives, Sarah Conway said, “instead of doing a story, we wanted to do something that would meet an information need. Explaining something that is a common barrier or frustration or problem for people and localizing how other people have dealt with it at a grassroots level.”

  • Interrogate your own feelings and motivations. Ask yourself why you are telling this story. This can help you identify your own preconceived notions/perceptions and help you better understand your relationship to the story, community, and people you are reporting on. In some cases, it may also help you identify biases and power imbalances, and help you avoid inaccurate, reductive, or stereotypical coverage.

  • Be accountable. Respond to concerns, questions, and comments. Be willing to follow up with sources to respond to any concerns that arise from your reporting, or the publication of your story. We try our best to get things right, but in the event that a source communicates an issue with the story, be open to addressing that concern.

Documentary film Writing With Fire is an exploration of truth, justice and the meaning of power, through the lens of an all-women’s newsroom led by Dalit women. Co-director Rintu Thomas said, “negotiating access is such a delicate and intentional process. You can have elaborate sign offs at the beginning, but accessing real consent is a consistent and continuous process that needs to be omnipresent from pre-production, to production, the editing and the distribution of the film. You’re constantly keeping people close by, so everybody understands what we are doing. And building in this active choice is integral to the sinews of making a film.”