When using an empowerment journalism approach, trust is the number one pillar. Here are some ways that you can build trust and relationships within the communities you are reporting in:
Start with one story. When you are reporting in a community where you have little to no connections, start with a single well-reported story. And then come back.
Emilee Gilpin, Senior Communications Advisor and Community Storyteller for Coastal First Nations, was a reporter and special advisor for Canada’s National Observer’s ‘First Nations Forward’ series. She said, “a lot of it was based on relationships…I would go and show up and do the story and if I did it in a good way I would often be invited back and I just built that network from the ground up.”
Do your homework. There are a lot of valid critiques about the harms of “parachute journalism.” Parachuting into a location, community, or story, without research, pre-reporting, building trust, or making connections (both professional and community-level) can be harmful, and can reinforce a legacy of harmful practices. Even if you are on a tight deadline, do as much pre-reporting as you can. If your deadline is same-day, or in some cases even quicker, consider filing and then following up with community members to continue building a foundation. This may also lead to more stories in the future.
Ask questions. Beyond your interview questions, have a conversation with your sources about why they are speaking with you.
Talking about Dementia Diaries, a UK audio/video project, creator Paul Myles said, “we start off the project saying, ‘This is your project. What is it about dementia that you really want to get across? What really pisses you off when you read about it in the media? What are the stereotypes? What should this project be about?’”
Don’t always call because you want something. Spend time getting to know the community you are working in. Talk to people. Attend community meetings/gatherings that are open to the public (or with permission). Show up at city hall meetings — even if you aren’t on assignment. Build connections and relationships so when you start working on a story, you have a foundation of trust and a built-in network. It is also a way to show the community that you care deeply about the issues, questions, and concerns they are facing.
Respect community/cultural protocols. This is an extension of “do your homework.” Learn and follow protocols throughout your reporting to ensure that your work is respectful and ethical — if you are unsure what they are, ask. Also, don’t assume that protocols are standard across all communities. And don’t assume that protocols are locked in time — things may change from one reporting trip to the next and it is your job to ensure that you are up-to-date.
Emilee Gilpin told us, “I would make sure to ask about place-based or Nation-based protocols throughout the process. I would ask people I interviewed how I could respect their culture and protocols in the engagement, as each person or community may have different notions of that. Some people would need to have certain voices included, whether a hereditary, traditional, elected leader, or would need to have certain permissions to share certain kinds of information.”