Journalists who are representative of the communities they cover can access the highest quality sources, discern compelling issues for local audiences, and rebuild trust with disgruntled readers. AT Global press, we see the benefits that arise when communities can relate to the stories and the journalists who write them. Several studies show a resemblance between those who work in a newsroom and those cited in the stories. This means that a lack of diversity in newsrooms contributes to the world’s lack of holistic and fair storytelling. In 2022, media that focus on improving portrayal will build lasting credibility with readers – who in turn are more likely to use coverage they can relate to and take action in their communities.
But improving representation is not a switch.
Over the past 15 years, we have identified, trained and hired over 200 women journalists from the communities they cover, in 40 news outlets around the world. It takes time and resources to break down barriers for talented applicants who may not live in an urban center or lack a mainstream journalism pedigree (one of our featured reporters in Mongolia, Odonchimeg Batsukh, is an epidemiologist from Arkhangai province who has achieved unparalleled coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic). It also takes a sustained investment in safety, security and well-being to responsibly care for a global corps of locally representative journalists.
Yet the benefits of representation far outweigh the investments required. For example, another Global Press reporter in Mongolia, Khorloo Khukhnokhoi, recently published a high school virginity testing survey – sparking real change after years of inaction. Before its history, even the forceful judgments of respected institutions had left the authorities indifferent. For several years, the United Nations has systematically condemned the practice as an “act of violence which degrades adolescent girls, causes them psychological trauma and violates their sexual rights”, to little effect.
But Khorloo’s story struck a chord in his community. His reporting sparked calls for grassroots reform and ultimately led the Mongolian ministries of education and health to pass new disciplinary regulations for the institutions that perform the tests. Khorloo’s ties to his community have been central to the production of this powerful story. She found a lead at a school in Erdenet, her hometown, and had access to sources that trusted her enough to tell her their stories. His report, which was published not only in English for our global audience but in Mongolian to reach local audiences, sparked action precisely because Khorloo is a credible messenger who takes the pulse of what matters to his community.
Across the world in the small Mexican town of San Francisco, just north of Puerto Vallarta, another Global Press reporter, Maya piedra, Also posted a hard-hitting story in 2021 that took advantage of its local familiarity. As tourists and business ventures swarmed the small coastal town of San Francisco, local fishermen struggled to compete with commercial outfits. Maya’s article exposed the damage to marine ecosystems from overfishing and illegal trade nets that have wiped out fish populations. Its story, based on interviews with local fishermen who were previously hesitant to speak up, prompted local businesses to come together and market fish caught using sustainable methods, such as traditional hand-line fishing, under a seal of certification.
Readers have moved beyond the old argument that the closer you are to a story, the less objectivity they need to be – the industry needs to move beyond that as well. When we hire reporters who speak local languages and deeply understand the nuanced perspectives of the communities they cover, the sources tie in with the stories. And when they identify with the stories, they begin to trust, which is the foundation for concrete community action. This powerful approach is what is so often needed to rebuild trust between the media and the communities they cover. The New Year presents our industry with an exciting opportunity to invest in growing representation, helping communities see themselves in media coverage and making journalism relevant, engaging and impactful.