Words Matter: How to make your reporting and writing more inclusive

A group of girls poses for a photo during the Buffalo Grove Pride Drive in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, on June 6, 2021. Photo by Flickr user risingthermalsCC BY-NC 2.0.

SUNNYVALE, California — Call it a Pride takedown.

Late last month,  two Wyoming high schools drew attention for their responses to Pride month, a time that aims to promote the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and recognize the experiences faced by LGBTQ+ communities. 

Teachers and administrators at Natrona County High School in Casper, Wyoming, said they were pressured into taking down posters in support of Pride month. Students at NCHS also said that faculty disciplined, or “dress-coded,” students for wearing Pride-related clothing. 

Meanwhile, students who removed images and messages supporting Pride from classrooms at Powell High School in Powell, Wyoming, were not disciplined, though a teacher who displayed a Pride symbol in a classroom prompted school district officials to warn that teachers “are prohibited from doing so,”  according to a July 1 article in the Casper Star-Tribune.

While the Department of Education has affirmed that students are legally protected from discrimination at school based on sexual orientation and gender identity, both schools argued that expressions of support for Pride month could be curtailed if they were disruptive to other students, opening the door for administrators to impose limits on acceptable political speech on campus.

Young journalists often face contradictions  when it comes to talking about social and political issues. Curricula emphasize phrases like objectivity and unbiased coverage, but where do you draw the line? 

Inclusive and ethical reporting can help. By focusing a lens on individuals’ experiences and placing their stories within context, journalists can go beyond sound bites and break down barriers to understanding.  

Here are a few ways to do just that:

Diversify your team — sources included!

A more diverse student newsroom strengthens your school publication by creating opportunities for new coverage. As Lila Shroff, an incoming freshman at Stanford University, writes, “tell stories only you can tell.” 

Allow your reporters to explore topics that matter to their communities. Reframe differences as opportunities to see  different points of view. 

Build a bridge to other communities by publishing content in a second language, especially for audiences typically underrepresented in media.

Invite readers — especially those in affinity or solidarity groups —  to share their thoughts and experiences in opinion columns. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are any gaps in your current reporting. Remember that you’re not just reporting on communities — you’re  reporting on and for them.

Last but not least: Prioritize the details. Make sure to ask sources for their pronouns, and include  community affiliations (ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation, faith, disability) if relevant to the story.

Craft stories with style and awareness. 

The AP Stylebook may be the paragon of copyediting, but even the AP can have difficulty keeping up with fast-changing social issues and communities that aren’t always considered to be part of the media mainstream.

News outlets like KPCC/LAist are challenging themselves to emphasize inclusivity in their style guides. But you don’t have to create style on your own. 

If you’re in a pinch, consider referencing the Diversity Style Guide, a compilation of over 700 terms and phrases drawn from a spectrum of social issues and diverse communities.

For more nuance and context, go straight to the source. Organizations promoting underrepresented groups often write style guides and factsheets to help reporters accurately cover issues of race, indigeneity, gender identity and sexual orientation, disability, faith, and much more. 

Pro tip: Keep these resources on hand when doing pre-interview research and brushing up on terminology. Your sources will appreciate it, and it’ll help build trust in the long term.

Share your knowledge with your team.

Whether you’re a writer, photographer, visual artist, copyeditor or editor, covering a story is a team effort. Likewise, covering a story in an inclusive manner requires understanding, coordination and attention to detail all the way from pitch to publication.

Student newsrooms are unique in that contributors and editorial staff change from year to year, sometimes significantly .  When drafting a story, consider putting your research and other helpful resources in a Google Doc or another searchable, collaborative platform. Think of an in-house “Diversity/Inclusivity Guide” with notes on resources, events, campus groups and past actions.

Pooled diversity guides and updated style guides can also help save teammates with a specific racial or ethnic background from answering the same questions again and again. Maintaining these resources is not just good practice, but a sign you’re giving stories the attention they deserve.

Don’t be afraid to make some noise.

If you’re looking to cover a story that involves social issues but your school doesn’t want you to address it — or worse, to let your story run —get ready to exercise your right to freedom of the student press.

Success can vary. Support of your editorial and other student groups, or better yet, journalism adviser(s) and other teachers, can help lobby school administrators to reconsider their decisions.  Though the First Amendment applies to private school journalists in a more limited way than students at public schools, the Student Press Law Center can guide both private and public school journalists facing censorship, including prior review and/or restraint.

Regardless, know that if your work reflects the realities faced by students on campus, then it’s a story that deserves to be told one way or another. If all else fails, consider reaching out to another local media outlet or an education-focused organization — like Global Student Square — to get the story out there.

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but we hope it sparked some inspiration for you to challenge yourself and your newsroom to practice more inclusive reporting. If you have more tips you’d like to share, tweet them at us @GSSVoices and @NewsroomBTB and we’ll share them onwards!

This story is republished at Global Student Square, Newsroom by the Bay’s sister program.

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