Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) community organizers, movement leaders, grassroots staff–– have you ever felt like you weren’t being heard in interviews, or wondered how to approach a reporter who misrepresented your issues? Whether the media has ever made you feel tone policed, erased, or that your community’s experience wasn’t being authentically reflected, you are not alone.
Coverage of environmental justice is still very low in newsrooms–– just 11.4% of corporate broadcast networks covered environmental justice stories in the past four years according to a recent report from Media Matters. In California, where one in four people live in “disadvantaged communities,” just .05% of newspaper stories cover their concerns, and .01% of stories cover water issues specific to disadvantaged communities.
While we have a long hill to climb, we also have a lot of room to help shape news coverage of BIPOC communities as the media focuses on greater inclusion.
After hearing about some partners’ common challenges of being misrepresented or feeling like they were “too much,” a couple of BIPOC staff at the Water Hub and Climate Nexus held a roundtable for other BIPOC in the climate space to share their experiences. There was real talk–– we held space, we shared common challenges, and looked to each other for wisdom. We could have covered so much more ground, but what we walked away with is that there’s a thirst for a space to share stories and experiences while working with the media, so there will be more talks to come.
One first step is our colleague, Marlene Peralta, hosting a panel discussion focused on how broadcast media is covering environmental justice stories. The talk will be moderated by a reporter from The Uproot Project, a network of reporters of color who cover environmental justice issues. If you have feedback you’d like to share to help inform these conversations, please email [email protected].
Media Tips for BIPOC-led Frontline Organizations
Working with the media starts with developing trust and relationships. To help, we put together these communications strategy tips (download the 2-pager here) to support frontline organizations that are shaping the narrative around the environmental injustices their communities face.
Build relationships with journalists
Establishing rapport with reporters is your best arm against misinformation, and reporters appreciate a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Identify reporters you feel have been doing coverage that reflects your community.
- Follow them on social media (Twitter is the place to be!). Get to know their tone, their beats.
- Reach out: Introduce yourself via email, listing the resources, experts, and stories you can offer.
- React to their stories (via email/Twitter) and when applicable offer story ideas as follow-ups that include your narrative, the impacts on your community.
- During Interviews:
→ Be upfront about your lived experiences before an interview. Don’t assume the reporter knows anything. This is a chance for you to educate them.
→ If you are not comfortable doing interviews yet, it is ok to move at the speed of trust – offering information off the record or on background could be a good start.
- Establishing agreements with reporters: Off the record means the information you give to the reporter cannot be used for publication. This is an opportunity to establish trust with the reporter by giving them a taste of valuable information. On background means the information can be published under your conditions. Those rules must be established before giving reporters any information. It is also helpful to repeat the rules throughout the conversation.
Request story corrections
- Identify the reporter who did the story and/or the assignment desk email. A simple google search like “KPNX- TV assignment desk” can help you find names and email addresses.
- Write an email listing a link to the story or at least the title and date it ran.
- State clearly and politely how the story misinforms or mischaracterizes the community.
- Offer helpful background with links that support your arguments (lack of background is often the reason reporters make mistakes).
- Add “requesting a correction” to the subject line to get immediate attention.
Write letters to the editor (LTEs)
- Letter to the editor are a good way to react to a story and insert your narrative.
- They are a direct response to an article published in a newspaper, and typically need to be submitted within 3-5 days of the original.
- They are very short, usually about 200 words in length.
As the water movement’s pro bono nonprofit communications and digital shop, we’re always here to help. Email [email protected] if you’re looking for free interview prep, how to respond to stories in the media, or other communications needs.
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