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Times change: Journalists benefit by emulating bloggers and bringing self to story

99park—sportsjournalists

Illustration by Greg Storey

There was a time when all a blogger wanted to be was a mainstream journalist. I’ve been there—way back in my college days I remember walking the floor after Montana basketball games,  recorder in hand, talking to players so I could go back to my blog and write an AP-style story.

And this was after walking out of the student section, back in 2009.

The thing is, in 2021, reporters would benefit as much jumping into the figurative student section as a blogger does jumping into mainstream media settings. In choosing writing to read, audiences want to hear from someone with a similar perspective.

Angel Jennings, assistant managing editor for culture and talent at the Los Angeles Times, put it well as part of 2021 Power of Narrative conference hosted by Boston University.

Via NiemanStoryboard:

We are taught to not bring ourselves into our work — like we don’t have to bring ourselves into the work. Objectivity and neutrality are the backbone of journalism and we should definitely strive for those things. At the same time, truth and fairness should be more at the forefront of telling stories that actually elevate communities and people — and those are human experiences.

She continued:

Being in the community. That’s the easiest way to build trust. And you don’t have to live there to be there. […]

This is not just about communities of color. This is true if you’re covering the cop beat or city hall or all these stories about policy and politicians. At the heart of them, they impact people who live – taxpayers, residents, people who call this community home, who elected these people to these positions. So you should really be out in the community trying to find and put people into your phone, grabbing numbers, business cards, so when something happens, you have a Rolodex of just ordinary people that you can reach out to and help you to add context to a story.

For many bloggers, or online writers without traditional access, they have that context and those experiences—or can find it.

The important thing for these folks to remember though is the fact that they do, and they should lean on it. If you’re writing on a subject and not leaning on your own experiences in the area, your own context, you’re leaving meat on the bone and missing out on an opportunity to build trust with your readers—with your community.

You don’t have to pretend you’re not a kid who just hopped out of the student section. Because sometimes, that’s what people are looking for.