Whether you’re a seasoned journalist covering the same beat for years or a citizen journalist reporting on your hometown for the first time, it’s possible to miss a great story because you know your subject too well.
Babatunde Akpeji, a multimedia journalist and ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow trains community members in Nigeria’s Niger Delta to report on health, environment and development issues that wouldn’t get covered otherwise. Akpeji, who has a long background of covering health in Nigeria, offers these tips for journalists who want to bring a fresh perspective to their reporting:
Look at your community as a stranger would.
“If you live in one place for ten years, there are things that require your attention, but because you’ve gotten used to them, you may not see anything to tell a story,” Akpeji says.
The same goes for a beat. When you have been covering the same dysfunctional bureaucracy so long that you’ve become an expert on it, you get used to things. Look at what’s still not working and ask why it’s not. What is the impact on individuals, and the community, when the same problems keep cropping up? Looking at your beat as if you just arrived there can help you to seek, and find answers.
“Read as much as possible,” Akpeji says. “Read other people, read journalists, read other blog pages from other citizen journalists.” This gives you a glimpse of other perspectives. What are they not seeing, that you know, or that should be told? What questions are they raising? And what are the ramifications of what is happening in your region, and your beat, globally?
Leave yourself out of the story
“You should try to divorce yourself from the stories,” Akpeji says. “You write it without your sentiment, without your emotion, but something has to be done.”
Most professional journalists know not to editorialize. But sometimes it’s not what you’re saying, but what you’re leaving out, that’s the problem. If you have personal concerns about a story – that you will upset a source, for example, or that you are telling a secret everyone knows but has tacitly agreed to leave unmentioned – you may leave part of your story untold. Step back and determine what is important for readers to understand about events and policies that affect them.
Then, tell them what they need, and deserve, to know.
In the video above, Akpeji shares more advice for citizen journalists and independent journalists.
Related reading: Tapping into sources of news in remote communities
Antigone Barton writes the Science Speaks blog for the Center for Global Health Policy. She is a former Knight Health Journalism Fellow in Zambia and a 2011 Global Health Reporting Fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.
ICFJ Communications Director Irene Moskowitz contributed to this post.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via n8.laverdure.