Tina Lee

382. Diverse newsrooms can act as fact-checking resources

It’s not all high-profile meetings and running through airports for reporters who work internationally.

They need on-the-ground help to find a place to stay, a reliable translator if they don’t speak the language fluently, maybe even a driver to help get to and from their interviews safely.

Hostwriter is designed to help reporters that aren’t backed by a major mainstream media organization find all of those resources, says Tina Lee, who runs the organization’s ambassador program.

The idea is that if a reporter taps into Hostwriter’s resources, he or she will be willing to provide the same assistance to an international reporter in their own town should the need arise.

It’s not always easy for a reporter to gain access to on-the-ground information, due to cultural differences, difficulties in passing through borders and other challenges that might not be obvious to some.

But, as Hostwriter is exploring in its new book, Unbias the News: Why diversity matters in journalism, international journalism and why having a diverse newsroom can help ensure not only better, more widespread coverage, but can identify bad reporting practices.

“Sometimes you don’t see something because it’s not in your background,” Lee says.

For example, one of the book’s authors is of Afghan-Austrian descent and writes about being a war correspondent in Afghanistan. He was concerned when he read another reporter’s account of an in-home interview conducted with a teenage girl.

“He knew it was impossible for someone to get this conversation,” due to differences in culture and religious practices that would not have permitted a family to leave their teenage daughter with a man not related to them. “That’s (a story) an editor might like. If they had someone on the team (familiar with the culture), it might raise questions. Someone might be persuasive and have great access, but someone might also be making this up.”

It’s not limited to international reporting, she stresses.

“Think about the way issues that primarily affect poor people are covered,” she says. “Or the way that issues that primarily affect sex workers are covered. Often when sex workers are murdered, it’s not even in the newspaper. If a non-sex-worker woman gets killed, it would be in the crime section. Public transportation issues don’t get covered in the same way because maybe journalists don’t use public transportation. It pays to have (a wide variety of) people on your team because it affects your community. It’s a matter of trust.”

Producer Michael O’Connell is joined by Tina Lee, head of the ambassador program for Hostwriter and editor-in-chief of a new book, Unbias the News: Why diversity matters in journalism. This week, they discuss the book and why diverse newsrooms can poke holes in too-good-to-be-true reporting and how hiring people from a variety of backgrounds provides better and deeper coverage.

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