‘Get out there’: 4 strategies to improve and diversify housing coverage

Millions of residents in the U.S. risk losing their housing as a federal moratorium on evictions is expected to expire at the end of the month. Journalists who cover this critical situation have an opportunity to break out of old habits.

That starts by reporting through an equity lens, said panelists at a National Press Club Journalism Institute event on Friday, which featured:

  • Michael Brice-Saddler, who covers D.C. government and politics for The Washington Post’s Metro desk
  • Alexandria Burris, a business reporter for the IndyStar in Indianapolis who covers corporations, real estate, and development
  • Lauren Lindstrom, a reporter for the Charlotte Observer who covers housing and homelessness, and a 2019 Report for America Corps member 
  • Dan Reed, a writer, urban planner, and community advocate published in the Washingtonian, New York Times and other publications
  • Moderator: Kriston Capps, a writer for Bloomberg CityLab focused on housing, architecture, and the built environment

Rethink whose perspective gets top billing

“When we talk about housing, we talk about it from the point of view of the developer, or, you know, the white residents who come to the council meetings, and that’s where the coverage stops,” Burris said. “There really needs to be a change in how we think about our journalism, the mindsets that we use, how we understand our communities, and why people live where they live.”

Tip: Aim for a balance of sources by asking who is missing from the conversation.

Know who you’re reporting for

“Looking back to a lot of the editors who were here [at the Washington Post] decades ago … you have largely white male editors so you’re thinking through that lens,” Brice-Saddler said. “And the tide has shifted so drastically now but I don’t think that, in a place like the Post that has been around for so long, it’s completely been eradicated. So I think a lot of the duty does fall on reporters sometimes to make sure we’re righting that ship and we’re remembering who we’re reporting for and why and what audiences we’re prioritizing and why.”

Tip: Think beyond the subscribers and consider the people you are centering.

Explore territory away from the familiar neighborhoods

“I would really push it on younger reporters to get out there and put some miles on your car, or some money on your metrocard,” Reed said. “Get out there beyond the neighborhoods that are familiar, beyond the neighborhoods that the papers are talking about — and even out into the suburbs — and to really try and get as full a picture as possible as how the region works.”

Tip: A regional story can have impact well beyond the epicenter.

Understand that every neighborhood has a past that impacts the present

“Being new to the city, it’s been incredibly useful to get to know elders in neighborhoods — either neighborhood associations, religious organizations, or community organizations — to try to inform my reporting with historical context,” Lindstrom said. “So much has changed in Charlotte in the last even 10 years, much less 30 years, that you could really look at the city now, and ignore a whole lot of history and do a big disservice to readers.”

Tip: Seek out background information from people who have lived through the local history.

To learn the panelists’ tips for pitching to editors, interviewing sources, and navigating complex financial topics, watch the program here:

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