It is important to get voices of people whom the issue you cover somehow relates to. Therefore, it is important to enter the community itself when covering migration and/or development issues. Find tips and suggestions how to do that.
You were finally able to get into the field, eager to cover the real story in a balanced and accurate way. To do so it is vital that any piece about any group, be it a minority or indigenous community, or migrants or refugees, or people living in poverty, should be based on interviews with representatives of that group, and include their perspectives.
Otherwise, they become the objects of the article rather than its subjects. And to make it more complicated – you should also think whose views are relevant for the whole group, and to what extent. But first you need to get into the community itself.
In order to secure those interviews, you will need to try to build strong relationships of trust. There are, for example, many sensitivities to consider when working with migrants, especially those who belong to a minority or indigenous community – especially if you are unfamiliar with the culture and people.
Here you can checklist based on Reporting Diversity Manual – they could help you to make contact with members of minority community, but can be used for other social groups as well.
- Can you arrange for another member of the minority group to introduce you? Your interviewee will be more comfortable if you have been introduced by somebody they trust. You may even want this person to be present for the whole interview.
- Are you able to communicate in a language in which your interviewee is fluent? They may not be able to communicate their story so effectively if they have to use English or another second language. You may need to use a translator.
- Have you briefed your interviewee about the purpose of the interview and how it will be used? You may like to use a consent form of some kind to explain this and record their agreement.
- Everybody has prejudices – even the most open-minded people. Are you aware of any biases or prejudices you have about the minority or the story? If you have recognized your own prejudices, you can prevent them from influencing how you carry out the interview or write the story. For example, you may unconsciously make assumptions about someone’s viewpoint; you should make sure your story is based on what they tell you, rather than on such assumptions.
- Are you aware of any terminology that is relevant to their situation? You may need to understand local names for the group and its customs; perhaps they prefer to refer to themselves by a different name than that used by the majority community. You might also need to be familiar with local or national policies and institutions which feature in their story.
- Remember that minorities are not monolithic entities. Does your piece show that your interviewee is an individual with their own life, not just a representative of a minority? Try to interview more than one person from the community if you can. Otherwise, your audience may make assumptions about a whole group of people based on your interview with one person.
- Does your subject wish to place any conditions on the interview or photograph(s)? They may wish to be kept anonymous, or for you to use only their first name. They may prefer you not to mention where they live or other personal details. They may refuse to be photographed. Accept their requests and honour them. Such requests may be because of a lack of confidence, or they may be necessary to ensure your interviewee’s safety.
- Have you arranged to meet in a place where they feel comfortable? If you can meet people in their own environment (for example, their home or work), they will feel more relaxed, and may reveal more than they would in an unfamiliar setting. It may also help you to understand their perspective better.
- Because of their experiences of discrimination, people may be uncomfortable talking to a journalist from outside their own community. Is your interviewee nervous or uncertain? You will need to be sensitive and find a way to put them at their ease. For example, you could do some ‘small talk’ about the location or the weather, before carrying out an interview.
- Have you made it easy for them to meet with you? Consider any constraints which make it hard for them to come to you – for example, they may have a disability which makes it hard to travel; they may be a single parent and unable to leave their children alone at home.
- Will it cause problems if the interviewee is seen meeting you? Meeting you may put your interviewee at risk of being judged or even attacked, by their own community or others. Make sure you arrange a meeting place which is private and confidential if necessary.
- Are you behaving in a way which respects your interviewee’s culture? Learn in advance about their cultural norms. You may need to pay attention to details such as how you sit, your body language, and the clothes you wear (you should consider any modesty codes within their culture, and perhaps avoid wearing expensive clothes which might be intimidating to some groups). Some European fashions draw on police or military uniforms; we might even wear ‘camouflage’ style fabrics without thinking about what that could imply to the interviewee. Think about what inadvertent signals the style of your jacket or shirt may send.
- Are you familiar with the minority community’s values? For example, you might need to be aware of what role women play in families and the wider community, or of cultural practices like female genital mutilation. These might be issues you want to explore, or you might want to steer clear of certain areas.
- How is your interviewee affected by religion, education, gender or other issues? Think in advance about these topics and do any research needed.
- What do you know about their lifestyle? For example, if they come from a nomadic pastoralist community, do you know what that means in practice? If you are unsure, you should research or ask them to explain, rather than making your own assumptions.
- Are you letting them tell their stories in their own way? Make sure you have enough time for them to speak at length if they need to. If, for example, they seem to be digressing, you should allow them to continue – you may find that the most important and unexpected details are revealed in this way.
- Be respectful of local decision-making structures. If your fixer insists that you must visit the local elders or a refugee camp committee in order to explain your purpose and get their permission, you must follow that advice. Show these people the respect they are due. You could otherwise risk being interrupted or even put those whom you interview in danger. Besides, anything less, i.e. just walking into a local context, could be interpreted as highly neo-colonial.
- Are you able to be flexible about the format and content of the interview? If your subject reveals a new perspective on the story which you weren’t aware of, you should be able to explore that further, rather than sticking to your own scripted questions.
- Remember that your subject understands their own situation much better than you do. He or she is an expert on their own life. Are you listening so you can tell their story to your audience, rather than judging your subject or preaching to them?
- Does your interviewee know any other people who might be willing to be interviewed? This can be one of the best ways of finding new sources for your work.
You can find this checklist also in section Checklists where you can also download it in pdf format.