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Achieving balance with interviews

We hear a lot about mainstream media bias and the idea that true journalistic objectivity is a myth. Many citizen media outlets attempt to transcend that debate by providing news from a distinct perspective, one that is neither totally dispassionate and neutral or an all-knowing “voice of God.”

But the choices we make about interviews — which people to interview and what to ask them — make a big difference in the final product.

Interview tip

Balance doesn’t always mean including the same number of “pro” and “anti” voices. Few stories have only two sides.

Balance doesn’t always mean including the same number of “pro” and “anti” voices. Few stories have only two sides. The key is to make sure that the range of perspectives you provide your audience best serves their understanding of the issue and best represents a genuine variety of stakeholders.

“You can’t conveniently exclude information that contradicts what you’re going to say,” says Alyssa Katz of The Eminent Domain, a site that takes an activist stance on development in New York neighborhoods but isn’t afraid to present a full range of viewpoints. In fact, addressing all aspects of an issue makes an advocate’s argument stronger, she says.

When a hate crime left several teenagers dead and devastated Long Island’s Ecuadorean community, People’s Production House of New York City helped one of its citizen-journalist trainees, an Ecuadorean himself, document the response.

Kristofer Ríos, who trains citizen journalists, recalls the powerful audio that Ecuadorean immigrant José Gomez recorded at a community vigil: “They identified with him. People weren’t cautious to speak to him.”

But Ríos and another trainer, Abdulai Bah, asked themselves how Gomez could make the story, “Hate Crimes Against Immigrants,” more balanced. “There are no two sides to a hate crime,” Bah says. “But we had to tell José that he should get sound from the larger community in Long Island that might not be the victim’s community.”

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