TO ACHIEVE IMPACT.
Fair Chance Reporting started as an experimental "Source Logging" project for a journalism class at Michigan State University. Students were asked to use a simple log to keep track of the people they interviewed and to see whether all the groups in the community was being covered.
Our one-class test grew into an initiative. We train students to use tools and data to practice Fair Chance Reporting. At the end of each semester, we ask students to share their reflections and how intentional coverage of their communities has impacted them as journalists.
As young reporters, many say that deeper interviews are difficult. Their feedback helps us improve the tools and refine our practices. Still, several say that Fair Chance Reporting works. And all of them say that they think more about sourcing and interviewing people from across the communities they cover with intentionality and impact.
Inspired by students
My experience with the Fair Chance Reporting project in Journalism 300 was great. The sourcing log used during my semester was simple enough to get data but detailed enough to be able to see a lot of information about who the class spoke to. I thought it was very cool to be able to compare data with the Census to see if our class was representing the community being interviewed.
Sometimes people gave me their email or phone number and did not want to give both, or declined to answer their political leaning. I never had anyone get annoyed or upset with the questions, only occasionally ask why we wanted that sort of information. I was always happy to let them know the sourcing log was a clever system used to refer to when making sure we were not speaking to only one group of people.
When I explained why we asked these extra questions during interviews, I described it as “a fair chance to be heard.” This description really worked well for me, so I ended up using it the rest of the semester. Sources I talked to liked this explanation, for it helped them understand that the information was used to improve how well our reporting represented the community.
I learned so much from this class and project. I was able to explore what worked for me and what didn’t. It really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. By the end of the semester, I was much more comfortable approaching people, and asking them the extra background questions became second nature.
I tried to think about whether I was talking to people of all races, genders, ages and political affiliations, but often times I was not talking to as many different people as I thought. Using the source tracker, I was able to assess if I was talking to sources that truly reflected the community I was covering.
I think it was good experience asking potentially difficult questions and was useful to making sure I was checking my own personal bias.
I was a bit nervous when it came to gathering information on my sources that I interviewed. I feared not only rejection, but also being told I was “out of line” or “inappropriate” for asking. I overcame that fear, and realized that is what Journalists have to do when on the job. When I came out of my shell, I was able to ask and get the information I needed.
When I paid more attention to the sources I was using for my stories I noticed that I felt more confident in my reporting… I noticed that I was paying a lot more attention to who I was interviewing and how their viewpoint would be different than the other interviews I had. When I achieved that, I felt very confident that I had gathered views that were different, diverse and representative of the community.
I learned that sources play a large role in your credibility as a journalist also. Prior to this, I thought that just having authority or knowledgeable figures in my stories was all I needed to be credible, however through this sourcing assignment I learned that how well you represent a community is just as important as how knowledgeable your sources are.
The biggest thing I learned about myself in this class, is how I used to ask the same people over and over again. I never had a variety. But since we added the source logger, it almost held me responsible and forced me to go out and ask different groups of people. It was actually the biggest help to me as a journalist.