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How to cover local refugee communities: Strategies for newsrooms and reporters


The word “refugee” evokes a certain image: people fleeing persecution or war-torn areas, living under harsh refugee camp conditions, starting a new life in a foreign country.

In reality, there are many different pictures.

The refugees who resettled in America in 2016 alone represent 107 countries and varied educational, economic, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Each refugee has his or her own story.

Collectively, their stories spread across the 3,306 cities and towns they have resettled in. For journalism, they represent an important and powerful subject. When shared in your local community, these stories can foster understanding, bridge divides and bring nuance to conversations about émigré issues.

In response to this opportunity for local newsrooms, I worked with the API staff as a summer fellow to develop the Refugee Reporting Resource, a tool to help local reporters better cover refugee populations.  By using data from the Refugee Processing Center, the site allows users to see how many refugees have been resettled in their city and from where. It also provides resources including definitions of refugee-related terms and the resettlement process in America.

This study intends to help journalists learn how to use that data to build reporting and storytelling of their own. It is based on interviews with nine journalists who have covered refugee and immigrant-related issues. Through our conversations, I found commonalities in how newsrooms approach refugee coverage and a wealth of ideas about relationship building, newsgathering and storytelling processes.

Local refugee community coverage has the potential to help readers overcome stereotypes and connect with groups they might see as the “other,” said Sarika Bansal, editor of The Development Set and founder of Honeyguide Media. The Development Set covers global health, development and social impact, and Honeyguide Media is a nonprofit media organization that covers social issues.

“One of the biggest opportunities that journalism has is to help people rethink things they already know,” Bansal said. “Especially now, I think the topic of refugees has become so overly politicized. Anything journalists can do to help humanize a population is a great service to any readership.”

This project focuses on refugee populations, but it includes many concepts that can be applied to other minority groups that may be inadequately represented in the media.

One of the biggest opportunities that journalism has is to help people rethink things they already know. … Anything journalists can do to help humanize a population is a great service to any readership.

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