Journalism Blog Series: Including Diverse Perspectives in Storytelling

This is the third post in our Journalism Blog Series. Each post includes transferrable lessons and skills from former journalists currently working at Vanguard that help them best serve their clients as public relations professionals.

It is the hot buzzword right now in public relations and communications: “storytelling.” There is a good reason for this. Storytelling is an ancient art form (looking at you, Homer) that can impact the way we feel, think and even act with regard to a certain issue. But sometimes — usually without meaning to — the stories we tell are one-sided, prejudicial or leave out important perspectives and voices that should have been included.

Fortunately, you can learn how to incorporate diverse perspectives into storytelling. As a former reporter, I learned to do this in a newsroom with a mic in one hand, a camera in the other and an impending live hit. Not only did I do this almost every day, but I needed to be efficient about it. As a PR pro, the deadlines are different, but the skillset is still the same.

Here are the four things you can do to start incorporating more diverse perspectives in your storytelling:

  1. Accept that you do not know or understand everything. When you start developing a story, you need to understand that your own biases and assumptions can impact your approach. To overcome this, accept that there are things you do not know and things that you do not understand. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it means you are opening your mind to seek out new information, voices and perspectives to learn more about or better understand who is impacted by an issue.
  2. Do your research. As a reporter, the best form of research I used regularly was asking people questions. If an issue is impacting a certain community, I would go to that community and ask people there how they felt. Then I would ask if there was someone they think I should talk to. The more questions you ask, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the more you are able to incorporate and elevate different perspectives that you may not have found without doing some legwork.
  3. Listen and let other people do the talking. Unless a story is about you or an issue that impacts you directly (which as PR pros is often not the case), it’s important to stop talking and listen to what other people have to say. If you do this, you will hear the voices and perspectives that you should incorporate and elevate in your story.
  4. Be receptive to feedback, even if it stings. Criticism is always hard to take, but as storytellers we need to hear it. You will learn how to sharpen this skillset if you are open to hearing what people think of your story, what they liked, and what they think you could have done better. This includes feedback on the tone, style and even the voices that you included.

As communications professionals who often find ourselves crafting stories for clients, we play a critical role in ensuring that diverse voices and perspectives are included and elevated. It is not an easy thing to do and takes time to do well. But with a little humility and dedication, you can use the four steps I outlined above to starting telling impactful, thoughtful and inclusive stories about the important issues you work on.