Two Paths to Inclusive Storytelling

Be intentional about adding diverse voices to your story.

At the 2022 ACES conference, AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke announced a new Stylebook chapter on inclusive storytelling. The chapter appears in the 56th print edition of the Stylebook and is also available to AP Stylebook Online subscribers.

What does inclusive storytelling mean?

In AP’s words, this approach to writing “seeks to truly represent all people around the globe. It gives voice and visibility to those who have been missing or misrepresented in traditional narratives … helps readers and viewers both to recognize themselves in our stories, and to better understand people who differ from them in race, age, gender, class and many other ways.”

AP outlines two distinct but complementary paths for pursuing inclusive storytelling.

Reach out to varied sources

AP’s first recommendation is to take a hard look at the experts you interview for your stories. Tell the truth: do you always reach out to the same people? Do you have certain go-to’s who can always give you an answer quickly and easily? That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but AP encourages you to expand that group.

In their words, “leave your bubble and stretch yourself. Explore places you’ve never been that aren’t in the news. Find sources and new voices in places you don’t often look — then make them part of your source lists for the future.”

They recommend trying lesser-known institutions and smaller community groups instead of big nonprofits.

Do the same when you’re seeking out non-experts, aka “voices on the street.” In AP’s words, “Are you talking only to men? Women? White people? Black people? Young? Old? Citizens? Voters? Only particular neighborhoods or geographic regions?” Instead, make a deliberate effort to expand your range of sources.

Focus on the lived experience of individuals and communities

AP’s second piece of advice is to home in on individual communities or voices in stories about that group. In other words, focus deeply on the individuals who make up the story you’re reporting.

Ask about their experiences, their feelings, their history. Their unique obstacles and opportunities. What’s been happening to them, right now, and what it means to them.

AP notes the distinction between lived experiences — aka firsthand experiences — and those of people who observe an experience or are involved in it secondhand. AP notes that “both types of experiences are valid and worthy of exploration. But the fact that they are different needs to be understood as a part of accurate reporting … A person’s lived experiences can be very different from versions of life that are conveyed by other people.”

The goal: rich storytelling, not tokenism

AP emphasizes that the point of speaking to varied sources is not tokenism. You’re not trying to check a box: “I spoke with this type of person, and this type of person, and this type of person. I’m all good!”

Instead, the goal is to tell a better story. The more different types of people you talk to, and the more varied perspectives you gather, the richer picture you can paint. The more context you can provide; the more nuance you can share.

That doesn’t just get you inclusive storytelling.

That gets you good storytelling.

And that’s what we’re all after.

Post written by Samantha Enslen and edited by Molly Gamborg.

Group of diverse people gathering and listening to inclusive storytelling lecture

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