This is a guest post from Emily Soto, a member of the Chicago Undercovered class, which prioritizes reporting on Chicago’s South and West sides.
On September 26, Maya Dukmasova of Injustice Watch visited with DePaul journalism students from the Chicago Undercovered and Urban Affairs Reporting class. To guide the conversation, students brought their questions for Dukmasova about how to work with sources, tips for reporting on the justice and court systems, and what she hopes readers take away from her stories.
Many of Dukmasova’s more well-known pieces are the stories of people who were treated poorly by the justice system ─ for example, a woman forced to wear an alcohol monitor although she was convicted for driving with a revoked license. With this in mind, students asked Dukmasova how she finds sources and her approach to talking with them to tell their stories.
She said stories will come one of two ways: sources who are looking to talk to media have approached her or she finds people after first researching an issue that needs to be reported.
For those who approach her, Dukmasova gave a piece of advice. She said to continuously ask yourself why this person wants their story published, and ensure they understand you are a journalist and what that means. Dukmasova said sources can sometimes believe you are “on their side” and as a result, want you to tell their story a certain way.
When it comes to her other method, Dukmasova suggests going to community events or meetings that pertain to the topic being reported. Here you will meet the people who are involved with the issue. This on the ground reporting earns journalists a level of trust needed to ask sources to share their story ─ but throughout the process, continue to remind sources they are being quoted and their name will be attached to what they say.
Following this, Dukmasova gave some tips to filing FOIA requests and gathering public information. She said first, look through public data portals. More often than not, the data is already available online. Second, be skeptical of certain information you receive. For example, some information might be government reports from private companies who did not accurately report. Lastly, the best FOIA comes when you know exactly what you’re looking for. Be specific and be resourceful.
Finally, Dukmasova talked about why she does this work. Her work isn’t about as much about holding government officials accountable, as many of them are long retired or have moved on. She said instead the story was important to achieving a narrative justice for the person. Many of them were wrongly presented in the media in the past ─ now is the chance for the media to right that wrong.