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Reporter's notebook: Centering underrepresented communities in the stories we tell

caption: Bunthay Cheam, right, leads a dinner party conversation on Thursday, October 6, 2022, in South Park.
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Bunthay Cheam, right, leads a dinner party conversation on Thursday, October 6, 2022, in South Park.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Check out KUOW's four-part series, The Ripple Effect, in which KUOW's Joshua McNichols teams up with freelance journalist Bunthay Cheam to understand how growth in the Seattle area continues to displace people and potential solutions.


ome years ago, I participated in the International Examiner's Advocacy Journalism Fellowship Program. One goal of the fellowship was to learn how to be advocates of the communities that we were to report from, communities that are often underrepresented.

My focus was on the Khmer community, the community that I come from. And because of this — because I felt being from the community meant knowing the community already — I walked into a lot of spaces with preconceived story ideas and judgments.

I learned very quickly to let go of those things. I learned the importance of sitting still and not saying anything; to show up more than once to community spaces — to listen and to really center the people who have blessed us with their stories. When I did that, I received a much more meaningful connection and in turn, a more genuine story.

When KUOW reporter Joshua McNichols and I first connected at Resistencia Coffee in South Park, I felt like we spent a lot of time feeling each other out and also sharing what it means for each of us to fully value someone's story. Out of that discussion, we embarked on creating a space that would be culturally centering, familiar, and safe for South Park's Southeast Asian neighbors to feel safe and vulnerable.

RELATED: How displacement feels in this South Seattle community

With the help of Kamna Shastri from KUOW's Community Engagement team, we were able to convene a community dinner and welcome community members, from elders to youth and from South Park residents, past to present. Cultivate South Park blessed us with their Idea Lab as a venue and we got to share stories over some wholesome Southeast Asian food, courtesy of Daneca Tran's Global Chill.

I hope that this community dinner can be a model of how large, white-led media institutions can continue reimagining what it means to engage and center the different communities they report on.

I'm thankful and in gratitude to Joshua's openness and creativity and Kamna's partnership and labor.

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