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How Source Diversity Tracking Changes Coverage at NPR and MPR

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Reporters at NPR and Minnesota Public Radio say they are seeing the benefits of an increased focus on tracking the diversity of their sources, as reporters are more aware of the need to expand their interviewee pools.

The MPR shared data on July 14 detailing demographic information gathered from sources from February 2021 to April 2022. Journalists tracked characteristics such as age, pronouns, roles of sources, where they live, race and ethnicity.

The goal was to establish a baseline and embed diversity tracking into the daily newsroom workflow, said Michael Olson, associate editor for digital at MPR.

Analyzing the data, MPR found that whites were underrepresented compared to the general population of Minnesota, sources in central cities were overrepresented, and 54% of sources were between the ages of 40 and 64. Only 31% of Minnesotans fall into this category. interval.

“A big finding for me is that the roles of spokespersons, officials and experts are heavily skewed white and towards individuals using he/him pronouns,” Olson said. “We can’t choose spokespersons… but we want to make sure that part of a journalist’s job is to hold institutions accountable. … We can’t just say they are out of our control.

To avoid one-dimensional reporting, journalists need to be aware of how these voices shape stories, Olson said. Going forward, MPR will focus on “[making] breakthroughs and do better by seeking out diverse voices and expert sources,” he said.

In an editor’s note to the report, MPR News editor Sarah Glover wrote: “We present a fuller picture in our stories and reach audiences we haven’t given enough attention to. careful in the past.”

MPR does much of this work through its North Star Journey project, Olson said, a reporting project that explores the history and culture of Minnesota communities. The project is an intentional effort to understand the challenges facing various communities, Olson said.

The network continues to refine its source data collection process. One of the shortcomings of his system, Olson said, is that a source that appears in multiple mediums — for example, a newscast and an article on the web — is only counted once. The data would be more reliable “if we could track ‘How many newscasts has this source or this person been?'” Olson said.

Staying Accountable with Dex

Olson said MPR’s model for asking sources their identities drew heavily from NPR’s approach. Since last summer, NPR has been using Dex, a new tracking system.

The network has been tracking source diversity since 2013. It developed Dex to standardize the process and “make sure we were consistent with our race and ethnicity categories, we were consistent with our gender identity categories, we were consistent with age categories,” said Rolando Arietta, director of content production and operations at NPR. “With all of us using the same system, the data would be much more meaningful.”

Because journalists enter their own data, the creators of Dex sought to make the system streamlined and easy to use. It offers standardized identity categories to reduce extra work for reporters, who are given a list of questions to ask sources about their identity to ensure sensitivity, according to Pallavi Gogoi, NPR’s business affairs manager and committee member. who developed Dex.

NPR reporters stepped up efforts to diversify their sources after data was shared in 2018, which was “embarrassing” for the network, Gogoi said. The analysis revealed a strong bias towards white men as sources.

“…We all wanted to do better,” Gogoi said. “I think the only way to do better is to be accountable. And come with [Dex] was, I think for me at least, a way to really empower ourselves.

The Business Desk was tracking sources in a Google doc before Dex was created. In 2018, the bureau’s sources were 85% white, 9% identifying as Asian, 3% Hispanic and 3% black. They were also 71% men and 29% women.

In the first quarter of this year, 51% of the bureau’s sources were male and 47% female. Only 54% were white, with black sources increasing to 22% and Asian sources reaching 13%. Additionally, 7% were Hispanic and 4% identified as Middle Eastern/African. People working in economics, business, technology and media are overwhelmingly white and male, so the dramatic shift proves that conscious selection of sources and stories makes a difference, Gogoi said.

Journalists and bureau chiefs are free to review Dex data and adjust their coverage accordingly. Teams used to discuss source diversity results in meetings, but Dex allows for discussions at other times as well.

“Good journalists will look at the data and respond accordingly,” said Keith Woods, NPR’s chief diversity officer. Capturing all data, including for sources not directly chosen by NPR reporters, reinforces the idea that story choice has as much impact as source selection.

Integrating source diversity tracking so thoroughly into the work and day-to-day practices of journalists has made them realize the importance of doing so, Woods said.

“I think if you came to NPR and walked around and grabbed a random reporter and said, ‘Is it important for news outlets to think about the diversity of your sources? “I think people would say yes,” Woods said. . “That’s how saturated the conversation was.”

Previously, sources of color were featured more often in articles about race, in the same way women once featured more prominently in “women’s sections” of publications than in articles about science and politics, said Woods. Using Dex helps curb this practice by tracking when certain sources are most cited.

“Every day, people of color are raising children. They struggle to raise teenagers. They worry about the economy – all those things that are part of what it means to just be an American, just to be a person, that has nothing to do with whether you are or not. .. Latin American or Asian-American or African-American,” Woods said. “We can both tell those stories that are particular to groups, but also work hard to include them in the ordinary stories of everyday life. “

System-wide tracking

Beyond NPR, Dex is used at KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., and among stations at the Texas Newsroom, that state’s collaborative news center that includes Houston Public Media, KERA in Dallas, KUT in Austin and Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. The tracking system will become more widely available to stations as development continues.

“My dream is for all of us in public media to use this same system, and I’d say it’s Dex so we can really have a full conversation on the network about how we sound and how close we are to look like America,” Ariette said. “We don’t have the capacity for that right now from a technical production standpoint and from a support standpoint, but it’s a dream of mine. “

Since Texas newsroom stations began using Dex in the last quarter of 2021, reporters’ attitudes about source tracking have evolved, editor Corrie MacLaggan said. This has led to greater diversity among sources. Journalists are required to use Dex, but MacLaggan hopes the conversations about the importance of source diversity will motivate them to report the data regardless. Some journalists check the data frequently and adjust their practices accordingly, MacLaggan said.

The Texas Newsroom will establish its first source diversity baseline at the end of September with that month’s data and from there, set targets for improvement. After giving reporters and stations time to adjust to using Dex, MacLaggan expects to see that reporters will need to enter data more consistently and that newsroom reporting doesn’t reflect yet the diversity of Texas. But she said she was ready to set goals to improve on those areas.

“It absolutely takes time, but we want it to be a simple process,” MacLaggan said. “…No system is perfect, is it? But it’s pretty simple, and so that’s the point – to get people to understand, “Okay, that’s something I can do.”