With all of the demands on a newsroom, how do you make time to build new habits in pursuit of larger goals?

For the 2023 Source Matters cohort, it’s taken some trial and error to build new habits around source tracking. The American Press Institute assembled this cohort of 13 newsrooms in January to track the diversity of people quoted in their stories through Source Matters, API’s award-winning source diversity tracking and analysis tool. The cohort meets monthly to learn from each other, share progress, data and insights.

Recently, newsroom leaders shared a few tips on creating more consistency in workflows intended to support larger sourcing goals. 

Research shows that small, specific actions are more likely to become habitual. It’s a practice the cohort is experimenting with in an effort to ensure their sourcing reflects the communities they serve.

Start small

The San Antonio Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel started source tracking in short collection periods, building snapshots of sourcing over two- to four-week periods so that they could evaluate changes to their sourcing over time. The process involves asking sources how they identify and then tagging those qualities in Source Matters. Many newsrooms track various dimensions of diversity, such as race/ethnicity, gender, age, or ability status, as well as other qualities such as the community they live in, the role they play in the story, or their occupation or political ideology, to name a few. As the newsrooms built this habit, they shifted to ongoing source tagging article by article in an effort to build a larger dataset and adopt source tracking practices more widely. 

Make the time as a team (bonus: bring food!)

In large newsrooms, Rachel Piper of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests listening to reporters on what they need or want to achieve success on a new workflow. As deputy editor for news, projects and investigations, she learned the staff wanted regular office hours with snacks to complete the work and talk about the results. This is now a recurring monthly calendar reminder where they set aside an hour, bring in food and complete source tagging together. The consistent time reserved for this work not only builds consistent habits but brings people together (even if it is to share food) and provides newsroom support. Piper also meets with teams of reporters as opposed to sharing data or insights in an all-hands call. It prompts more motivation and accountability in a large newsroom. “The percentage of sources tagged goes way up right before a team meeting,” she said.

Recognize the effort

Blanca Méndez, community engagement editor of the San Antonio Report, finds that celebrating reporters for meeting tagging goals has motivated staff to keep up with the work. They look at sourcing data weekly in editorial meetings and she “gives shoutouts” to reporters who have tagged 90% or more of their sources. 

“Most of our reporters are at least at 80% or above,” she said. “It helps to give that constant reminder of where they are.” She also shares data individually with each reporter every two weeks. Reporters talk about their data with their editors and have conversations on source development. The newsroom also has regular meetings to talk about source tracking. In a recent meeting, Méndez said they talked about opportunities to go to community events in an effort to find and share new sources across beats and increase community-centered stories.

Use existing meetings to create consistency

Cohort participants shared their successes and struggles as part of this work. The candor and ideas were appreciated, especially by those working to build new habits on their teams. Stephanie Williams, executive editor of Black Voice News, said her staff recognizes the work is important but hasn’t quite found their rhythm. She planned to take back to her newsroom the idea of using 10 or 15 minutes of the regular budget meetings to make space for source tagging. With a locked audience, it’s a chance to build a new habit together and make good use of staff time.

Source Matters is accepting new partners. For anyone interested in learning more about source diversity tracking or seeing a demo, contact us.

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