Source tracking gives you the opportunity to explain your mission and your journalism to readers and build, or rebuild, trust with your community.

One of the lessons we’ve learned by working with newsrooms is that by better representing your community’s voices in your journalism, your news organization becomes a better reflection of who your journalism serves.

Not all of your community members are your readers, and that could be because they don’t hear their voices or their concerns reflected in your journalism. By serving more of the distinct audiences that make up your community, you can potentially reconnect with disaffected or tuned out members of your community.

Source tracking can help you collect the necessary data to audit your journalism and compare it to both the audience analytics you collect on your readers and broader US Census and demographic data for your community. From there, you can start to see who is, and who isn’t, represented in your news coverage.

How you show up in your community while undertaking an audit can take many forms: listening sessions with community organizations or partners at community centers or at coffee shops — even tabling at community events or pop-up newsrooms. 

The San Antonio Report, one of our Source Matters newsrooms, conducted a listening tour in the city’s many neighborhoods. 

“When we visited neighborhoods throughout San Antonio on our community listening tour last fall, participants told us that local news often overlooks or mischaracterizes certain communities,” wrote Editor-in-Chief Leigh Munsil and Community Engagement Editor Blanca Méndez in an article explaining why they were undertaking a source audit. “In our industry’s history, newsrooms have often fallen short of telling the full picture of their communities — but now we have a chance to do better.”

By doing this work, San Antonio Report staff confirmed what they already suspected:   

“As a nonprofit newsroom, we have an incredible opportunity to think about the news differently, including our responsibility to produce coverage that is not just factually accurate but is also demographically representative. If you only cover a neighborhood when a crime or similar event happens, it’s no surprise you have a hard time building trust — a common refrain we heard on the listening tour.”

Similarly, other newsrooms embarked on a source tracking effort to learn where their coverage was falling short and, as a result, what stories were being overlooked. 

“It’s been a longstanding goal and desire for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to better represent all members of our community. But how do you get better if you don’t know how well you’re doing now?” wrote Rachel Piper, deputy editor of news, projects and investigations at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in a recent report on what their reporters have learned from using Source Matters. “Our senior leadership decided to try source tracking to gain an understanding of who we are talking to now — and who we are not hearing from — and how that shapes our coverage.  We know that talking to more people will lead to more stories — stories that reflect the full picture of life in Milwaukee, help to solve problems and celebrate successes.”

In a report to listeners, Colorado Public Radio summed up their source tracking effort simply: “This data collection is just a starting point. It’s a part of an organization-wide commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in our stories on air and online. With the data, we can develop coverage that better serves the array of communities in the state.”

At a time of declining trust in media when it seems as if our communities need us more than ever, a little self-examination can go a long way to restoring trust with not just readers, but your whole community.

In evaluating its work, Conecta Arizona regularly shares its source tracking results with readers in their WhatsApp channel as a way to be more transparent.

“To meet the evolving needs of our community, newsrooms must be transparent about their editorial decisions, ensuring that diverse voices are not only included but also given equal prominence,” the newsroom noted in a recent reflection shared with API. “Transparency is not just a commitment to our audience but a step towards dismantling systemic biases that have perpetuated underrepresentation in media.”

Tip: Write an article explaining why you’re doing this work so that reporters can point to it when asked about it (see examples below). It will also help you write explainers and even email campaigns. You could also create one for your newsroom and share it publicly after your newsroom is comfortable talking about your source tracking efforts. 

Dig Deeper

Here are other ways news organizations shared their source tracking efforts with readers:

+ Source Matters is accepting new partners. Register for an upcoming demo or contact us to learn more about source diversity tracking.

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