Source tracking gives you the opportunity to explain your mission and your journalism to readers and rebuild key relationships that can lead to financial support. Here’s how.

Being transparent about your journalism is a way to build trust, and in turn, develop relationships with your community that can lead to financial support.

It’s all too clear that the broken trust — often due to systematic and systemic failings to fully serve the interests and needs of our communities — needs to be addressed in our industry. Source tracking, coupled with other self-reflection and data-driven community research efforts, can help to repair this broken trust. 

To re/build that trust it’s critical that you clearly connect your work with your mission to serve your community and be transparent about why you’re examining who shows up in your journalism. Readers appreciate being told about the intentionality you bring to the journalism that creates the news they read. As we’ve learned from some of the newsrooms who use Source Matters, being upfront with readers has paid off.

Going public with DEI-connected work may seem risky, but it’s essential given the evolving demographics and needs of many communities. The more transparent  you are about the work and how it’s connected to your mission to serve your whole community, the less likely your efforts will be misrepresented or misconstrued. 

San Antonio Report’s Community Engagement Editor Blanca Méndez opted to send out a report about their work to a dedicated group of newsletter subscribers — their most loyal readers — before writing up a public-facing story about their source tracking process. This served to get core readers on board and made the next step of going public to a wider audience — some of whom may be less accepting — less daunting. Receiving early, and positive, feedback (as well as donations) also gave newsroom leaders confidence that readers would support their work and be more public about their efforts.

With supportive responses to that early newsletter and a subsequent public story on their website, the San Antonio Report decided to include their source tracking effort as part of their year-end fundraising appeal. The appeal featured testimonials from newsroom staff about the impact that the process had on how they seek out sources for stories and how it’s transformed how they approach stories.

“As a woman of color, I always think about underrepresented communities in my reporting, but it’s often faster to go back to the same sources who can answer my calls or interview those provided by public information officers, especially on the breaking news beat,” said Raquel Torres, a breaking news reporter. “Participating in a source audit has helped me pause and consider who I’m talking to for a story and why. Now on assignment, I take more time to observe and consider the community around me — and I’m excited to tell their stories.”

The financial appeals worked.

“When people make a donation they can leave a message saying why they’re donating or what they like about the San Antonio Report,” said Méndez. “We did get a couple in between [the two emails] saying that they’re supportive of our work in the source audit and that’s why they’re donating.”

Méndez doesn’t have a specific dollar amount she can attribute to the emails about their sourcing efforts, “but it was encouraging to see those donations come in.” And, they plan to continue to seek money in support of their sourcing work and keep track of what they raise.

Another newsroom told us that they shared their work with a major donor, who had never heard of source auditing before, but was supportive and appreciative that the newsroom was taking the initiative to ensure their journalism better reflected the diversity of its community.

As with all aspects of a source audit, clear communication internally and externally will go a long way to ensuring that you’re the one telling your story to the community. 

With persistent deprioritization of news on social media platforms, news organizations need to connect more deeply and authentically with their local communities to build trust and give readers a reason to support journalism. 

As we’ve noted in this month’s series, source tracking is just one piece of the community engagement puzzle that can, over time, reap financial rewards and rebuild trust with readers.

Tip: Develop a timeline for how to communicate source tracking work to your readers. Like the San Antonio Report, start with your most loyal readers first, and then expand the reach of your message until you make your work public to readers and a wider audience. 

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