Diversify Your Sources

Welcome to API’s source tracking series. I’m your host, Katie Kutsko, API’s education and strategy manager of news products. In September’s Special Edition series, I’ll amplify insights and share resources I’ve learned alongside newsrooms who track the diversity of people quoted in their stories through Source Matters, API’s award-winning source diversity tracking and analysis tool. 

How to set impactful goals

My daughter turns one soon. Over the past 11 months, I’ve spent quite a bit of time envisioning a future for her.Headshot of Katie Kutsko I have always imagined a future where local and community-based news thrives, but now, as a mother, I see just how critical it is for this vision to become reality. Americans need the press to provide accurate and community-oriented news and information to help families and individuals make decisions that allow them to succeed. 

While experiencing this big personal life transformation, I have had the privilege of working with a cohort of newsrooms who are committed to expanding their reach into communities that have been historically underserved or undercovered through tracking sources. 

If you want to start tracking sources but don’t quite know where to begin, here’s a guide to help you get started.

Some of the news organizations in the Source Matters cohort have already been doing the work of strengthening coverage of local communities and amplifying underrepresented voices. Their source-tracking efforts build on the broader DEIB initiatives at their organizations. For example, our partners at the Record-Journal in Connecticut wanted to join the cohort after they created a Latino Communities Reporting Lab to improve local coverage. They have also created a dedicated health equity beat with a focus on disparate healthcare access and outcomes among underserved residents. 

Similarly, our partners at VTDigger recently conducted a community listening project and heard from residents that Vermont media should “do a better job including the perspectives and experiences of diverse communities, including BIPOC Vermonters, multilingual, rural and low-income people, and people with disabilities.” Undergoing a source audit will enable them to be more inclusive and equitable in their reporting by broadening and diversifying the people and places they turn to for information. 

Whether you develop your own homegrown data collection system through a Google Form/spreadsheet hack or use a tech tool like Source Matters, source tracking is one way to tackle the complex problem of understanding how your coverage reflects and represents your community and audience.  


Setting an initial goal can give everyone on the team a direction to focus their efforts and help you get buy-in early so people know it’s worth the work. But keep in mind that the goals you set can change as you learn along the way.

  • Our partners at San Antonio Report first set a goal to be more representative of City Council districts in its coverage. But over time, the newsroom shifted its priority to better reflect the demographics of San Antonio and Bexar County and set one specific newsroom goal to increase Latinx representation in their stories.
  • Our partners at VTDigger want to better reflect the demographics of their home state of Vermont. After an initial two-week period of collecting source data at the beginning of April, the team noticed two gaps in their sourcing: They had a disproportionate percentage of higher-income sources, and people with disabilities were underrepresented. Their goals, which also reflect feedback they heard through the community listening project, are to close the gap between the percentage of sources represented in their coverage and the actual number of Vermonters with a household income of less than $35,000 and the population reported to have disabilities or chronic illnesses. 
  • Our partners at Alaska Public Media set a goal to increase Latinx sources and decrease white sources, based on initial source tracking data. To get there, they plan to prioritize talking about source diversity in reporter-editor conversations, brainstorm thematic approaches to story ideas, start a source database and commit reporting staff to having two to five coffees every month with nonwhite sources (with the time and freedom to build relationships — with no expectation of a story being filed!) 

Goal-setting can start valuable internal conversations and get your teammates to take those first steps toward big aspirations for your entire organization. There’s a lot of unlearning we need to do across the industry if we want folks in our communities to trust our journalism. Regularly assessing newsgathering practices through source tracking is one way to chip away at these longstanding problems.  


To help our cohort come up with these goals for their sourcing strategies, we adopted a popular framework called SMARTIE goals. SMARTIE is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound, Inclusive and Equitable. 

The intention of this framework is to focus on outcomes with impact. Don’t set goals to do necessary activities (like meetings, reports or training) or outputs (like offerings for your audience or capabilities for the organization), but set goals based on impactful outcomes (like the end purpose or objectives of all the activities — audience growth and development, revenue gain, mission achievement, etc.) This framework is great for setting a newsroom-wide or team-wide goal, as well as a personal goal for sourcing in a beat you cover.

Here’s the process our cohort newsrooms followed, which you should steal and adapt:
SMARTIE Goal structure: Specific - Which source category will you focus on? Measureable - Where are you now, and where do you want to be? Achievable (yet Aggressive) - What are a few concrete, yet practical actions you can achieve to make progress on this goal? Relevant - Why are you choosing this particular source category to start with? Timebound - Target your goals between now and the end of your next collection period. Inclusive - What are ways that your goal could create unintentional impacts on people from different backgrounds or experiences? Equitable - How can you make equity an intentional feature of your goal, and how do you go about achieving it?
Download the full worksheet here. 


  • Source Matters is accepting new partners. Register for a demo on Thursday, Sept. 14 at noon EDT, or contact us to learn more about source diversity tracking.

Chapter 2

Building source tracking into newsroom workflows

To build muscle memory around any habit, you need to practice regularly.Headshot of Katie Kutsko Source tracking in newsrooms is no different. Last week we talked about the importance of setting impactful goals to strengthen coverage of local communities and amplify underrepresented voices, building on broader diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Your newsroom can benefit from creating a sustainable DEIB plan, but it’s just as important that managers provide the infrastructure to make it possible to sustain the work. 

We can talk about the values and big goals, but the work can’t get done without a practical plan. This week will focus on workflows and rolling out an effective source-tracking initiative.

One essential step is planning the process for how reporters will collect information from sources. Will you provide a script for reporters to use at the end of interviews, or do you want to create a survey for reporters to send to all sources? This process looks different across newsrooms, so choose the way that reduces friction as much as possible to encourage wide participation. 

If your organization is serious about including new voices and better amplifying underrepresented voices, it’s crucial that you find ways to root your daily workflow in inclusivity.


Explain why this matters to your organization. It is critical to plan how you will roll out this project, but don’t forget about it after the first training session ends. 

Most news organizations Source Matters works with follow a similar process when launching a source tracking initiative: Decide who will lead the project, host training sessions, launch the project, hold reporters accountable for collecting and logging the source information in the source tracking system and then schedule a time to check in and reflect on the data. However, our partners at San Antonio Report and the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee found that it’s crucial to underpin each step with clear explanations— internally and externally — for why their teams are taking on this project. Newsroom leadership should use staff training as an opportunity to spell out the process and explicitly state why source tracking is an organizational priority.

Help reporters talk about this project with sources. During training, leaders should provide guidance on how reporters can ask sources for the information they need to collect without breaking from their regular interviewing techniques. Reporters can follow a script customized to what the newsroom decides to track at the end of an interview and tag the sources in a spreadsheet or a tool, like the Source Matters database. The script adds structure to the process —explaining to sources why you are gathering data and your organizational goals behind it.  It can prompt a conversation between the reporter and source and can help the reporter ease into questions.The sample script API offers also provides an out for the source: they do not have to answer these questions if they feel uncomfortable. 

Screenshot of Source Matters source categorization page.

Keep talking about source tracking after kickoff. Blanca Méndez, San Antonio Report’s community engagement editor, set up an initial two-week tracking period as a test to work out any process problems, answer questions or troubleshoot the Source Matters tool. 

“I think that was a little more like low pressure during that first tracking period. And then the second tracking period, we had figured out what we were wanting to do with the tool and how we were asking people the questions,” Méndez said. During the initial phase, Méndez and her team used a Slack channel for team members to post any questions or issues and checked in during their weekly editorial meeting. After the first collection period, Méndez shared some of the initial insights with the team to encourage people to examine their individual data for themselves. Now the team in San Antonio collects and logs source data on a continuous basis. 

Similarly, the Journal Sentinel team now does continuous tracking versus discrete periods. “It’s been a bit of a challenge, but I’m glad we’re doing it this way because it’s more of a continued push,” said Rachel Piper, deputy editor for news, projects and investigations. Piper said the team meets regularly to categorize sources and look at the data they have. “The feedback has been good so far. I think once people try it, they see how easy it is.”

Both teams are taking approaches that will help develop muscle memory around new sourcing habits, hopefully ingraining it into daily workflow, and ultimately the culture of the organization.

Adapt to workflows that work for your newsroom. KPBS, one of API’s Source Matters cohort newsrooms, has developed a system for reporters and producers to be able to collect demographic information by allowing the source to fill out a survey on their own. The reporter is responsible for making the “pitch” to the source, urging them to complete the survey  in person via QR code, or by sharing a link to the form. Ultimately an office assistant inputs the survey data into the Source Matters database. This creates a streamlined process for their reporters to ask for their sources’ information. 

A screenshot of KPBS's source tracking survey.

Screenshot of the source tracker form that KPBS reporters use.

No matter how newsrooms choose to collect the information, the key piece is that reporters and editors get in the habit of thinking about sourcing while planning the story, as well as asking sources to answer a set of questions that will later get added to the source tracking system.


Here are additional tips I’ve learned from our partner newsrooms who have launched source tracking initiatives:

  • Mention source tracking frequently in staff meetings for everyone to be mindful of it.
    Frame the organization’s performance in terms of whose voices are getting quoted this week or month.
  • Provide consistent messaging from the top down to help reporters understand the organization’s commitment to source diversification and representation. Regularly talk about source tracking during staff meetings as well as write about the efforts publicly.
  • Give reporters access to the source data in order to make their own interpretations about their data and decide how to use it.
  • Allocate time for reporters to sit down (with free snacks!), do the source tagging together and talk through new ways of sourcing.
  • Provide ways to simplify the process where possible. Download this sample script and adapt it for collecting source information.


  • Source Matters is accepting new partners. Register for a demo on Thursday, Sept. 14, at noon EDT, or contact us to learn more about source diversity tracking.
  • If you want to start tracking sources but don’t quite know where to begin, here’s a guide to help you get started.

Chapter 3

How to get staff buy-in for tracking sources

You’ve launched a source tracking initiative in your newsroom. You’ve set meaningful goals. Headshot of Katie KutskoYou’ve thought through and planned how tracking sources will fit into your newsroom workflow. Yet some people in your newsroom still aren’t engaged in this project. 

Whether or not you anticipate your colleagues being on board, participation can be lackluster as you’re trying to build new habits — this isn’t unusual. I have guided a couple dozen news organizations through the onboarding and launch of source tracking projects during my time at the American Press Institute, and I’ve noticed common obstacles across the board. Most consistently: change is hard, and there are many reasons why people resist change. This week, let’s walk through some of the frequent roadblocks newsrooms encounter while tracking sources and how to build momentum when it seems like participation is lagging.

Before diving into the problems and sharing some solutions, I am going to say the quiet part out loud: It is okay if this takes longer to get off the ground than you think it will. 


You should anticipate it might take longer to get this initiative off the ground than you expect. There are plenty of opportunities for roadblocks. But if you plan for them, you can get ahead of them or know how to adjust. Here are a few examples with ideas for avoiding some common blocks.

  • 🚧 Roadblock: Time
    ↪️ Workaround: Everyone is short on time, especially journalists. It is hard to add one more thing to an overflowing plate. For the time it takes to collect and input source tracking data, build a thoughtful workflow. For building relationships with new sources, take away something from a reporter’s schedule. Allow them time to meet with different people and don’t require them to file a story. Our partners at Alaska Public Media are doing just that: They’ve committed reporting staff to having two to five coffees quarterly with nonwhite sources. It will be a new practice for the newsroom, with the intention of building in time and freedom to strengthen new relationships.
  • 🚧 Roadblock: Buy-in
    ↪️ Workaround: Getting an entire editorial team to buy into one initiative can be a challenge, even if people aren’t resistant. It’s hard to rely on the source data if it’s being tracked inconsistently, but it’s also hard to make changes to your coverage when leadership is disengaged or disinterested. You can focus on small wins first, like our partners at VTDigger in Vermont. They started this project with a short two-week period of collecting source data. From there, they used the limited data to build a presentation to the staff to set a baseline.

    Libbie Sparadeo, director of membership and engagement, said that one of VTDigger’s takeaways is it under-represents people from lower economic backgrounds. The initial results prompted people in the newsroom to talk about why that is and how they could change coverage. This built a launching point for more staff members to buy into the project. They set goals from there and plan on continuous source tracking to add to the dataset.

  • 🚧 Roadblock: Other priorities
    ↪️ Workaround: Sometimes a source tracking project will lose steam when other priorities take their place. If this happens, try to re-engage. You can do this by offering more streamlined workflows, like our partners in Connecticut at the Record-Journal. They anticipated high engagement with source tracking because it was a continuation of additional DEIB work the organization had planned, and team members were excited to continue the work. But once they launched the project, participation lagged. Other priorities, like breaking news and daily deadlines, surfaced. Now leadership is working to re-engage. One way they’re doing this is by creating a survey form for reporters to use in the field to capture source information story by story. Another way is through more consistently talking about this project in daily and weekly meetings.
  • 🚧 Roadblock: Breaking news
    ↪️ Workaround: The most well-intentioned plan can fall victim to breaking news, including source tracking. I’ve heard repeatedly that breaking news is a challenging area to consider diversifying and broadening sourcing, because you need a reliable source who will get back to you before the deadline. My advice is to plan ahead, at least where you’re able. Tell PR contacts about your goal of talking to different types of people. Ask them to be mindful of connecting you with new sources from different backgrounds. Additionally, Source Matters partner AL.com keeps an email tagline handy when reporters find themselves stuck using a repeat source. Copy, adapt and paste this tagline, from Ruth Serven Smith, education editor:

    “If you are not available to speak with me on this deadline, can you recommend one or two other experts in your field who may be interested? My newsroom is always looking to expand its source list, particularly women and people of color who we may call on. Let me know if you can provide any contacts! Thanks.”


If you’re looking for more ways to engage your team in achieving source goals, Serven Smith also shared an example bingo card, as well as a blank template to recreate and adapt to fit your needs. She found this especially useful for entry-level reporters since it helps take a large task like diversifying sources and break it down into more manageable pieces. The idea is to hit “bingo” over the course of a month, and once a reporter does, she’ll take them for a treat, like to lunch. It’s a fun way to work towards goals while also boosting team morale.

“As a manager, I’m always looking for ways to encourage people to have a little more fun with their work. I’m a big fan of gamifying things when possible,” Serven Smith said.

Think through: Who are the regular stakeholders on my beat? What skills do I want to grow? What are opportunities to interview people in different settings? What are different ways to get information and story ideas?

Screenshot of a bingo card Ruth Serven Smith made for her team at AL.com to foster diversity in sourcing. Click here to access her example card, as well as a blank template to recreate and adapt to fit your needs.


  • Source Matters is accepting new partners. Register for a demo on Thursday, Oct. 12, at noon EDT, or contact us to learn more about source diversity tracking.
  • If you want to start tracking sources but don’t quite know where to begin, here’s a guide to help you get started.

Chapter 4

How community engagement can inform source tracking

You will never know how your community is engaging with your coverage unless you ask. Our partners at the Record-Journal in Meriden, Conn., experienced this firsthand after holding more than 80 conversations with community members and hearing from more than 2,000 survey respondents. 

The Record-Journal is one of around a dozen news organizations participating in API’s yearlong cohort of newsrooms focused on improving the diversity of sources in news coverage through our source diversity tracking tool Source Matters. In a recent meeting, our group heard from Letrell Crittenden, API’s director of audience growth and inclusion and creator of the Inclusion Index, who talked about the importance of community engagement and listening.

Eric Cotton, executive editor, and Richie Rathsack, assistant managing editor of digital content and analytics, proudly shared the in-depth community engagement efforts their newsroom has prioritized, specifically building the team that works on the Latino Communities Reporting Lab. This is a long-term initiative that aims to amplify the voices of local Latino communities. 

For the final edition of Diversify Your Sources, I spoke with Rathsack to dive into how the Record-Journal is using previous engagement work to inform their source tracking initiative. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Headshots of Katie Kutsko and Richie Rathsack

KATIE: Can you talk more about your ongoing community engagement efforts at the Record-Journal?

RICHIE: Oh, I could talk all day about the Latino Communities Reporting Lab. Over the last four decades, the diverse Latino population has grown significantly in Connecticut, but especially in the coverage area for the Record-Journal. In order to learn about and from Latino communities, the 155-year-old family-owned newspaper embarked on an extensive listening tour over five months at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. 

The team at RJ Media had more than 80 conversations with various community stakeholders that included educators, nonprofit leaders, community members and leaders, chambers of commerce, business owners and businesspeople, church leaders and members, politicians and government officials, and foundations. They also conducted focus groups and solicited more than 2,000 survey responses in the community. What they learned led them to create the Latino Communities Reporting Lab. 

K: What were the most surprising or unexpected things you heard from the community in your listening tour? How did these insights shape the Lab’s approach? 

R: I boiled the 100-plus pages of notes from the conversations into two pages of takeaways. Lab staff use these takeaways to guide our news strategies. The two pages were further broken down into the four main points of the mission statement.

Here are a few other key takeaways:

  • We heard that staff, sources and voices in stories should look and speak like the audience we are trying to cover.  
  • Don’t treat Latinos as a monolith (which prompted the “communities” part of the name). The Latino community is very diverse. 
  • We heard several times that people don’t read the news because it scares them or makes them feel helpless. Try to do stories that empower readers or look to solutions. 
  • Share success stories of Latinos highlighting the different paths they may have taken to get there. Modern careers are rarely a straight line.   

One of the most surprising things was how dicey the topic of language was. People had very strong opinions of whether content should be in English, Spanish or both. Some said it should be in English to help Spanish speakers learn and acclimate to their communities. Others said both or in Spanish to help non-English speakers feel like they are part of the community. We opted for both when we can. 

A slide from the Record-Journal’s Latino Communities Reporting Lab playbook

A slide from the Record-Journal’s Latino Communities Reporting Lab playbook

K: You mentioned soliciting more than 2,000 survey responses, a great sample size! Can you share some of the most significant findings or trends that emerged from these surveys? How did these findings influence the Lab’s strategies?

R: We took the data to use as guidelines for our news strategies. The four highest topic areas were health, education, music/arts/culture, local events and sports. That order kind of surprised me.

Also, from the report, “Overall, respondents had high levels of trust in local and national news sources, and slightly lower trust in social media news. Despite this, Facebook is commonly listed as a preferred news source, though it is unclear whether respondents are following specific news companies or relying on news from friends, family, or news aggregators/algorithms.” 

K: Are there any upcoming events or opportunities for community members to engage with the Lab? What have you been up to this year with the Lab? 

R: We have our Community Advisory Board, which meets monthly, to continue listening to the communities. We also take part in local events. We had a booth at the Meriden Puerto Rican Festival again this year with staff and CAB members talking to festival-goers about the Lab, their interests and trying to get them to sign up for the Lab’s email newsletter. We also plan to do more focus groups and, via the CAB, start a youth initiative to reach more young people. This is still developing, but our CAB took this on as their own project.  

K: How are you all connecting this project with tracking the diversity of people quoted in your stories? I would love to know how you’re connecting the past work with your current source tracking work.

R: During one of the listening calls, we heard that the Literacy Volunteers use the RJ in their English classes, but would usually direct students to the sports section where they might see the name of a Latino high school athlete that they know. As a news editor, it really stood out to me that they couldn’t find the same thing in the news stories. We needed to fix that. Tracking sources holds us accountable to ensure we’re representing the voices of the entire community, which also furthers the lab’s mission of amplifying Latino voices. That’s also why we added family nationality as a question in the Source Matters collection data, to ensure that we’re representing the diverse voices within the Latino communities.