Tracking sources included in local coverage has gained momentum in recent years as many news organizations try to better reflect and serve their communities. It’s important work that can feel even more critical in a polarized political climate, and especially in an election year. 

For the newsroom partners we work with, source tracking is what they call “forever work.” It’s not a “nice-to-have” initiative and it’s broader than a retrospective look at past work alone — sometimes called a source audit. Source tracking in these newsrooms, rather, is a regular part of their workflow because it builds in structured accountability to ensure the communities they serve are fully and fairly represented in the stories they tell. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy work or free from criticism. 

In a year when the stakes are high for local and national elections, when 80 anti-DEI bills have been proposed in 28 states and when local news is in crisis, well-intentioned source tracking initiatives can come under fire. If that happens or is something your newsroom is anticipating, you can prepare for it and respond in a way that’s transparent about your work and consistent with your values.

Consider, a sister site of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which began using Source Matters last year. In October, Editor Chris Quinn wrote a column explaining why would be collecting information from sources about how they identify. 

“We’re diversifying our staff. We’ve diversified our roster of columnists. Now, we want to ensure that the people we quote in stories are diverse as well, with a multitude of voices that matches the community we serve,” Quinn wrote in the post.

Three days later the Ohio State Senate criticized the source diversity initiative. Quinn confronted the issue in a letter from the editor to defend their work and point out how taxpayer dollars were being spent. API’s Director of Inclusion and Audience Growth Letrell Crittenden said news organizations faced with these critiques can lean into the opportunities source tracking provides. 

“Source tracking tells us who we are connecting with in terms of our sources and who we are not,” he said. “If that is wrong then what we are saying to our community is that certain voices matter and others don’t, and that is the antithesis of what solid community journalism is.”

Sourcing during an election year

In an election year, it’s important to talk to as many people as possible, not just the loudest voices or swing voters. Source tracking is a way to hold your journalism accountable to see if you are connecting with and listening to all of the populations within your community.

For Conecta Arizona, this year is particularly important because it’s an election year on both sides of the border. With the Mexico general election in June and United States elections throughout the year leading up to Election Day in November, founder and director Maritza L. Félix said her newsroom is trying to better understand and engage with dual citizens as well as the many different Spanish speakers moving into Arizona. 

“Their motivations for voting are completely different in both countries,” she said. “Mis- and dis-information was 2020 so now it’s how do we have conversations without fighting? How do we embrace having difficult conversations on different points of view within family members or coworkers? That is how we are identifying polarizations — very small groups that used to be very united and are now politically divided.”

Conecta Arizona was part of a cohort of newsrooms that used Source Matters last year and is continuing the work now. In January, these newsrooms gathered over Zoom to discuss sourcing in an election year. City government reporter Alison Dirr of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel raised a concern about how to navigate source tracking, given that for some people it is likely to be seen as part of a DEI effort. While she hasn’t received any specific backlash or hostility from sources she talks to, she said she’s aware of the possibility given that more eyes will be on Milwaukee and Wisconsin in 2024 since it is a swing state and is hosting the Republican National Convention in July.

“Making sure your community is fairly and adequately represented is not DEI. It’s just good journalism,” Crittenden said, adding that you have to ask demographic questions to understand who you are connecting with. “Politicians do the same thing. When you look at all the different polling, they are looking at issues related to race, gender, religion, so essentially you are source tracking for votes. This is no different.”

At Colorado Public Radio, editors said they encourage reporters to share with each other what works for them, what language they use and how they frame their questions. They also use a form to help standardize how reporters ask the questions and to ensure they are collecting all of the information they want to track. Dirr also brings a paper form with her to each interview.

Our Source Matters partners develop scripts for their reporters to use in the field to help explain why they are tracking this information. They also often publish efforts on their websites or in targeted communications to subscribers and newsletter readers. Crittenden advised building a game plan on how to talk about this work and how to approach criticism or resistance you may encounter inside or outside of the newsroom. 

“You have to make sure everybody in your newsroom understands why this is important and if they are interacting with people in the community, you have to have a plan for how they should engage people in the community — whether they are politicians or individual actors,” he said. “You really need to work to get buy-in for this effort in your newsroom and have a plan of action for inevitable critique for this work.” 

Organizations that want advice on how to foster newsroom-wide buy-in should look to Sherkiya Wedgeworth-Hollowell, the managing editor of accountability and outreach at Colorado Public Radio. With her support and advocacy, her newsroom has tagged more than 14,000 sources in Source Matters over the past two years, which is more than 80% of all of the sources quoted in their coverage.

“I cannot stress the amount of humanization this tool allows people to have inside the newsroom and outside the newsroom just by seeing who we are talking to,” she said. “We want to reflect Colorado and we also want to do better when it comes to serving underserved communities. It’s about a humanizing effort in the newsroom to be inclusive.” 


  • Crittenden guides newsrooms on how to better connect with underserved communities and transform journalistic practices to better meet those goals. Read more about the API Inclusion Index and how it can help your newsroom.
  • 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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