It’s been a year of learning for the newsrooms participating in the 2023 Source Matters Cohort to track the diversity of people quoted in their stories. In January, the 13 news organizations started configuring and onboarding their teams to Source Matters, API’s award-winning source diversity tracking and analysis tool. The insights from onboarding and training in this guide have been learned alongside newsrooms participating in the cohort.
While rolling out the platform in their newsrooms, the cohort continues to meet monthly and include expert guests and facilitated conversations aimed at identifying shared goals. We’ve heard from the International Women’s Media Foundation, which shared resources on how newsrooms can best support staff with issues of online abuse, and Trusting News, which covered how to talk publicly about your commitment to diversity. API’s own director of audience growth and inclusion, Letrell Crittenden, also joined a session to share about the Inclusion Index and offer feedback on newsroom goals around source diversity.
These news organizations agreed to publicly share what they’ve learned during the cohort to support any newsroom working to identify gaps and opportunities to broaden sourcing and find ways to better reflect the deep diversity of communities in their coverage. Here are ways some of the participating newsrooms have shared this work with their audiences:
The cohort news organizations plan to add more source data by conducting additional collection periods, work towards goals outlined in group sessions and continue ongoing community engagement work.
One of the goals of this cohort is to foster peer learning. We tapped two journalists with personal experience doing a source audit as guest speakers for our September cohort meeting. Ruth Serven Smith is an education editor for AL.com and created a sourcing “bingo card” for her team to use. Journalist Kristen Barton led a source tracking initiative while she was education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. As part of this work, she created beat guides to complement the newsroom’s source diversification efforts. The guides are living documents with ideas for covering a beat and sources to talk to.
Both panelists shared how they made use of the data to change and improve sourcing habits.
1. Promote culture change through play: Serven Smith created a Bingo card aimed at promoting source diversity. She found this especially useful for entry-level reporters to break down a large task like diversifying sources into more manageable, bite-sized pieces.
“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.
2. Make new habits accessible: Barton, formerly of the Fort Worth Report, developed an in-house source diversity database, along with beat guides that she co-created with other reporters and editors. Barton’s newsroom participated in the Poynter Table Stakes program, where her team decided to launch a source tracking initiative. By creating a database with guides that everyone could contribute to and use, Barton made it easier and more accessible to diversify sources.
3. Respond to resistance: Both Serven Smith and Barton encountered some resistance to source diversity initiatives. Some were concerned about the idea of “casting call journalism.” Barton emphasized the importance of explaining to concerned staffers that “good journalism is diverse journalism.” Serven Smith said AL.com set realistic goals for staff on collecting source diversity data and made this work part of their official professional development practices.
4. Provide guidance on interviewing sensitive sources: When it comes to collecting source data of children or young sources, especially in education coverage, Barton said to ask parents for information. In her experience, she’ll ask older teenagers or those who are 18-plus the source information.
“I think that a lot of young people like this idea and these efforts. They say, ‘I want to see people like me represented in the news and if this helps you do that then I will do that,’” Barton said.
Barton and Serven Smith also cautioned asking about some source categories. For example, Barton said she told reporters to be mindful of undocumented immigrants and their privacy concerns. She told reporters to never put that the source was “undocumented” in their source database.
5. Share responsibility: Serven Smith emphasized the importance of spreading the responsibility for source diversity initiatives across teams and beats to achieve better journalism in the long run. Barton emphasized there will be difficult experiences with an initiative like this, but the outcome produces better journalism and stories for readers.
“I would just encourage you all to keep the faith,” Barton said. “You really will see the trust in communities build and your own stories really start to improve.”
Note: Allison Shirk contributed to this as the notetaker and distilling takeaways from the September meeting.