In recent months we at the American Press Institute have taken a deep dive into how news organizations can expand their sourcing to represent fairly and fully the diversity of their communities. In this post we’d like to share what we’ve learned, introduce new technology we’ve created so far to address the challenges, and invite collaborators to offer training and support change.

What we’re talking about is often called a “source audit,” or in some newsrooms a “source inventory” or “source diversity tracking.” It can show you where your sourcing falls short, help you set goals for improvement and measure your progress over time — all with the goal of better serving your communities.

Sourcing matters, because building broader and deeper relationships with communities who have been excluded from the news requires (among other things) talking and listening to a more diverse group of people. The sources journalists choose to quote in their stories affect whose stories get told, how stories are told, who the news is for, and what communities are served.

Where we have arrived is creating Source Matters, a new tool that supports automated, customizable, impactful source tracking by any news organization (more on that below). We’re also designing training and resources to help newsrooms change their practices to include more-diverse voices.

But first we got started by talking to at least 10 news organizations that have done source auditing on their own. These news organizations told us they seek to answer important questions, such as:

  • Can we practice better, more inclusive journalism by tracking the diversity of our sources?
  • How do we become a more culturally competent newsroom?
  • Can we sound and look more like the communities we cover?

We’ll be joined by a few of the newsrooms we spoke to, including WHYY, KQED, Chalkbeat and Wisconsin Public Radio to discuss these very questions and their approach to source auditing during an ONA conference session this week. Others we talked to include America Amplified, IdeaStream, KUT, McClatchy, San Diego Union Tribune, Gannett and Crosscut.

Some of the newsrooms we interviewed conduct source audits by categorizing the sources in their stories by race, ethnicity, gender, age or other demographic information. This process could involve each reporter asking each source how they self-identify and then recording that data in a spreadsheet. Other newsrooms have used surveys to collect the information from sources. Some newsrooms record data for every story, others measure a period of time then assess again later. Many newsrooms we spoke to want to create a source database for the staff. Others want to identify ways to expand sourcing and enhance reporting practices.

One other thing all newsrooms agreed on: It’s not enough just to track source diversity. It also requires community listening, relationship building, time to develop new sources, training and coaching.

It’s clear overall, from these newsrooms and others, that this is a work in progress. No one had figured out the perfect approach to source auditing. Everyone we interviewed welcomed the idea of a tool that could remove the manual labor and tedious effort.

So that is where we’ve directed our efforts so far. To make source auditing easier to do and to learn from, we’ve built a new product that automatically identifies all the sources in news stories. It then enables a news organization to categorize those sources by the dimensions of diversity (such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc.) that matter to it. This technology is an extension of the innovative content analysis and artificial intelligence capabilities of our Metrics for News analytics software.

 

How does the Source Matters tool work?

Here are a few of the key principles we’ve built into our source-auditing technology, which have been informed by our conversations with the newsrooms mentioned above.

Automated source identification: Source Matters detects all the sources in all of your stories, with 100% automation. We can extract thousands of sources from thousands of stories — in just minutes. This saves the time journalists would have spent remembering and manually recording their sources for every story.

Customized source categories: We enable each publisher to completely customize what categories it wants to track about each source. We can recommend some common categories and best practices, but in the end the choice is the publisher’s. Each publisher and each community is different, and source data should reflect that.

Analysis by author and topic: We also automatically track the authors and topics for each story. With this data, a newsroom can see the sourcing trends for a single beat, reporting team or individual journalist. This we think is essential to success. Because although you can measure source diversity across a whole publication, change happens at the level of individuals. Each author and each beat has to learn unique lessons, make unique changes and measure their own results.

Universal integration, zero-hassle setup: From the beginning, we built our analytics tool Metrics for News (upon which this source audit technology is built) for complete flexibility — to work with any content-management system, analytics service or data warehouse a given publisher may have. We’ve kept that commitment with the Source Matters tool. We can work with you to track your sources no matter what technology your website uses, and you don’t have to install any scripts or make any modifications to your site for the integration.

 

How can I learn more?

We are still in the early stages and developing quickly. We constantly assess the usage and performance of our products through listening to our newsroom partners and the journalism industry at large.

Four major local U.S. newsrooms currently use API’s new tool Source Matters, including the San Diego Union Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, and two Gannett newsrooms — the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester and The Tennessean. Gannett recently earned a grant from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge to build a database of expert sources from underrepresented communities, which our technology is helping to support. We’d be excited to work with more publishers, so if your news organization is looking for a solution please get in touch.

API’s work with newsrooms goes far beyond just the software to measure their sourcing. We’re building a program of training, coaching, workshops and resources to help the journalists we work with make changes. We’re leaning on API’s experience with change management and with listening to and serving more diverse audiences — work we do through programs like Table Stakes, Metrics for News, our Community Listening Fellowship and our Listening & Sustainability Lab.

If you work at a news organization that is interested in working to track and improve the diversity of your sources, please contact us for more information or a demo.

If you want to be involved, we’re looking for people and groups outside of API who could partner with us in this work. If you or your organization has some skills or experience relevant to supporting news organizations as they improve reporting practices to diversify their sources, we would love to explore what role you could play. Please contact API’s Director of Metrics for News Liz Worthington at liz.worthington@pressinstitute.org.

API is also hiring full-time positions for a Director of Inclusion and Audience Growth and a Senior Web Developer — both of whom will play big roles in this work.

If you represent a foundation or philanthropist who wants to help U.S. news media provide communities with more representative and equitable coverage — please get in touch with us to discuss how to accelerate and scale this effort.

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