This commentary was first published by America Amplified on LinkedIn and is republished here with permission.
You’ve started tracking the diversity of your sources. Hooray! Now, there are a few things you and your newsroom can do to make sure that source diversity tracking becomes a lasting habit.
First, get buy-in from everybody from the get-go.
Don’t make this a new edict from on high. Instead, bring the entire newsroom together before you launch the process and discuss why this is important and how you are going to be using the data. Get everyone’s input on the process and the goals, and get their input on what you should be tracking. If you have those conversations before you launch, staff will be more willing to go through the process and continue the work. At the same time, if your general manager, CEO, director of content or any kind of upper management participates in this early brainstorming, it signals that this is a station commitment and part of your mission and vision moving forward.
WPLN in Nashville, Tenn., had numerous staff discussions on what they should track and why. Not everyone agreed on the categories they ultimately chose, but they did get to hear the pros and cons. Finally, assistant News Director Chas Sisk says, he reassured staff that they would revisit these practices frequently and talk about what is and isn’t working, which he believes helped with buy-in.
Second, share the results as often as possible.
Not so much to hold people accountable for participating — that’s part of it — but also to demonstrate what you’re learning and, ideally, progress towards your goals.
Third, keep it simple.
While you might want to learn everything you possibly can about your sources, keep the survey short. Start really small with just a few demographic details tracked; i.e name, gender and ZIP code. Or race, name and ZIP code. It is up to you, but start somewhere. Also, you can introduce it slowly into your newsroom — if it feels like too big of a lift to get everyone involved, start with one beat, share the data, and then ask other beats to begin the work.
Fourth, automate what you can.
When you have to rely on reporters and editors to input the data for every story or talk show, there can be resistance. If you have the staff or the budget to automate tracking, it can definitely help sustain and institutionalize the process. Find a way to build automation into your workflow.
Wisconsin Public Radio, which uses its own CMS, built tracking into the software so that when a reporter files a story, there are source diversity tracking questions in the CMS. The reporter fills in the name, email, race, gender and ZIP code directly into the CMS, and that populates a spreadsheet. Each week a survey is sent automatically out to all sources recorded in the CMS. WPR reports a 49% response rate, which is pretty good. WPR also has a person who functions as a “source librarian,” collecting names and contact information for all sources and then providing those resources to the newsroom as a whole.
You may not be able to customize your CMS in this way, but you can probably find places within your system to prompt your reporters, like completing a Google form before they file a story for edits.
Some of you may remember when, as radio journalists, we were suddenly (it seemed) asked to also “digitize” our stories. There was tremendous resistance across newsrooms everywhere. “I went into radio for a reason!” “Now I have to do two stories instead of one?” “I never studied print journalism!” “What are we now, clickbait?”
Yet now that resistance has evaporated, for obvious reasons. Source tracking will become the same — built into our workflows, and part of how we cover and engage with our communities. Maybe not immediately, but eventually this is how we keep ourselves in check, critique our own content, recognize our personal biases, and build trust across our communities.
To learn more about source diversity tracking in general, check out Caroline Bauman’s work at Chalkbeat. We owe a lot of what we know to her!