Over the past few months, we've been looking at how we’re doing when it comes to reflecting the diversity of the community in our journalism.
Public radio’s mission has always been to sound like the communities it serves. As we’re going about our jobs, it can be easy to think, “Oh yeah, we’re doing a good job including voices from all backgrounds and experience.”
It’s another thing to sit down and quantify it.
To get a real measure of how we’re doing, we decided to take a look at the voices we’re putting on air — and whether everyone in our community is able to hear themselves represented in our news coverage.
We looked at the first quarter of 2018 to get a baseline of the gender, race and expertise of our sources. We reviewed more than 1,000 sources, some of whom we heard from multiple times, like Austin Mayor Steve Adler. These are the voices you hear only as part of KUT's local news coverage; NPR has done a separate survey of its own sources in past years.
What we found was a reality check for all the journalists at KUT.
KUT has eight male journalists and seven female journalists. We assumed our sources would also be relatively evenly split.
We were wrong.
Our survey found that 69 percent of the sources we used in local news stories were male. Thirty-one percent were female. We did not identify any non-gender-binary sources.
Some of this — but by no means all of it — is due to source repetition. For instance, this sample was done during the serial bombings in Austin earlier this year. Then-interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley was a source 40 times during that period. Austin Mayor Steve Adler was a source 24 times. Still, this does not dismiss our obvious over-reliance on male sources.
While our female journalists were somewhat more likely to call on female sources, male sources still represented a solid majority of the sources for both our male and female reporters.
On this point, we obviously have a lot of work to do to more accurately reflect the gender balance in our community.
We have made a conscious effort over the past few years to better represent the different lived experiences of people in and around Austin.
The survey has made clear that we need to have a clearer plan to achieve those goals.
We found the vast majority of our sources continue to be white: 75 percent of the sources we used in the first quarter of 2018 were non-Hispanic white. That means a plurality of the sources you heard in our local news coverage in the first quarter were white men.
Thirteen percent of KUT’s sources were Latino or Latina. Nine percent of our sources were black. Three percent were of Asian descent. One percent identified as two or more races. We identified no sources who were American Indian, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
Clearly, this does not reflect the racial diversity of our community. The 2010 Census found Austin’s population was roughly 49 percent non-Hispanic white, 35 percent Latino/a, 8 percent black and about 6 percent Asian.
The only group where we were even close to accurately representing the share of the population was among sources who are black.
Cross-referencing gender and race, we can see that our bias toward male sources holds true across most racial groups, as well.
Finally, when we looked at where sources of color were appearing the most, it tended to be in stories that were about race in some form. We grouped stories according to whether they were not about race, dealt with race in some way or were entirely about race. We found that the more race was a factor in the story, the more non-white sources were used. Obviously, this is not what we want. A diversity of sources must appear in all of our stories — not just when those stories are about race.
Breaking down our sources by expertise, we saw an over-reliance on official government and political sources. While sometimes these are the best sources to get information about a story, we could clearly do more to get outside that sphere. This does not include everyday people we spoke to who are affected by what’s happening, but who don’t have a particular expertise on a subject – other than being experts on their own experiences.
And then there’s this: The majority of our "expert" sources were white.
We’re making this data public for two reasons.
First, to be transparent with our audience. We owe that to you. Second, to hold ourselves accountable. We could acknowledge the problem just within our newsroom, then try to address it. This is something that is important to us. But we want to address the issue in public, so we don’t lose focus on it. We are accountable to our audience in all things, and we intend to continue to report any progress — or regression — in our efforts to better reflect the community we serve.
We are doing a few things to address this. Now that we have a baseline, we can work to improve. Beginning immediately, we will catalog our sources by gender, race and expertise on an ongoing basis — to make thinking about source diversity a daily part of our work. We'll also be able to track whether we're making progress, holding steady or backsliding. We are taking steps to ensure that we don’t go to the “usual suspects” for comment or explanation of the news — and that our journalists engage with the entire community. We are doing this by deliberately reaching out to sources and groups we have not heard from in the past.
We are not setting quotas. But we are setting goals. Our first goal is to improve the diversity of our sources every month. It's unlikely that we will achieve a true reflection of our community's diversity overnight, but by making incremental progress each month, we will get there. And each month, we will report on our progress.
We're under no illusions that this will be a simple task. Many news organizations struggle with the same issues. But we are committed to addressing them.
Matt Largey is the managing editor at KUT. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A note on our methodology: We hired a part-time employee, Sangita Menon, to gather and process the data about our sources. She spent 160 hours going through all the material KUT produced for broadcast between Jan. 1 and March 30 of this year – that included everything from newscasts to interviews to longer reported stories. We did not include multiple versions of the same story appearing on the same day. We came up with a list of 1,042 sources (some were duplicates). Our researcher first consulted with the reporters to identify the gender, race and expertise of their sources. If there was any doubt about any of these details, the researcher contacted the individuals themselves to ask how they identify. We were unable to identify the gender of 2 percent of our sources and unable to identify the race of 14 percent of sources, either because we could not reach them or they declined to participate.