We Tracked The Diversity Of Voices In KUT's Local News. Here's What We Learned From A Year Of Data.

Feb 3, 2020

In 2018, KUT committed to tracking the gender, race or ethnicity, and expertise of the sources you hear in our local news reporting. We asked each source to tell us how they identify. The goal was to see how well we are doing in reflecting the diversity of our community — making sure we’re truly representing everyone in Central Texas.

We began by retroactively identifying the traits of sources we used over a three-month period between January and March 2018. We did this to get a baseline before we started actively tracking this information.

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In September 2018, we started tracking which sources we were hearing in real-time. Now we've collected one year’s worth of demographic data, so we can compare our baseline to our outcomes after starting this project.

Here's what we found.

Gender

In our baseline, we discovered that the gender balance of our sources was way out of whack.

During the first three months of 2018, the survey found that 69% of the sources we used in local news stories were male. Thirty-one percent were female. None of the sources identified as non-gender-binary.

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 in 2018. 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.

As we started tracking this data in real time, we urged reporters and producers to think twice about who they could get information from. Was there another source with the same (or better) expertise that wasn’t one of the usual white, male sources that we contact simply because they’re accessible?

Over the course of the year we’re looking at here, there was a departure from our baseline. We made some improvements in gender parity, though there is still an imbalance.

Sixty percent of our sources over the year were male while 40% were female.

Notably, there was a persistent bias of male journalists to rely more heavily on male sources.

There are some caveats here. The majority of producers on our newscast team are male. The daily news that they cover (as opposed to longer form reporting from our beat reporters) means they’re relying on elected officials to a higher degree than other journalists on our team. The majority of city leaders (mayor, police chief, city manager, governor, senators, congresspeople, etc.) are male. That may account for some of the lopsidedness in their numbers. But certainly not all.

On the whole, while there has been some improvement, there is more work to do here.

Race/Ethnicity

The second characteristic of sources that we tracked was race and/or ethnicity.

According to data from the Texas Demographic Center, the population in Travis County and the eight surrounding counties (roughly our broadcast area) is 53% non-Hispanic white, 32% Latinx (of any race), 7% black and about 5% Asian. 

We believe it’s important that all people in our community are heard in our news coverage — and that we sound like Central Texas.

Our baseline measure found that we were not meeting that goal.

The numbers showed the vast majority of our sources were white: 75% 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 during that first three months of 2018 were white men.

It would be hard to do any worse.

We did make some strides in this area, as well. But again, work remains.

For the one-year time period between October 2018 and September 2019, 66% of our sources identified as non-Hispanic white, 18% as Latinx (of any race), 10% as black, 3% Asian and 2% as two or more races. A small fraction identified as Native American or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

Clearly, we are still underrepresenting the voices of people of color in our community, particularly people who are Latinx.

We must make more intentional efforts to recruit sources of color who have expertise in topics we cover, reach communities of color and tell the stories of those communities. We should also continue our efforts to diversify our own newsroom so that we not only sound like our community, but look like it, too.

Expertise

Our baseline study from 2018 found we were relying heavily on government sources.

This included the period around the serial bombings in Austin when many sources we went to were law enforcement and city officials, which would account for some of the discrepancy. And of course, one of our jobs as a news organization is to inform people about what their elected leaders are doing, so it makes sense that we would hear from them a great deal.

However, the imbalance was stark.

Following our baseline, we decided to break out our classification of government officials a little more. Instead of lumping, say, a school teacher in with a mayor, we made two separate categories for educators and elected leaders.

In our one-year survey, government sources still made up about half of our on-air sources overall. However, that is a smaller percentage than our baseline. With new categories, we get a more granular look at who those sources are. Twenty-seven percent were elected officials, 16% were other government employees like agency directors and spokespeople, 3% were law enforcement and 2% were educators.

There’s no clear “right” mix of expertise to have in our coverage, though less reliance on government voices, we believe, is positive. This allows more space for average citizens.

In fact, we found members of the general public with no specific “expertise” made up 13% of our sources (we did not consider “general public” a category in our original baseline). We would like to see this proportion of sources increase somewhat. It’s important to hear our neighbors’ own words when we're discussing the issues facing them in their lives.

What's Next

There is work to be done. In the coming months, we plan to do more outreach — specifically when it comes to our coverage of the 2020 elections. We want to make sure we’re incorporating the voices and issues the whole community believes are important to consider when deciding who to vote for.

Beyond that, we want to meet with community groups to hear what would be most useful for us to focus our local news coverage on.

How can we best serve the entire community in Austin and Central Texas?

If you’d like to talk with us or if you have ideas about places or people in our community that aren’t being served by KUT or other news organizations, let us know in the comment box below.

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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. Menon first consulted with the reporters to identify the gender, race and expertise of their sources.

Beginning in Sept. 2018, reporters began asking sources how they identify at the end of interviews or following up with them later. They entered the information in a spreadsheet designed by Menon. Most sources provided information, though a small percentage declined to answer. Reporters continued tracking that information through Sept. 2019, when we moved to a different tracking system.