We're Analyzing Who You Hear In KUT's Local News. Here's A Look At The First Half Of 2020.

Sep 10, 2020

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More than two years ago, KUT started to keep track of the demographics of the sources we use on-air in our local news coverage. The goal is to see how we’re doing in our effort to reflect all of our community in the stories you hear. We’ve focused on gender, race/ethnicity and expertise.

We want to make sure we’re not overrepresenting any one group.

When we began in early 2018, we found we were doing just that: White men made up 56% of the sources we used. That is obviously not representative — and not in line with our mission as a public service to sound like the community we serve.

Last fall, we completed a full year of collecting demographic data about our sources. You can see the results of our analysis here. While some progress was made in balancing sources by gender and race/ethnicity, disparities remained. Here’s what we found for the first half of 2020.

Gender

We saw some variation from month to month in the gender balance of the sources we used on-air. As you can see from the charts below, January was the month with the biggest imbalance of sources — nearly two-thirds were male. Other months were more balanced, though male sources outnumbered female sources in all months.

Overall, between January and June of this year, the majority of the sources we used were male. However, compared to the previous full year of data that we collected between October 2018 and September 2019, we have moved closer to balancing the gender makeup of our sources. In that previous one-year time period, our sources were 60% male and 40% female, with no nonbinary sources identified. So far in 2020, we are at 57.5% male, 42% female and 0.1% nonbinary. A handful of sources (0.4%) were unidentified in terms of gender.

We have noticed a pattern that has continued from our previous year of data into 2020: Our female journalists are more likely to select female sources than our male journalists. Female journalists used about 10% more female sources. A bias toward male sources by KUT’s male journalists continues to be a factor in our overrepresentation of men, as our female journalists continue to demonstrate near-parity between male and female sources.

Race/Ethnicity

Non-Hispanic white sources continued to make up the majority of KUT’s on-air sources; most months, comprising about two-thirds of them. The sole exception in the first half of 2020 was in June, following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which triggered nationwide protests of anti-Black racism and police violence. For the first time, non-Hispanic white sources were less than half of our on-air sources. Black sources made up 28% of our sources that month.

Overall for January to June, 62.2% of the sources we chose were non-Hispanic white, 15.3% Hispanic (of any race), 13.8% Black, 4.4% Asian and 2% identified as two or more races. A small fraction of our sources identified as Native American or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

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% Hispanic (of any race), 7% Black and about 5% Asian.

While we are continuing to overrepresent white and Black sources, the deficit in our representation continues to be among our Hispanic community members. In fact, while the share of Black and Asian sources grew in the first six months of 2020 compared to the previous full year of data, the share of Hispanic sources actually fell from 18% to 15.3%.

Obviously, this needs to be an area of focus for us in a community where that population is almost double what is represented by our sources.

Another data point we collect is whether a story is “about race,” “deals with race” or “is not about race.” The goal is to drill into the kinds of stories where non-white sources are chosen. Ideally, we would select sources of color in every type of story — not just those where race is a factor.

However, we find that is not the case.

Between immigration, racism and pandemic health disparities, too many of our sources of color are appearing solely in stories that deal with or are about race. Of particular focus going forward needs to be getting the perspective of sources of color into stories that are not about race.

Expertise

We’ve been tracking the expertise of our sources to make sure we are not relying too heavily on government sources. It’s not entirely clear where the line is for “overreliance,” but we do want to make sure we are presenting a healthy mix of expert sources — as well as the voices of the general public, who may not have any particular expertise in the topic of the story, other than their lived experiences.

Elections and the pandemic had a big influence on source expertise in the first half of 2020. While campaigns and current elected officials were a big part of our sources leading up to the March primary — and again for the runoff primaries in the summer — March saw a spike in medical sources that continued through the following months. Other government sources, including public health officials, also dominated during this time. There was also a jump in the number of general public sources beginning in March, as we heard from folks about how the pandemic was affecting them and from people protesting anti-Black racism following George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and the police killing of Mike Ramos in Austin.

Overall during the first half of 2020, we see medical and general public sources represent a much larger share than usual, due to the nature of the news.

What's Next

As we said in February, we still have a lot of work to do to fully represent our entire community. While we have made progress in some areas — and the pandemic stalled some of our plans to focus intentionally on some of our shortcomings — we know this work must continue.

The newsroom will start getting weekly briefings on the balance of sources, so we can address imbalances as they emerge.

Our hope in the coming months is to also recommit to plans for more specific outreach to underserved communities in Central Texas. We want to hear from the audiences we’re not serving about how we can be of service. What are the stories we are not covering? Who are the people in your communities we should be talking to? What do you need from a news organization that you are not getting? Do you hear yourself in our news coverage?

The answers to these questions won’t come to us on their own. We need to make a deliberate effort to reach out to people and places where we aren’t right now.

Before the end of the year, KUT will hold the first in a series of listening sessions where people will be able to tell us how we can better serve them and their communities. Stay tuned.

A note on our methodology: Beginning in September 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 Sangita Menon. Most sources provided information, though a small percentage declined to answer. Reporters continued tracking that information through September 2019, when we moved to a different tracking system. We resumed our previous tracking method in January 2020, after discovering shortcomings in the system used in fall 2019.

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