Minnesota Public Radio and MPR News, have long had the goal of reflecting the voices of all Minnesotans. Over the past few years, part of that effort included getting a handle on who we rely on as sources. Just over a year ago, we developed a formal source diversity tracking system that has resulted in a strong baseline report that we can build on in the coming months and years.
The purpose is to develop a data set that helps the newsroom self-reflect and ascertain equity in our coverage. The project was launched by deputy managing editor Michael Olson and former data reporter David Montgomery. In the past few months, MPR News has partnered with the APM Research Lab on collecting and examining the newsroom’s source data.
The MPR News Diversity Source Tracker is a significant step toward keeping our journalism honest and accountable to all the communities we cover.
After a year of MPR News source diversity tracking, the data presents these highlights:
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MPR News staff tracked 6,162 total sources from February 2021 to April 2021
27 percent of sources residing in the Twin Cities suburbs identify as BIPOC, and the same percentage (27 percent) of the population residing in the Twin Cities suburbs identify as BIPOC
The roles of spokesperson, official and expert skew heavily white and toward individuals using he/him pronouns. Spokesperson and official sources are most likely determined by forces external to the MPR Newsroom. However, there is greater potential for seeking diverse voices among expert sources.
Sources between the ages of 18 and 25 are more racially diverse than other age groups, and source diversity decreases as source age increases.
67 percent of all sources identified as non-Hispanic white alone, which is less than the 76 percent of Minnesotans who identify as non-Hispanic white alone in the state overall.
17.6 percent of all sources were Black and 3.2 percent of all sources were Indigenous, both more than the state’s population of each racial or ethnic group of 6.9 percent and 1 percent respectively.
4.7 percent of all sources were Asian, slightly less than the 5.2 percent of the population in Minnesota who identify as Asian and 3.8 percent of all sources were Hispanic, less than the 6.1 percent of the population who identifies as Hispanic.
Olson and Montgomery created a process for the newsroom, which included a Google form to report and track sources on a monthly basis. Part of the development and implementation of the process was to send monthly reminders to the staff to fill out their tracking information. The data reports were later distributed with trend assessments.
Nieman Reports outlines why source diversity is important in newsrooms. Journalist Melba Newsome suggests how journalists can increase their source diversity. She outlines four steps: 1) redefine who is an expert, 2) lay the groundwork first, 3) explain the process, and 4) practice cultural competence.
Christopher Baxter, an editor Newsome interviewed for her report, “says much of the distrust is because journalism historically has failed to provide an accurate and equitable view of certain communities.”
MPR News is strengthening its trust with communities across the state of Minnesota. This focused work with the MPR News Source Diversity Tracker plus our coverage of diverse communities in the MPR News North Star Journey project and listening sessions led by MPR’s community impact team are helping us further meaningful relationships with our audiences and improve the diversity of our sources.
We present a fuller picture in our stories and we are reaching audiences we have not paid enough attention to in the past.
While the practice of collecting source diversity data is a good practice, the next step for MPR News is to further embed discussions about sourcing on the front end of the newsgathering practices. Formalizing these discussions so they take place regularly in editor and reporter meetings is critical.
This creates balance to ensure that people of color don’t disproportionately show up in stories involving protest and crime, and that they are represented in stories as experts. Expertise should also be considered broadly and not just when it comes to issues of race. And when covering women and LGBTQ+ people, it's critical they too are seen in all story types and not just those with issues of interest to women and/or the LGBTQ+ community.
Conversations involving diversity and equity in coverage must be ongoing in every U.S. newsroom. The source diversity tracker effort at MPR News has jumpstarted these important conversations.
APM Research Lab’s assessment of the MPR News Source Diversity Report said, “The proportion of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) sources within each residential grouping (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Metro suburbs, Greater Minnesota) are fairly similar to the respective population share of BIPOC residents in each area.” That means MPR News’ sourcing is as diverse as the state’s BIPOC population, and in some cases it is more diverse.
Some additional context on the source diversity tracking effort will be manual and intuitive. From an editorial perspective, that requires a deeper dive by news editors to ensure that people of color don’t predominately show up in the same types of stories, such as Black people in protest or trial stories or Latino people primarily in Latino culture stories, and that they are also sourced as experts in applicable fields. People of color should be represented in all human interest and news stories and not primarily in stories that are defined by their race or ethnicity.
The work the MPR News team has done with source tracking is impressive, particularly as previously noted it was a homegrown approach. The monthly discussions being had in the newsroom will continue, and editors and reporters will work to amplify to embed source diversity discussions on the front end of newsgathering. As the newsroom adds more technological tools, there is potential for automation in the data collection process and analysis of the data sets.
MPR News is committed to telling rich and inclusive stories of all citizens across the North Star state and ensuring our stories reflect the audience we serve.
MPR News Managing Editor