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We tracked the diversity of our sources for one year. We learned we have work to do

wvxu studio
Bill Rinehart
/
WVXU

During the past year, WVXU has taken a hard look at our reporting, not only what and who we cover, but how we go about covering stories. Public radio stations across the country have been criticized for not talking to people from a variety of communities and backgrounds; for not expanding sources beyond the “usual suspects” of elected officials and experts. We wondered how we were doing, so we decided to find out.

The only way to find out just how we were doing was to keep track, to measure, to actually write it all down. So, for a year, we did. We marked down everyone we talked to. In a spreadsheet, we recorded a person's age, race and gender. We knew we needed a baseline to measure from.

The first quarter showed most people we talked to for stories were white, male and largely between the ages of 40-60. As we continued to check on our findings every two weeks, we strived to do better, and initially, we did. Then we slipped back before improving again. Now we have a year’s worth of information with a goal to do better.

 This graph shows the racial makeup of our sources from Sept. 2020-21.
This graph shows the racial makeup of our sources from Sept. 2020-21.
 This graph shows the age breakdown of our sources from Sept. 2020-21.
This graph shows the age breakdown of our sources from Sept. 2020-21.
 This graph shows the gender split of our sources from Sept. 2020-21.
This graph shows the gender split of our sources from Sept. 2020-21.

Our statement of diversity and inclusion says our goal is "to build and nurture an environment where diversity, equity, inclusion and access are embodied in everything we touch and do." What the above numbers show us is that when it came to our diversity of sources over the last year, we largely failed at that goal. And, to invoke Maya Angelou, now that we know better, we will try to do better. Here's how:

We aren’t setting quotas or asking each reporter to keep track of how they are doing individually. Rather, we are looking at the results as a whole. Are we covering our region — all parts of our community? Are the stories we focus on representative of what’s going on throughout our listening area? Are the numbers improving every month? Because that’s the goal — to always be improving. Now that we have a baseline, maybe some months will just be 2% better, maybe another month will be 10% better. But as long as it’s getting better and more representative of the region we serve, then we will know we are succeeding.

We've taken some major steps already. You may have heard our 'Round the Corner series. Every couple of months we find a part of our region — either physical, like a neighborhood, or something less tangible, like a particular group of people — and dive deep into telling its story. We started with Roselawn, moved to Lincoln Heights, and then on to veterans. Reporters Jolene Almendarez and Becca Costello spent a lot of time in these neighborhoods and with the people who are part of these communities, finding out what’s important to them and what stories they have to tell. We will continue these reports regularly, covering more and more of our Tri-State area.

Furthermore, we’ve added programs to our weekly schedule, like Latino USA and Code Switch/Life Kit that we feel better represent voices traditionally missing from our airwaves. Our newsroom is more diverse than five years ago, and yes, we still have lots of room for improvement.

We will continue to track sources with a new system we built in-house that we hope will give us a clearer picture of how we are doing than that first spreadsheet did. In fact, if you talk to us for a story, you'll likely be contacted to tell us a little more about you — all to help us better understand trends in our reporting and identify areas where we may need to improve.

Even if — especially if — you don't speak to us for a story, we still want to hear from you. What stories do you want to hear? What stories do you think are missing from our air and website? You can share your thoughts with me at mzeleznik@wvxu.org.

Don’t hesitate to let us know when you think we could do something better. We take constructive criticism seriously, and we attempt to reply to every comment. For our part, we promise to be transparent and will continue to share our findings on our diversity of sources often.

More than anything, we want to continue to improve. Today, we all make a pledge to you that we will do our best to achieve this goal.