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Why source diversity is essential


You can’t cover a community unless you understand it — and that means listening to its people, and to the people who represent it. And that means diversifying your sources.

Melba Newsome, an independent journalist in Charlotte, has focused for the past year on helping us do that, in her work as a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow. In this Nieman Reports piece, she talks about the barriers we must overcome. They include media distrust among many Black people — and a reluctance by experts of color to be “used” as token representatives in reporting, or to hand over the fruits of a lifetime of hard work when its "moment" arrives. One academic shared her reaction to that:

'We’ve been toiling in this vineyard for decades trying to get somebody to pay attention to social justice and these systemic racism issues, but no one cared. Now that it’s a hot topic, you want to come in, pick my brain, and get the benefit of all my hard work for free. No, thanks.'

There’s also, of course, news outlets’ lack of real engagement with communities of color — including the tendency to parachute into a crisis, do a deadline story about a single day in the life of a community ... and walk away.

Newsome talks in the piece about four ways to start breaking down those barriers: Redefine who is an expert ... lay the groundwork before it’s needed ... explain the reporting process ... and practice cultural competence. Read more of her advice

As part of her fellowship, Newsome led a survey of journalists about diversity sourcing to help her understand what they're doing and what they need, and she’s building a training program to help them address the challenge. She’ll go over that curriculum with her media partners — WFAE, The Charlotte Observer and North Carolina Health News — train their newsrooms in it, and then make it available to anyone.

It was my pleasure to chat with Newsome the other day about all of this. Some highlights:
How did this become a passion for you?
 
I grew increasingly frustrated with the narrowness of the coverage. Every story about Black people shouldn't be about crime, and every story about Latinos shouldn't be about immigration. That fails to cover the full spectrum of who we are. 
 
People of color are mostly covered when in crisis. .... But we remodel our houses, have book clubs, are sports fans, put our kids in Kumon, and love to cook, too. Also, unless the story is about issues specific to people of color, expert voices are overwhelmingly white. And sometimes even when the story is about Black people, the experts quoted are also white! There are Black epidemiologists, etc., but they are only quoted when the story is about Black people and COVID. Hell, one of the chief vaccine researchers who's been at Fauci's side is a young Black North Carolina woman [Kizzmekia Corbett, a Hurdle Mills native who grew up in Hillsborough and earned a doctorate at UNC-Chapel Hill].
 
Tell me about the training program you're building — what you hope it will do.
 
Well, I hope that, first of all, journalists will understand the importance of having more diversity in their reporting, and that this will also tell them how to go about doing that, how to find sources, some of the traps they might expect or find along the way. Just having people think about things like calling an HBCU for an expert, rather than just always going to Chapel Hill.
 
If I'm a reporter and I want to raise my cultural competence, what do I do first?
 
Learn about the community, or the people that you're talking to, before just rushing in. … It's important to do some homework, so you will know how to address what to say. So that you don't alienate. And so that people understand what your mission is. … And for just regular people, I think it's important to explain the process. And listen to them, so that they don't feel that this is just an in-and-out thing, that you’d only come here to report on us when there's a crisis. That’s not representing us. Know the whole circle of who we are.
 
What do you hope the news media look like in, say, 2025?
 
Like the community. Say, for instance if we're looking at Mecklenburg County, where the population is 32% black. I hope that's what the newsroom looks like. It looks like the place you represent. 
 
What's your biggest worry?
 
This notion that all points of view are equally valid. They are not. Acting as if there's no objective truth. There aren’t two sides to climate change ... that debate is over, and if you act as if these people who deny it have an equal point ... we are afraid to call balls and strikes. There's so much misinformation. 
 
We saw that with the election, where it took so long for people to even acknowledge what had happened. So where did it lead?
 
What's your best source of hope?
 
The next generation. Sometimes when I look at a journalism class, it looks like America. You know, people of all colors, all faiths. That's my hope. … At least, I think, the acceptance of diversity just as the norm. 
 
What's next for you?
 
Well, I would like to expand this in some way to the next step. I thought the biggest challenge would be just getting people to say that this was worthwhile, but … what I found out was about the hesitancy among sources of color sometimes, and that was a complete surprise to me. So I want to go a little deeper about overcoming those objections ... and developing the cultural competencies to work with different communities and get them on board and explain the whole process.
More help with diverse sourcing

➡️ Journalism for Black Lives: A Reporting Guide. From Free Press and The Movement for Black Lives.
➡️ Measuring progress on inclusivity (Newsome's report on how tracking your use of sources is essential, and how NC Health News, WFAE and The Charlotte Observer are doing that).
➡️ Newsome's guide to diverse source databases. Here are a few other rich resources to get you started:
Related insight

➡️ The Philadelphia Inquirer recently did a diversity audit of more than 3,000 of its stories. The coverage, from a largely white newsroom, skewed white and male. But the more diverse news teams produced stories that included more diverse subjects. (Might that be a clue to a solution?)
    ➵ Meanwhile, the Inquirer, the Lenfest Local Lab and The Brown Institute, helped by funding from the Google GNI Innovation Challenge, are building open-source tools that will help local newsrooms do DEI audits of their coverage. Find out more here, and get contact info if you’re interested in taking part.

This is a media time-out


If the past year has been the longest decade of your life, you may need this. The Solutions Journalism Network is opening its weekly internal wellness call to all journalists everywhere this evening (Wednesday) at 6 pm ET for “They Don’t Teach This in J-School: How journalists can stay sane in a world gone batshit crazy.” Join this “time together as food for the soul” to process, share, reflect and listen, led by Amanda Ripley. They're promising live music, too. [Register.] 
 
From the Workshop

Journalists: You can apply now for a two-part data journalism training opportunity from the NC Local News Workshop at Elon, associate professor Ryan Thornburg of the UNC Hussman School and the NC Press Association.

The first part is a workshop Feb. 26 during the NCPA winter convention. The second is hands-on training March 15 for five selected reporters from Thornburg and Workshop interim director Melanie Sill, which will help produce a local story. You can sign up now for both; details and signup links are here

News about the news


Two victories for public records access in the past week: 

🗞️ Visiting Judge John W. Smith found for The News Reporter of Whiteville, the Tabor-Loris Tribune, WECT and WWAY in a lawsuit against Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene over access to criminal records. Under a new public records procedure, Greene had not shared incident reports for more than a month with news media and had issued a memo saying that “information pertaining to open criminal investigations will not be released prior to the conclusion of the investigation and/or the arrest of all suspects involved.” Smith has not signed a final order, but he ruled for the plaintiffs, represented by Amanda Martin, that the records were public when created and must be released in a timely manner.

🗞️ In Forsyth County, Judge David Hall dissolved an order that had sealed DHHS records involving the death of inmate John Neville in the Forsyth jail in December 2019. Five deputies and a nurse are charged with involuntary manslaughter in his death, which was caused by asphyxiation after he was placed in full prone restraint. A coalition of media outlets led by The News & Observer and represented by Mike Tadych moved that the order be dissolved, and after arguments, Hall agreed.
 
Meanwhile...

🗞️ All full-time McClatchy newsroom employees in North Carolina will get yearly pay of at least $45,000, or the hourly equivalent for a 40-hour week, starting March 1 under the company's new minimum-salary policy. McClatchy, which announced the decision in an email to all employees this month, owns The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer in Raleigh and The Herald-Sun in Durham. The salary floor will be $42,000 in smaller McClatchy markets nationwide.

🗞️ Thirty political cartoons by legendary N&O cartoonist Dwane Powell are now in an online exhibit posted by the UNC Library. You can also browse much of a large collection of drawings, artwork, and personal papers Powell donated to the Southern Historical Collection in the Wilson Library at UNC.

🗞️ NPR has created a Station Investigations Team, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to help local stations report investigative projects. [Details.]

🗞️ Mark Rogers of Archdale, a professional journalist for more than three decades, is the new editor of The Sanford Herald.
 

Well done


👏 Bill Horner III, Hannah McClellan and D. Lars Dolder of The Chatham News + Record have followed threads, made official inquiries and done a lot of digging to report the implications of a ransomware attack on Chatham County records last fall. In reports on Feb. 9 and on Feb. 14, they reveal that sensitive information was exposed and some posted online — including county personnel files; medical records and statements involving children who were victims of neglect or abuse; criminal investigation records; health care documents; Social Security and bank account numbers; and eviction notices. They also reported excellent context on ransomware attacks, and they’re following the county response. Great work.

👏 The final chapter of the graphic novel of COVID-19 stories — The Pandemic — dropped Tuesday, offering "all we have learned since the series started and where our world with COVID-19 is heading." If you haven't seen this collaboration by reporters and artists from the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative and BOOM Charlotte, now's a good time to binge. Read more of the story behind it in my Oct. 28 newsletter.
 
Also worth your time...

👏 ‘Not an acceptable situation.’ Change may be coming for NC sexual assault nurses. Kate Martin, Carolina Public Press, a followup to her two-part report last month on the troubling status of SANE nurses in North Carolina— reporting that clearly has had some impact.

👏 5 takeaways from the most detailed data yet on the 2020 election. Tyler Dukes and Lucille Sherman, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun.

👏 Some Line Skipping, Even As Seniors Wait For COVID-19 Vaccine. NC Watchdog Reporting Network

👏 NC claims fewer prisoners died of COVID than documents show. Why does that matter? Hannah Critchfield, NC Health News.

👏 Prisons contribute to racial imbalance in COVID-19 impact in NC. Jordan Wilkie, Carolina Public Press.

👏 Pervasive vaccine inequity for minorities persists all over NC, new records show. Hannah Smoot and Adam Bell, The Charlotte Observer.

👏 Portraits of Perseverance: Stories of hope and survival amid Charlotte's coronavirus pandemic. Melba Newsome (she stays busy!) and Patsy Pressley for QCity Metro.

👏 Black homeownership is this NC neighborhood’s legacy. Development risks erasing it. Danielle Chemtob, The Charlotte Observer.

Making a quick connection

Melody Joy Kramer, a journalist and communications professional who moved to the Triangle five years ago, posted one of the more useful Twitter threads I’ve seen recently — about how public radio stations (or any media outlet, for that matter) can help and engage new residents by partnering with libraries to create a “welcome kit” for them. The thread has a wagonload of ideas for what to include. Check it out — and for more, read the report she wrote a while back as a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow.

    ➵ My friend and former McClatchy colleague JulieAnn McKellogg recently wrote for Nieman Lab about how news orgs can build engagement and loyalty if they connect with new residents — and how The Pilot in Southern Pines did it with a conversational newsletter that blends news with local experiences.
 
Bulletin board
 
Job postings
 
📌 Politics reporter, The Charlotte Observer.
📌 Local news editor, The Charlotte Observer.

Opportunities
 
📌 Learn from Scalawag how to use deep community connections, events and other practices to diversify and expand your audience and financial support in this free, three-hour webinar April 8, hosted with the Center for Cooperative Media. [Learn more and register.]

📌 The NC Open Government Coalition's Sunshine Week 2021, which brings together news professionals, lawyers, and others to celebrate open and transparent state government, will be virtual this year March 15-18 during National Sunshine Week. [Learn more and register.]
   ➵ Also: The $3,000 Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award recognizes excellence in reporting about freedom of information, access to government-held information, or the First Amendment. [Enter by Feb. 26.]

📌 Fellowships for the virtual NICAR21 March 3-5, which include the fees for the conference and IRE membership, are available for journalists, students and educators of color; women who are students or less than three years into their careers; and educators who teach data journalism and investigative reporting. [Apply.]

📌 In collaboration with Journalist’s Resource, a National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation webinar Feb. 22 will explore issues facing nurses in the pandemic, and ways to support their well-being and raise their voices in the service of patient outcomes. Mary Ann Fuchs of Duke is on the panel. [Register.]
That's all for now. Thanks for being here, and I'll see you next week. Take care. 
Eric

 
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