RJI Fellow will help newsrooms diversify their source lists with a training curriculum

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute has awarded seven fellowships for the 2020–21 academic year for projects that address the increasing challenges in covering climate change, unpublishing, harassment of marginalized journalists and more.

Wanting to help news outlets do a better job representing the diverse communities they serve through their story sources, prompted freelance journalist Melba Newsome of Charlotte, North Carolina, to help.

She is designing a training program possibly through webinars to help journalists find diverse sources, including more people of color and other underrepresented groups during a 2020-21 fellowship at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. She plans to work with RJI and the Missouri School of Journalism to develop a curriculum that will be implemented and tested at two or three newsrooms, including the North Carolina Health News during the fellowship. As a journalist herself, she will include some of what she learned about finding diverse sources. Training materials will be available to newsrooms at the end of the fellowship.

Practicing fair and balanced journalism involves finding a diverse group of sources for stories, says Newsome. Unfortunately, newsrooms often struggle in this area, particularly when reporters are new to reporting and-or the community. But more experienced reporters can get stuck in their ways, too, and interview folks they always do, she says.

“One of the most common excuses is, ‘Well, I don’t know where to find people,’” says Newsome. “We usually go to our Rolodex or our circle, but if our circle is not diverse, we’re not going to have any diversity in who we contact.”

Newsome says African Americans shouldn’t just be reported in crime stories and Hispanics just reported in immigration stories. Many different angles can be used to represent people of color in COVID-19 stories, for instance, including how these folks are being impacted more and are dying and getting sicker at higher rates. Also, there are persons of color on the frontlines – the hospital workers and doctors who are doing research – that need to be included in reporting.

“The expert space is still not very diverse at all,” she says.

Rose Hoban, founding editor of North Carolina Health News and one of Newsome’s partners is thankful for the training opportunity to find more diverse sources and better serve their entire community. Currently much of their readership is Caucasian, she says.

“This (project) could not be better timed,” says Hoban. “It truly is a time for us to be looking for more diverse sourcing, more diverse voices. It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do with the publication anyway, is to diversify and better serve audiences of color. We know that 90 percent of our readership is white, according to a survey that we did. The survey was primarily answered by people who subscribed to our newsletter. We may have more readers of color than we know.”

Journalists who have experience finding diverse sources are encouraged to reach out to Newsome to share more about how they go about finding diverse sources.

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