This year, The Argus piloted its first-ever coverage tracker. Modeled after the Minnesota Daily’s Content Diversity Report, our coverage tracker was designed to gather data on the topics we write about and the demographics of the sources we interview. The coverage tracker is part of a larger Argus effort to diversify our newsroom with other initiatives such as anti-racist newsroom discussions and the Argus Voices Fund, which provided two paid reporter positions during the 2020–2021 academic year. This summer, we plan to discuss our findings with staff and assess what areas we need to focus on in the upcoming school year.
To facilitate data collection, we created a source demographic form that was sent to each source contacted for every article. The form included optional questions about ethnicity/race and LGBTQ+ identity. Section editors organized the sources’ responses to the demographic form into our coverage tracker spreadsheet, which included keywords created to sort the topics of our coverage. We managed, analyzed, and graphed this data using RStudio. Graphs can be found here.
The coverage tracker also noted whether an article covered the experience of a historically marginalized or underrepresented group, asked if there were sources the writer had never interviewed for a past article, and included a free response question of whom else the writer could have interviewed to expand the scope of their story. These questions were included not only to collect the data, but to keep the idea of diversifying coverage in our writers’ minds throughout the year.
We found that when it comes to students, our percentage of white student sources was the same as the University’s white student enrollment at 55%. The rest of our student sources were 14% Asian, 9% Black, and 8% Hispanic/Latinx, compared to the University’s 8%, 6%, and 12% respectively. 1% of our sources were Middle Eastern or Northern African and 1% identified as an ethnicity/race other than the options we provided. The University does not offer these as options for their data. We also had 12% of our sources identify as two or more races compared to the University’s 7%. When it comes to faculty, our faculty sources were 71% white compared to the University’s 68% and our staff sources were 77% white compared to the University’s 75%.
We also collected data regarding our sources’ pronouns and whether or not they identified as a member of the LGBT community (36% yes and 57% no), but did not have University data to compare this to.
As expected, COVID-19 was a major focal point, making up about 10% of our total coverage for the year. The top three topics in the news section were COVID-19, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), and Middletown while the top three in features were campus culture, COVID-19, and student groups. The top arts topics were music, personal essays, and movie reviews, and sports topics were professional sports, current events, and University sports.
Our first year collecting this data wasn’t easy and required a lot of fine-tuning. Throughout the semester we encountered difficulties applying the initial set of keywords as we realized they were not comprehensive enough to cover the range of articles. Over the course of the fall semester, we also made a few additions to our source demographic questions based on suggestions from our sources themselves, such as adding a distinction between University faculty and staff. The process of collecting, organizing, and interpreting the data also proved to be more complicated than we anticipated, and we hope to be able to streamline the process going forward.
A more difficult obstacle to address is the subjectivity that comes with analyzing our stories themselves. While we can collect straightforward survey data about the demographics of our sources, it is much harder when it comes to the topics of our stories. While we included the question of whether the story covers the experience of historically marginalized groups, this category might be too broad and subjective to truly capture the effectiveness and impact of our coverage.
After piloting this program for the year, we’ve come up with some goals moving forward. Our first goal is to streamline the data collection process to increase our staff’s participation because data was not collected for every article we published this past year. We found that while our keywords and our source demographic collection worked well for news, features, and sports, it did not work as well for the arts and culture and opinion sections due to the different style of coverage, and therefore topics from these articles were not entirely captured in coverage tracker data. We hope to discuss with the editors and writers of those sections how we can improve, and are also open to any feedback from the University community.
Our second goal is to discuss with our editors and staff how we can better reflect the demographics of our school. In having this baseline data, we can see exactly what areas each section and The Argus as a whole need to improve.
Special thanks to Features Editor Olivia Ramseur for creating the tracker, Editor in Chief Hannah Docter-Loeb for maintaining the tracker and graphing the data, and Former Editors in Chief Serena Chow and Claire Isenegger and Managing Editor Hallie Sternberg for their suggestions and help. We’d also like to thank the boards of Ujamaa and Asian American Student Collective (AASC) along with the Resource Center for taking the time to offer suggestions and feedback on our efforts throughout the year.
Feel free to reach out to Editors-in-Chief with any questions.