Our News Source Tracking
Since 2013, NPR has tracked the demographics of sources appearing on our newsmagazine shows. Our newsroom mission statement says that we seek to "look and sound like America," and our source-tracking work is one way to hold ourselves accountable to that goal.
Our efforts have led to more inclusive storytelling while also highlighting places where we need to improve. From the start, we have been transparent in making our efforts public, which has prompted many Member stations across the country to launch their own tracking strategies, and source tracking has been adopted by public media organizations in Canada and the UK.
Through the efforts of NPR's Research, Archives and Data Strategy (RAD) department and our Audience Insights research team, we created a retroactive sampling methodology that allows us to analyze sourcing data from the previous fiscal year.
This report is drawn from our most recent analysis of fiscal year 2021 sources and focuses on source diversity across several dimensions — race/ethnicity, gender, geography, story subject, and subject-matter expertise. As NPR works to fully adopt an in-house tracking tool, we will be able to offer a more complete look at sources across all platforms.
Our data is drawn from NPR's newsmagazines: Morning Edition, All Things Considered (weekdays and weekends), and Weekend Edition (Saturday and Sunday). These programs reach over 25 million weekly on-air listeners, and almost half of all weekly audiences across all media platforms.
The story sample size represents a composite month of coverage — randomly selected days from each quarter of the fiscal year (to be abbreviated as "FY" for the rest of this document) — sorted by our RAD team and analyzed by our Audience Insights team.
We began this work with a three-year pilot, then resumed in 2018. Because of time and resource limits, our 2020 data, which includes the Coronavirus Daily podcast, covers only half of the year.
Throughout this document, we sometimes reference U.S. 18+ population numbers as benchmark data. Given the complex and shifting nature of news and sources, U.S. population data is merely one point of reference for gauging inclusion. Also, data on race/ethnicity and gender for the U.S. population does not always match perfectly with all of the categories used in NPR's source tracking.
Race and Ethnicity
The overall racial and ethnic diversity of NPR's sources has increased each year since we began tracking this data
The overall racial and ethnic diversity of our sources has steadily grown, with White source numbers coming closer to matching the U.S. adult population. When we began tracking this data in FY13, 77% of our sources were White.
Percent Share of NPR Sources that are White or People of Color compared with the U.S. 18+ Population
Since FY19, Black sources have represented the primary driver of the increased racial/ethnic diversity of our sources.
Breakdown of Race and Ethnicity Source Representation
People of color are appearing more often as sources, but still predominantly in stories about race
Though people of color have been appearing more frequently in all stories from the newsmagazines, the increases have been most significant in stories about race, in which three of every four sources were people of color.
POC Source Representation in Stories over Time
Among stories not about race, one-third of the sources were people of color. The percentage of people of color featured in stories primarily about race has risen markedly from FY13 to FY21, from 42% to 75%. Over that same year span, sources of color have also nearly doubled in stories not about race, from 18% to 30%.
Compared to the U.S. adult population, Latino/a/x sources are under-represented
While the overall racial/ethnic diversity of our sources has steadily increased, the number of Latino/a/x sources barely moved between FY13 and FY21, averaging out at 6%. The U.S. Latino/a/x adult population, at 17%, is nearly three times larger than what is represented in our sourcing.
At 10%, Asian sources appeared equally in stories about race and other topics, and at a higher percentage than U.S. adult population numbers (6%). Black sources, at 15%, also appeared at a higher rate than the percentage of Black adults in the country (12%), but only when including stories that are about race. In all other stories, the percentage of Black sources drops by nearly half (from 15% to 8%).
Comparing Representation of Latino/a/x, Black, Asian Sources with U.S. 18+ Population
Women are appearing as sources more often, driven by greater inclusion of women of color
NPR has seen steady growth in women sources since FY13, when they made up only 28% of sources. But their numbers are significantly lower than men in some of our most prominent coverage areas. Much of the growth in FY21 came from an increase in the number of women of color who appear across all of NPR's newsmagazines.
Percent Share of NPR Sources that are Men, Women, Trans/Nonbinary compared with the U.S. 18+ Population
The percentage of sources who were men of color has also risen since FY13 – an increase of 13 percentage points between FY13 and FY21. However, the gap in racial/ethnic diversity between genders has grown. In FY21, if the source was a man, it was much more likely that the source was White.
Our data for transgender and non-binary sources only extends back to FY18, when we began to include that information in our sourcing data if people self-identified — most often in stories about gender identity. In FY21, that was just more than one-half of a percentage point of all sources, an incremental increase over previous years.
Men are the most contacted sources for the most covered newsmagazine topics
Politics and government stories dominate newsmagazine coverage, and White men remain the most contacted sources for those stories. Women were less present in stories about the most frequently covered topics, and appeared more often in stories about Education, Health, and Society & Culture. Sources of color were also heard least frequently in stories about Politics & Government and most frequently in coverage about Society & Culture.
FY21's Breakdown of Story Topics
Subject Matter Expertise
Women and people of color are less likely to be featured as subject matter experts
Just as certain story topics tend to dominate newsmagazine coverage, expert sources from the same professions tend to appear most frequently year after year — politicians and government officials, non-profit and business leaders, professors, and journalists from NPR and beyond. Once COVID overtook the airways in 2020, medical professionals moved closer to the top of that expert list.
In general, subject matter experts representing a specific profession on NPR newsmagazines were significantly less likely to be women or people of color. For the topic of politics, the area of most frequent coverage, nearly three out of every four sources featured were White men.
FY21's Breakdown of Expert Source Types
Our newsmagazines consistently produce a far greater diversity of sources by gender and race/ethnicity when talking to members of the general public. However, conversations with the general public accounted for only 19% of our sourcing in FY21, whereas 81% percent of our sources were subject matter experts (two thirds of whom came from the five professions featured most often in our coverage).
Comparison of General Public sources and Subject Matter Experts Across Gender and Race/Ethnicity
In 2021, NPR included more sources from more states
Our sources came from a broader swath of the U.S. in FY21, continuing a trend of greater geographic inclusion. Washington D.C. and 20 states accounted for 86% of NPR's U.S. sources in 2021. In FY13, by comparison, Washington D.C. and only 12 states accounted for the same percentage of NPR's domestic sources.
Sources by Geographic Location*
Washington D.C, California and New York still accounted for 40% of all sources (18%, 12% and 10% respectively).
Continuing Source Tracking and Transparency
This work is part of NPR's ongoing efforts to broaden and deepen diversity, equity and inclusion until they are a part of all we do. We will provide the public more of this data as it comes available, as we do regularly now with statistics about our staff.