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Who made the cut? Start your school year with a Voices Audit


by Kristin Taylor, MJE

One of the highest callings of journalism is to “give voice to the voiceless.” Constitution Day is a great time for journalism staffs — digital, print or hybrid — to evaluate their coverage from the year before and see how fully they’ve met that goal. 

Before starting the process, I suggest having students make predictions, even if they weren’t on last year’s staff.

How many people do they think last year’s staff covered? How balanced was their coverage of various areas? Can they think of any voices they might not have covered as well as they could have? Did any voices dominate? Were the students they used as sources throughout the year representative of the school population?

These gut feelings are often wrong, and comparing what they think they covered to who they actually covered can provide an important reality check.

The next step is data collection. This process can be tedious, but it’s invaluable in getting quantifiable data. Divide up these tasks among your staff to use time as efficiently as possible.

You might have students count the total number of articles in each section of the paper and begin to list how many articles they wrote about specific topics. This might reveal an imbalance in sports or academic coverage, for example.

I also suggest starting a master list of who got quoted in each article, much like the index in a yearbook. You might have students do this for their own articles to cut down on work. How many times did they quote the same people? Did their student sources correlate with the student body as a whole in terms of gender, race, ethnicity or other areas of diversity? While some imbalance is unavoidable — they will likely always have to talk to student leaders more often than most — this is a good time to assess when they missed opportunities to bring in more points of view.

It’s also important to look at representation of marginalized groups. Percentages of quotes should roughly match up to the school population statistics. For example, if 50 percent of the student body is male, only about 50 percent of the quotes should come from males. Similarly, if the student body is 60 percent Latino, students should be aiming for about that same percentage in their sources. Additionally, if they are reporting in a 9-12 high school, are they seeking perspectives from all four grades or always turning to juniors and seniors?

If students question why this is important, consider sharing any of these resources to spark a conversation: 

white and black labeled plastic bottles
As society continues to deal with another wave of highly contagious Delta virus, it is crucial that what is reported is not only accurate but stems from diverse reporting, in context and in depth. Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on

These articles focus on race and gender, but don’t let the conversation stop there — what about ability? Immigration status? Sexual orientation or gender identity?  Or, for another approach, what about sports you cover a lot and those that never get a single article?  It’s not about checking boxes; it’s about thinking deeply about your student body.

This conversation might also start a larger dialogue about why seeking diverse sources is so crucial to “give voice to the voiceless” and make sure we aren’t missing important stories in the community — or relying on only a few voices to speak for all.

After gathering the data, compare their expectations to their findings. This final step will allow them to draw conclusions about how well they did and set goals for this year.

This process isn’t a panacea for equal representation, but it’s a concrete way for students to evaluate their coverage and work to give voice to more students.

Some questions you might ask your staff as you complete this activity:

  • What did you expect to find? Did your findings match your expectations?
  • What surprised you about your findings?
  • How did this project inspire you to think about your work this year? What concrete changes or steps can you take to address your findings?
  • What are you left thinking or feeling now?

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