How to find diverse sources in science communication — even on deadline

By Tara Santora

Science is a human endeavor. Since humans are diverse, science writing should reflect that.

On October 26, at the ScienceWriters 2019 session “Not just white men in lab coats: Tools for scicomm inclusion,” three panelists gave their insight on how science communicators can make their writing and reporting more inclusive of diverse identities.

The first step is to be aware, said Lauren Wolf, a deputy editorial director and executive editor at Chemical & Engineering News. By tracking your sources, you can begin to understand your implicit biases — which usually translate to interviewing a disproportionate number of white, male sources. Science writers from all backgrounds can fall into this trap, even if they belong to a marginalized group or work in a diverse newsroom.

Keeping a spreadsheet tallying your interviewees’ race and gender allows you to identify sourcing issues and track your progress as you work to correct them. But stopping at race and gender isn’t enough. Inclusivity means covering people from all types of backgrounds, including immigrants, transgender people, sources outside the U.S., people with disabilities, and more.

Inclusivity can’t be just an individual endeavor. To make real change, the entire newsroom needs to prioritize it. Tracking sources all together in a master spreadsheet can help a team hold itself accountable, even if reporters submit data anonymously. Making these changes can also boost reporting; by interviewing people from perspectives that don’t usually get shared, you’ll find stories that other writers miss.

Finding diverse sources can be challenging, but part of the challenge is getting over your own laziness, said Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato, freelance journalist and project director of the Diverse Sources database. “There aren’t any,” isn’t a valid excuse, even when you’re on deadline. To work around a time crunch, cultivate a diverse list of sources on your beat in advance. That way, you’ll know who to call when news breaks.

Similarly, if you’re a press officer connecting a reporter to an expert, favor diverse choices, said Iqbal Pittalwala, a senior public information officer at the University of California, Riverside. And if you’re a reporter looking for an expert from a public information officer, be straightforward and ask for a woman or a person of color. You can also find diverse sources through searchable lists, such as Diverse Sources and 500 Women Scientists, and through organizations run by experts from underrepresented backgrounds.

Inclusivity is both visible and behind the scenes. In the art accompanying your story, the panelists recommended using representations of diverse people and avoiding stereotypes. Stock photo collections, such as the Gender Spectrum Collection from Broadly, can help.

On the less visible side, do your best to make marginalized sources comfortable in interviews. For example, begin all interviews by asking what pronouns your source uses to be inclusive of transgender people. Check with sources before you reveal information such as their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Sometimes, your audience may not know that a source is LGBT+ or a person of color, but it’s important to include them nonetheless. Inclusivity isn’t about getting credit. It’s about doing the work to undo decades of discrimination — if not longer — in the sciences and beyond.

Tara Santora is a graduate student at New York University and a recipient of a 2019 NASW Graduate Travel Fellowship. They have written for Psychology Today, Audubon Magazine, and Spectrum. Follow Tara on Twitter @Tara_Santora

November 11, 2019

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