We often hear and read about the need for diverse sources in the media, particularly when it comes to news. The question of who is given voice is critically important to understanding what informs our view of the world.
Along those lines, I wanted to understand which voices are given opportunity to share their perspective on the program I’m responsible for producing — KCUR’s Central Standard. So I started surveying our on-air guests in early January 2016.
This was by no means a comprehensive, scientific assessment. For one thing, the short survey was optional. Most, but not all, of the 421 responses (roughly half of our total guests for the year), were self-reported, choosing to skip some questions and answer others. While we can’t make conclusions, we are using this information to start important conversations here at KCUR.
You may have heard slightly more men than women on KCUR’s Central Standard, based on our survey responses. We also had two people who identified as transgender (less than 0.5 percent of those who shared their gender identity) and three people who identified their gender as "gender fluid" or "genderqueer."
Of the guests who shared their sexual orientation, 82 percent described themselves as straight; 8 percent consider themselves gay; 2 percent lesbian; 4 percent bisexual; 2 percent queer. The remaining 2 percent shared their own ways of expressing their sexual orientation, including “aseuxal,” “gender fluid” and “intellectual.”
In general, guests who shared how they see their racial identity reflected how the metro population reported their identity to the U.S. Census. Central Standard had 2 percentage points fewer people who identified as white and 1 percentage point fewer people who identify as black compared to the rough listening area of KCUR. (For this purpose: Jackson, Clay, Platte, and Buchanan counties in Missouri; Johnson, Wyandotte, Douglas and Leavenworth counties in Kansas.)
Roughly 10 percent of KCUR’s listening area identifies as Latino; 8 percent of Central Standard guests identified as Latino in our survey.
Where our guests are from
Overwhelmingly, the voices on Central Standard are from the Kansas City metropolitan area, according to our survey. However, the largest quantity of guests from any single ZIP code live in the same ZIP code as KCUR, 64110. A few of our guests joined our conversations remotely from across the U.S. You can also see that we also source from people (many academics) who live near the University of Kansas.
The age factor
The median age of the Central Standard guests who reported their age was 45 while the median age of the KCUR listening area is 37. This eight-year difference might be because our conversations frequently are about and geared toward adults. Moreover, we tend to source guests from applicable professional and academic backgrounds.
Central Standard does not approach topics from an overtly political lens, but from a conceptual one. Instead of asking “Is parking good or bad for Kansas City?” we ask, “How does parking impact the development of Kansas City?” We believe that framing the conversations this way helps take us to new places. As such, we avoid hosting traditional debates, especially the politically polarizing kind. We try to be a space in Kansas City for conversations where experiences are what informs our guests’ ideas and contributions.
Still, in April, as the election was entering its final phases, we thought it would be helpful to understand how our guests perceive their political identity. So we added that question to the survey. We asked our guests “Where do you feel like you fall along the political spectrum?” with a scale from 1 to 5; 1 being "very liberal" and 5 being "very conservative." In this limited exercise, we found a liberal leaning. In fact, few of our guests labeled themselves “conservative” or “very conservative.”
My suspicion is that Central Standard topics tend to pull from professions that traditionally attract liberal-oriented people. For example, we bill our show as covering arts and ideas in Kansas City and as such we have many artists and people who work in the arts as guests. We also have many academics as guests — another field that traditionally attracts liberal-oriented people.
This work has highlighted for me the deep differences between the communities that make up our metro area. For instance, while the Latino population of KCUR’s listening area is roughly 10 percent, the Latino population in Wyandotte County is 27 percent. And while people who identify as black make up 14 percent of KCUR’s listening area population, in Jackson County people who identify as black make up over 25 percent of the population. In short, what your community may look and sound like may not look and sound like the wider KCUR’s listening area. By extension, it may feel like when you listen to Central Standard your community isn’t adequately represented. This is not to say that Central Standard is representing all of the communities adequately, just that where each of us is from may be informing our perceptions.
Our survey data is imperfect, but even if it was perfect it wouldn’t tell you what each of those guests talked about on Central Standard and how the conversation progressed. These numbers do help our team perform a gut check and remind us continually that our audience is who we serve, and we strive to serve you by representing you as best we can.
We look forward to the year ahead filled with fresh voices and perspectives.
Matthew Long-Middleton produces KCUR's Central Standard. You can reach him at 816-235-2852 and follow him on twitter @MLMIndustires