Roughly three-quarters of people featured in original reporting generated by the Blue Ridge Public Radio news department over a one-year period were white. That's according to a study commissioned by the station and completed by a student at UNC Asheville.
BPR is following in the footsteps of its network NPR in studying whom it is featuring in its original reporting to ensure it is accurately representing the region it serves. The BPR study looked at stories generated by the station's news department from May 2018 to May 2019. It found that nearly 75% of those featured in stories were white, with 25% being people of color. Further breakdown shows 9% of those featured were black, 6% Hispanic/Latino, 4% Native American, and 3% Asian.
The demographics of BPR's 17-county listening area (compiled from 2017 Census estimates) are as follows - 86% white, 6% Hispanic/Latino, 4% black, 1.5% Native American, and 1% Asian. BPR's listening area includes the 13 westernmost counties of North Carolina (Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Yancey, Polk, Transylvania, Haywood, Jackson, Swain, Macon, Clay, Graham, Cherokee) and four counties in Georgia (Rabun, Towns, Union, Fannin).
"While these numbers roughly match up with the demographics of our 17-county listening area, it isn't enough," says BPR News Director Matt Bush. "We still have work to do in covering and representing all the voices in our region. This study gives us a baseline that we can work from and improve from, and I know with the team the station has assembled we will. It's something that our listeners and supporters demand of us."
The study also looked at gender and geography. Of those featured in stories during the study time frame, 49.8% were male, 46.7% were female, and 3.5% identify as neither or other. Just over 88% of those featured live in the BPR listening area.
UNC Asheville junior Anitra Griffin conducted the study. The computer science and new media double major first presented her findings at last fall's African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia conference at the university. “Having the station reach out to me to help them foster change and to know where they stand meant a lot," says Griffin. "Not many organizations want to be aware of their demographical standing, especially with the aim to change or even with the idea to publish it publicly. BPR guessed their standings would lack some diversity. However, they wanted to do more and considered what I noticed to start an active change, which I can’t wait to see.” Griffin will conduct a follow-up study for BPR which will cover June 2019 to June 2020 to track the station's progress.
The study also examined the guests on BPR's two podcasts, The Waters & Harvey Show and Going Deep: Sports in the 21st Century. It covered the time period from when both shows started in 2017 to May 2019: 56 episodes of Waters & Harvey and 43 of Going Deep. The Waters & Harvey Show had 60 guests during that time, 49 of which (82%) were people of color, and 18 of which (30%) were women. Going Deep had 27 guests during that time, 7 of which (26%) were people of color and 1 of which (4%) were women.