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Outside DEI Report

By Elaine Woo


In the spring of 2020, difficult conversations rippled across Southern California Public Radio, just as racial inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 crisis and police shootings of Black people plunged the country into a painful reckoning with historic injustices.

About the author
  • Elaine Woo is an L.A.-based journalist who spent more than 30 years at the L.A. Times

Is there systemic racism at SCPR? Did bias warp coverage of Black Lives Matter protests? Why doesn’t SCPR’s workforce more closely reflect the ethnic and racial complexity of Los Angeles?

These were among the issues that broke to the surface at L.A.’s largest public radio news organization..

“People were hurting,” SCPR President and CEO Herb Scannell acknowledged. “There was a sense that we needed to really be better.”

In June 2020, Scannell issued a public statement that condemned systemic racism and vowed to “be transparent about the steps we’re taking to combat racism at SCPR.” In July, an eight-member Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force was convened to identify measures for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the organization, guided by input from employees about their concerns, experiences, and wishes.

Ten months later, in March 2021, the task force delivered a comprehensive set of 44 actions for change. All the recommendations were adopted by SCPR’s executive leadership and reviewed by the Board of Trustees.

The plan commits SCPR to action in five major areas: mission; journalism; employee experience; revenue and fundraising; and “how to SCPR,” a category that focuses on making it easier for employees to navigate the organization and access resources.

A number of major targets have been met. They include:

  • Initiating an annual demographic survey to provide a clear picture of racial, ethnic and gender diversity at SCPR.
  • Tracking sources with the goal of increasing the percentage of Latinx experts featured in stories on, LAist 89.3 and podcasts from LAist Studios.
  • Redesigning the style guide to help SCPR journalists avoid language that hinders communication with the diverse audiences they aim to reach.
  • Auditing SCPR content for adherence to SCPR’s commitment to inclusion. 
  • Revising the social media policy to reduce conflicts that can erode the trust of colleagues, listeners and readers.
  • Relaunching the Emerging Leaders Program to provide participants with skills and insights for leadership and broaden career opportunities. 
  • Expanding the internship program to help advance the career goals of students and recent graduates.
  • Strengthening the onboarding process to improve new employees’ experiences and bolster retention.

The task force, which drew members from across the organization, gathered feedback through a survey of current and former employees as well as interviews conducted individually and in small groups. SCPR trustees, community advisory board members, and more than 90% of the staff participated.
It retained outside experts to critique its efforts, provide independent assessments, and facilitate focus groups formed according to racial, ethnic, gender and other identities or affinities, such as parents, managers and people with disabilities.

Task force members regularly shared their work with SCPR staff and reported major milestones to the public. This report reflects SCPR’s continuing commitment to keep stakeholders, audience members, and others informed about progress toward the goals outlined in 2021.

“By nature we’re a public service; our mission is to serve the diverse communities of Los Angeles. So, with that in mind,” Scannell said, “we should tell the public what we’re doing.”

Read on for a fuller picture of SCPR's efforts to date.

Source Tracking: Who Tells the Story?

Making SCPR’s journalism more inclusive means throwing a spotlight on sourcing. Who gets quoted in stories affects how stories are framed, whose stories are told and, ultimately, whether a community feels included in — or excluded from — the conversation.

To assess the diversity of sources featured online and on air, SCPR engaged the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, which analyzed 300 original stories that appeared in January 2020 on, Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Take Two and AirTalk. 

The numbers varied by platform, with Latinos making up to 23% of sources in the sample. Black people accounted for up to 30% of the sources, while Asians were at up to 11%. White people made up 51% to 76% of the sources.

In an effort to close the gap, newsroom leaders set a goal of increasing Latinx sourcing to 50%. To track progress toward that goal, SCPR created a system that requires the newsroom to report sources by race, ethnicity and gender in real time.

While the results vary according to beat, progress so far is promising: Latinos currently make up 27% of the sources quoted in SCPR content.

“People here are actively looking to diversify their sourcing,” said Engagement Producer Stefanie Ritoper, who co-chairs the DEI Employee Resource Group with How to LA host Brian De Los Santos. She noted that performance reviews for newsroom staffers now include progress toward improving source diversity.

Dialogue: A Guide For Inclusive Language

The Minnesota police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and the protests that subsequently bloomed across the country led many newsrooms to reassess their use of language, especially when describing emotionally charged subjects.

For instance, when is a protest a riot, a rebellion or uprising? Is unhoused preferable to homeless? What’s wrong with calling an incarcerated person an inmate?

Questions like these created “an opportunity for us to sit down and say we recognize that words really matter,” chief content officer Kristen Muller said.

Scrutinizing language choices resulted in Dialogue, an interactive, public-facing style guide launched in May 2021 and developed with input from SCPR staff. (Audience and community members were also invited to participate, but their response was more limited.)

“It shows that as the world changes, we're moving with it. We're not staying stagnant,” De Los Santos said.

Dialogue provides guidance on a growing range of topics, including gender, protests, health care, housing insecurity, disabilities, living situations, and crime. Overall, it urges avoidance of language that contributes to stereotypes, is overly broad, or inaccurate.

Compared to the widely used Associated Press Stylebook, Dialogue takes a number of distinctive stands.

It dives into the use of alt text, or alternative text, which is used to describe digital images for people with vision-related disabilities. It recommends “person-first” language, which avoids using a person’s condition as an identity (e.g., instead of “uninsured people,” say “people without health insurance”). It states that diverse “should not be used as a synonym for nonwhite.”

Dialogue also discusses “ways to avoid othering or presuming communities have a single shared experience,” L.A. Explained reporter Caitlin Hernández, who works closely with SCPR Vice President for Community Engagement and Strategic Initiatives Ashley Alvarado to develop the guide, wrote in a June 2020 article. The guide gives examples of simple, specific language choices that avoid casting a group as a monolith (“South L.A.’s Black neighborhoods” instead of just “the Black community,” for example) or falling into us vs. them phrasing that defines a person or community by how they differ from perceived norms (instead of “those people” say “people in this neighborhood”).

Content Audit

How well does SCPR walk the talk when it comes to inclusivity in its journalism?

It does a pretty good job, according to an independent analysis of stories and programs by the consulting firm Impact Architects.

“We asked them, ‘Are we living up to the standards we’ve just set?’ And it was really good to see that for the most part, yes, we are,” said Muller.

Impact Architects based its evaluation on a random sample of audio, digital and newsletter content from, AirTalk, Morning Brief and newscasts on LAist 89.3 produced from July 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2021.

Overall, it found that less than 3% of the content analyzed failed to align with SCPR’s standards for inclusivity.

The firm was asked to provide insights on four key questions.

1. Does SCPR’s audio, digital and newsletter content feature the voices of regular people at the center of its storytelling?

Impact Architects found that 65.5% of the content analyzed was framed around the voices of individuals rather than institutions. This is good news for an organization focused on the question of who gets heard.

2. Are the images shown inclusive and relevant to the story?

Impact Architects focused its analysis on images used at the top of online stories, asking whether they contribute to stereotypes and are relevant to the topic. It found only one image that depicted a stereotype — a photo of a tent encampment that reinforces the perception that all unhoused people live in tents or on the streets.

People experiencing homelessness encompass a variety of living situations; they may live in shelters, for example, or get by with other makeshift arrangements. The image of the tent encampment fails to capture “the broad experience of the people affected,” the Impact Architects report noted.

As for relevance, the vast majority of the images analyzed were found to directly relate to the theme of the story. But the 10% that had a tenuous connection to the topic included a photo of the Beverly Hills police station for a story about anti-Semitic flyers found in Beverly Hills and an image of a man bicycling past a sign that reads “Skid Row City Limit” for a story about unhoused veterans that does not indicate whether the man is a vet or unhoused.

3. Does the journalism offer solutions to social problems?

Promoting civic engagement is a key plank in SCPR’s mission statement. One way to do that is solutions-oriented journalism that provides readers and listeners with information they can use to effect change in their communities.

The content audit found room for improvement: Less than 12% of the stories analyzed responded to a problem with an actionable solution.

“We’re very mindful of where the line is on this. We’re not saying here’s where you go to defund the police,” Muller said. “It’s about finding things that are working in this city. That is both an opportunity and a challenge for us.”

4. How inclusive is the language used in SCPR stories?

To answer this question, Impact Architects gauged how well the stories in the sample adhered to the Dialogue style guide. The analysis flagged only about 4% of stories for not following the guide.

“Some of the examples are straightforward infractions,” Impact Architects said, such as the use of “the homeless” instead of a person-first approach like “people experiencing homelessness.”

Whenever non-inclusive language is found, Impact Architects recommends that SCPR journalists ask themselves “Why did we say it this way? How can we say it differently?”

Those conversations have been occurring more frequently since Dialogue was launched, aided by Muller’s weekly emails that include the latest tweaks to the guide. She said the collaborative process that produced the guide and the built-in feedback feature has helped to foster a culture of greater openness among staff and with the public about how language can open or shut doors.

“There’s been a much greater awareness of the intention behind words,” Muller said. “It has created a feeling of it’s OK to ask why this and not that, and it’s OK to not know.”

Social Media Policy

Social media is an essential tool for any news organization that seeks to prosper in the digital world. SCPR needed a social media policy that was consistent across the organization.

The expanded, updated policy represents what it terms a “baseline of expectations” on employees’ social media activity and applies to both personal and business posts.

“The policy is not intended to stifle creativity or your voice,” it says, “but rather to acknowledge and curb potential conflicts that can erode the trust of our listeners, readers, and colleagues.”

The policy emphasizes that social media should not be used to defame, threaten or intimidate colleagues or others, including sources, guests, listeners, readers and SCPR board members. “You should refrain from being inflammatory, both in your own posts and when commenting on other posts,” the policy states. It advises employees to avoid getting into social media fights with anyone.

It also offers guidance on how to respond to online harassment and trolls. SCPR offers employees who experience such behavior access to the privacy protection service DeleteMe.

“The social media policy is not just about protecting the organization, like so many are, but rather a reflection of the commitment the organization also has to protecting its staff,” Alvarado said.

The Demographic Survey: How SCPR Measures Up

In its mission statement, SCPR vows to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion “in everything we do,” from its journalism to the culture and composition of its workplace. “We can’t capture the essence of Los Angeles if we don’t reflect it ourselves,” Scannell said.

But does SCPR’s staff and leadership look like the region it serves?

“We measure up well compared to others in public radio but probably not good enough compared to the diversity of the city,” Scannell said.

SCPR conducted its first annual demographic survey in December 2021 and published the results in early 2022 on It recently published the 2023 survey. The data is self-reported and participation in the surveys was optional.

At SCPR, people of color comprise 54% of the staff; 28% of the staff identify as Hispanic/Latino.

In Los Angeles County, however, people of color make up 75% of the population; 49.1% of L.A. County identifies as Latino/Hispanic, the most recent data from the U.S. Census shows.

The gap is wider when the survey looks at managers: 57% of managers identified as non-Hispanic white compared to 23% who identified as Hispanic/Latinx.

Scannell noted that, with recent hiring, SCPR is building a more diverse workforce and leadership team. But progress has been slower than many would like. Much of the concern has focused on employee retention, especially among staff of color. It emerged as a top challenge for SCPR in surveys conducted by an outside consultant as well as by the DEI-focused employee resource group.

“That is kind of a pain point for people … the exits, the burnout, in this pandemic,” De Los Santos said. Hernández, who serves as a union steward for the newsroom’s SAG-AFTRA chapter, agreed, citing a “concerning” amount of turnover during the pandemic. The issue has helped shape union proposals in negotiations currently underway with SCPR management.

SCPR does not officially track attrition — the rate of employee loss due to resignations, retirements and other voluntary reasons — by race or ethnicity but hopes to have the capacity to do so in the future. However, the overall attrition rate has declined from 19% in 2021 to 10% today. Vice President for People & Culture Carlo Giovanni attributes the decline primarily to the company’s “renewed focus on employee engagement and satisfaction” through improvements in recruitment timelines, frequency of communication, work-life balance, and professional development opportunities.

“Overall, the drop in our attrition rate is a promising sign that SCPR is moving in the right direction,” Giovanni said.

Growing Future Leaders

SCPR employees who responded to a 2020 survey said they wanted more racial and ethnic diversity in management. Many lamented a lack of opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge and connections that can help a person grow into a leadership role.

Much of the frustration was tied to the loss of a leadership training program that helped produce many of SCPR’s current leaders, including Muller and Alvarado. It was canceled in 2018 after budget cuts by American Public Media Group, the Minnesota-based parent company of SCPR.

In 2020, the DEI Implementation Plan called for reviving the program. In February, SCPR announced the relaunch of the Emerging Leaders Program. 

Open to non-supervising full-time and part-time employees who need the support of their supervisors to apply, the six-month program will explore topics that include leadership styles; personal influence; project management; emotional intelligence; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Each participant also will have the opportunity to seek a mentor from inside or outside SCPR.

While participation does not guarantee advancement, the program aims to provide a foundation for leadership and open opportunities to contribute to the organization, Giovanni said.

Emerging Leaders represents a significant investment by SCPR: The organization hired a human resources specialist to manage the program and engaged a consultant to lead the training.

The leadership program is part of a wider effort to address workplace issues that employees say has adversely affected recruitment and retention. Employees of color in particular have expressed the need for high-quality professional development to help them grow in their jobs.

“We have lost a lot of staff over the past few years. Part of that is due to the stresses and strains of the pandemic,” Ritoper said, “but other major factors are workload and compensation. I think those are a big area for improvement around DEI issues.”

“This program pays off,” said SCPR Chief Financial Officer Elsa Luna, who has worked closely with Giovanni to restart the leadership program. “The cost of replacing employees and training leaders is so much more than the cost of providing this training. If we give folks tools to grow in their careers, if they feel that we’ve invested in them, they stay.”

Improving the Onboarding Experience

The process by which an organization orients and supports new hires can set them up for success or an early exit. At SCPR, the DEI Task Force found, only a limited percentage of staff began their jobs with a solid onboarding experience. Dissatisfaction with onboarding was cited repeatedly by employees of color who left SCPR.

Current and former employees said they wished they had received a clearer explanation of SCPR’s business model, brands and benefits; its relationship to American Public Media Group; the role of fundraising; and opportunities for professional growth.

Pandemic hiring added urgency to the need to address these issues. More than a third of current employees — 37% — were hired during the COVID crisis. Their ability to form a connection to the organization and learn its culture was limited by the necessity of working remotely.

“Oftentimes that means an employee has never been in the building or collaborated with people who are not in their department,” Giovanni noted.

New onboarding procedures aim to make the process more meaningful and effective.

One of the first big changes was to offer a daylong orientation session for new employees. “People get a full overview of the organization, our financials, how we raise money, and why their specific position is important to the organization,” Giovanni said.

The human resources staff follows up with employees to make sure they understand and are enrolling in their benefits. They also share SCPR’s policy on encouraging personal pronouns in email signatures and provide a copy of the pronouns guide created by Giovanni and his team.

Expanding Internship Opportunities

For years, SCPR sponsored a handful or so interns a year in its newsroom. Under a recent expansion and restructuring of the program, it now hosts 16 paid interns a year for stints in winter, summer and fall.

Interns are assigned to units across the organization. To maximize their experience, they attend a slate of workshops covering topics such as audio journalism, engaged journalism, writing for digital media, crafting story pitches, and networking. They also have an opportunity to meet Scannell over lunch.

Like the leadership program, the internships are seen as a way to grow talent from within. How many are hired into permanent positions is one measure of the program’s success. Since 2020 SCPR has hired about a quarter of its interns into full-time and on-call positions.

Reflections for the Road Ahead

Two years into its ambitious agenda, employees and leaders say the culture is shifting.

“We started having organization-wide conversations about race in a really candid way that I hadn’t seen before in the newsroom,” Ritoper said. “After the George Floyd murder and the conversations that were happening [across SCPR] I started to hear colleagues talk about their own personal lived experience. The DEI Task Force and all of the work that’s happening now really came out of that moment in history.”

“We are thinking about who is being centered in stories. We're thinking about who's being quoted and why they're being quoted. We're thinking about the language that we're using. We're looking at how to creatively invest in employees’ professional and personal development,” Alvarado noted. “Having been here for 10 years, it does feel like we’ve learned a lot and have centered the employee experience in ways that we just didn't even know we could or should.”

Important work remains to fully implement the DEI Plan, including developing more comprehensive programs for professional development, career advancement and wellness. But even once the last box is checked, experts say, SCPR is not finished.

“They need to be working on the next list,” said Malii Watts Witten, an organizational consultant and facilitator who hosted workshops and conversations to gather data for the task force.

SCPR is already thinking about the next phase, which likely won’t be the last if current leaders have their way.

“The work so far is a reflection of the fact that we did walk the walk and talk the talk,” Scannell said, “but the work is never done.”

SCPR has put money behind its promises. Its investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion has grown from zero in 2020 to $50,000 in 2021 and $175,000 in 2022. For fiscal year 2023 it has allotted $234,000. Without these funds, initiatives like the Emerging Leaders Program and the expansion of internship opportunities would not have gotten off the ground.

The budget outlays are a good sign of the organization’s seriousness about change.

“If the intention isn’t built into the budget it’s really hard to make things happen,” said Sumun Pendakur, a DEI expert who helped the task force hone the 44 recommendations.

While many, like De Los Santos, are hopeful about real organizational change at SCPR, not everyone is optimistic. Some employees have said they’re tired of talking about equity or feel there is no room for their professional growth because they are white. They are not alone.

“Whatever you want to call it – equity fatigue, compassion fatigue, racial justice fatigue – it is so sharp now because all of the flurry in 2020 hasn’t really delivered on its promises. Plenty of organizations haven’t moved the needle in any meaningful way,” Pendakur said. “So not only do white folks or white-adjacent folks get exhausted and bored by it but you’ve got the racial-battle and gender-battle fatigue of minoritized folks. We’re seeing this in every sector.”

But diversity, equity, and inclusion need to be “part of the lifeblood” of the organization, Pendakur said. She thinks that SCPR stands a stronger chance of success than other entities she has worked with primarily because of the dedication of Alvarado and the DEI Task Force.

She also commended the thoroughness of SCPR’s approach to increasing equity, and inclusion.

“They looked at practically every angle of the organizational experience,” Pendakur said. “If they accomplish 75% of it, the change will be transformative.”

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