Inside a Rwandan publisher’s innovative approach to improve gender-inclusive reporting

The New Times, an English-language newspaper in Rwanda, made significant strides toward greater inclusivity by establishing a dedicated gender desk in October 2022. This was then followed by the introduction of a sourcebook of women experts. The New Times’ Acting Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief James Munyaneza and Gender Editor Glory Iribagiza delve into the motivations behind this initiative and the transformative impact they envision it having on their business and Rwanda’s media landscape. 

What was the initial motivation behind setting up the sourcebook?

When the gender desk was created in October 2022, we did a newsroom survey on gender-sensitive reporting to know how we could improve, and we got the following results:

  • while 91 per cent of respondents saw the need to represent women and men equally in their stories, only 69 per cent deliberately sought both genders’ voices equally
  • only 43 per cent of respondents deliberately included women as expert sources in male-dominated fields such as politics, economics and sports
  • many of the reporters didn’t quote women or deliberately seek their comment because they didn’t have contacts, or the ones they approached didn’t want to comment.

These results are what informed our decision to come up with a sourcebook of media friendly women experts. Initially, it was an online spreadsheet where everyone was welcome to add a contact, but this didn’t seem to work. We had to hire two people to help us with the contacts.

How long did it take to put it together?

It took about seven months. But it would have taken even longer if we didn’t hire people to help us using a grant from a WAN-IFRA WIN programme to encourage gender equality, diversity and inclusivity. Most of the contacts we have now were collected in two months. We wouldn’t have been able to expand the sourcebook from barely 40 contacts to more than 700 now if it wasn’t for the grant. 

In what specific ways has the grant supported your efforts to enhance gender sensitivity in reporting?

Aside from allowing us to gather the contacts, we made use of the WAN-IFRA WIN Gender Balance Tracker. The results were quite interesting in the first months. We were able to close the gender gap in our content from 28 per cent to 3 per cent.

How is the sourcebook managed within the newsroom?

We have a spreadsheet in soft and hard copies. Everyone has access to these documents. We are doing our best to make sure that the sourcebook is used and exploited. The gender desk is working with other desks to make sure reporters are encouraged to use it.

Will you be conducting any spot checks or tracking to reach parity?

Yes. We will go by WAN-IFRA WIN’s recommendations to track parity at least every three months and compare progress. We have just been nominated for another SIRI grant, and we will need to track our articles every week. Even after the grant duration, for sustainability, we will continue to track consistently.

You have mentioned plans to share the sourcebook with other local media houses. Can you elaborate on the rationale behind this decision, its practicality and the potential impact you envision?

We want to share the sourcebook with other media houses because we don’t want to walk the gender equality path alone. We believe we can make an even bigger impact if we partner with other players in the media sector. The New Times alone cannot bridge the gender gap in content across Rwandan media, so we would be happy to work with other media houses. The practicability remains a question we also ask ourselves because of data protection laws. But part of our plan is to call all our contacts and ask them for consent. We are still trying to figure out how to properly share the database.

From your use of the WAN-IFRA WIN Gender Balance Tracker, we saw an impressive improvement in gender balance in your content from 22% to 47% over six months. What drove this change?

The sourcebook greatly contributed to this, alongside editors actively encouraging reporters to submit gender-balanced articles. We have increased the number of stories that feature women or have them as main characters. To improve these scores in the future, we’re drafting a gender-sensitive reporting policy, and we believe that together with other tools we have been using, we will bridge the gender gap we have. In this article, for instance, we talk about regional security in East Africa. While it isn’t gender-balanced enough, it quotes a female politician. She is the only woman expert to comment on the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo crisis in recent years. She was among the first women to be in our sourcebook.

The New Times Gender Editor Glory Iribagiza.

Were there any challenges encountered during the implementation of the sourcebook initiative, and how were they addressed?

The major challenge we faced was during the collection of the contacts because of the data protection law. Many people were hesitant to share contacts, and we wouldn’t have managed to go to every single expert to get their consent. Another challenge is the use of the sourcebook. Some reporters will forget to check it for contacts, and editors won’t always be able to give feedback.

What lessons have you learned from this experience that could be valuable for other media organisations considering a similar approach?

Don’t share a form – people won’t sign up. Go to the field and make use of your partners.

Looking ahead, what are your goals for the sourcebook initiative, and how do you plan to reach the target of 1,000 contacts by September 2024?

Our plan is to make use of the sourcebook as much as possible. We keep updating the sourcebook even today. We are also considering hiring someone again to go to the field to gather contacts in sectors not covered in the sourcebook currently. In the coming years, we see the sourcebook of women experts becoming a norm in newsrooms in Rwanda. They could either adopt ours or come up with theirs. We want gender-balanced content to be the culture in Rwandan media.

How have reporters responded to the sourcebook, and what strategies have been effective in encouraging active participation and contribution?

The reporters were excited to have the sourcebook because it solves a challenge that many of them faced: not having women experts’ contacts, let alone getting them to comment. Having the sourcebook accessible in all possible formats has also been effective in encouraging participation and contribution.

What’s next for the sourcebook? And how do you see it shaping the newsroom culture in the future even beyond borders?

We see the sourcebook becoming one of the most important tools in all newsrooms in the future. It will inspire even more women experts to voice their opinions until newsrooms start wondering if the sourcebook is needed because quoting women as experts would be a norm.

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