The Storytellers Project
Overview of this campaign
The Storytellers Project, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, hosts more than 100 nights of true, first-person storytelling in 22 American cities everty year. We're passionate about our shows being inclusive and representative of the communities we serve. They also must be consistently improving – as they are designed to serve and reflect their communities, while developing empathy among community members. We gathered data at two crucial points in our process to better listen and respond to attendees and to storytellers at our shows.
In the beginning the storytellers on our stage and the makeup of the audience was largely older, white/Caucasian. This was the result of many factors – white, privileged and relatively wealthy people volunteered because they feel socially enfranchised, or they knew of the shows because we put an article about it in the paper and they’re a large sector of the subscriber base.
But that’s not truly representative of the makeup of the community and it’s not inclusive of the minority identity groups who need to be heard and understood. And as stewards of the public trust, we see it as our duty to combat unconscious bias and institutional racism however we can.
So, we’ve taken steps toward improving the makeup of representation on our stage, and that has also had a progressive effect of increasing non-dominant groups attending our shows.
First, while booking storytellers, we ask for age, race, gender, veteran status, immigrant or first-generation American, and sexual orientation. We started tracking in 2017 to better “see” the people who are pitching us.
These categories – except for age and gender – are optional. But we worked with representatives from the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association, the Hispanic American Journalists association, the National Association of Black Journalists as well as others internally to create the form.
We believe the best way to improve inclusivity is to track it and establish metrics to make changes.
Results for this campaign
We know when a Storytellers Project opens in a new city, more than 90 percent of the storytellers will be white. In Phoenix in 2011/2012 the storytellers were 95 percent white, straight and able-bodied.
In April we released a Standard Operating Procedures that detailed steps needed to increase diversity and inclusion. They are:
• Consider what representation looks like in your community
• Make a list of identities to track, using national booking form as a template to start
• Tell people what you are trying to do vis-a-vis representation and inclusivity
• Seek allies, transparently
• Network in non-dominant communities
• Seek partnerships with community organizations who represent or serve non-dominant identities.
Reviewing storyteller demographics demonstrated that we had more than 60 storytellers and almost half were people of color or immigrants. Storytellers spoke words or sentences from their first languages including Chinese, Spanish, American Sign Language and Keres (a dialect spoken by the Acoma Pueblo). We had storytellers with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, and a storyteller who is deaf. We provided open captioning at most shows and will continue in 2019. We know inclusive representation looks different in every city, but for our flagship project this was a huge win.
Now we encourage these best practices in all 22 of our cities and it’s moving the needle. Nationally we increased attendance from racial/ethnic minority groups from 7.4% in 2017 to 8.7% in 2018.
In Tucson, 60 percent of their storytellers were people of color.
We learned from 2,787 respondents to 85 surveys after our shows in 21 markets that our approach resonates extremely well with our audience. We saw our Net Promoter Score increase from a high 75 in 2017 to a 77 in 2018.
As we grew from 14 to 22 cities from 2017 to 2018, these insights could not have been timelier.