Using PIN to talk about race gaps and ‘Losing Ground’ in Colorado

Lee Hill
Analyst/Reporter
Colorado Public Radio

Colorado Public Radio has been reporting on race gaps in Colorado in partnership with I-News Network, a nonprofit investigative news service. I-News studied census data from 1960 to 2010 and found that blacks and Latinos are falling behind whites in education, income and homeownership. It’s an important story because Colorado was once a national model for minority progress.

Through our Public Insight Network we asked the public for their perspectives. At least one of these gaps — when it comes to college graduation rates — is widest in the nation.

The first phase of our reporting included a forum with minority community leaders, introducing them to the data and engaging their thoughts on what’s behind the numbers.

A forum of community activists, political leaders and journalists on race and economic disparities hosted by Colorado Public Radio and the I-News Network on April 25, 2012 at Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver.<br />(Joe Mahoney/I-News Network)

A forum of community activists, political leaders and journalists on race and economic disparities hosted by Colorado Public Radio and the I-News Network on April 25, 2012 at Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver. (Photo by Joe Mahoney | I-News Network)

Our forum stirred a raw and rich dialogue about how they see these disparities playing out in communities they serve and what might be causing the gaps in the three areas mentioned. We used that gathering to help us understand what we should be asking the larger community about these gaps through the Public Insight Network.

From that, a query was produced that garnered more than 70 responses and led to an initial on-air PIN debrief as part of our larger introductory series the week of the presidential inauguration that focused on the disparities. The series was named “Losing Ground.” The momentum in PIN responses continued to grow, even after our week long focus, leading us to produce another on-air debrief.

Because of the wealth of sources we received through PIN and from reporters being out in the community, we’ve decided to extend the series on racial disparities and offer more reports throughout the year. Some of that reporting will happen through community forums.

A forum of community activists, political leaders and journalists on race and economic disparities hosted by Colorado Public Radio and the I-News Network on April 25, 2012 at Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver.<br />(Joe Mahoney/I-News Network)

Colorado Public Radio and the I-News Network used insights from the forum to help us understand what we should be asking the larger community about race gaps through the Public Insight Network. (Photo by Joe Mahoney | I-News Network)

Through our use of PIN as a reporting tool for this project and from earlier outreach, we heard consistently – across the board from all three racial groups represented in the data — that talking about racial disparities and race, in general, with people of different racial backgrounds is often uncomfortable. We heard that it’s largely due to perceived racial attitudes.

For instance, there are whites who argue that racial disparities are caused by a lack of personal responsibility by minorities. And we heard from minorities who said they avoid conversations about race because they expect the personal responsibility argument and feel that’s unfair. And it became clear that these perceptions were hindering people from talking about race.

In the short-term, we’ll engage the public further on the data — and more generally on conversations about race — through in-person meetings. This will work toward our existing goal of adding underrepresented, ethnically diverse voices to our PIN database who, ideally, can be called upon as experts or contributors to future non-race related PIN stories.

In essence, “Losing Ground” is not only enlightening the community on racial disparities that some didn’t know existed in the state, but, through PIN, it’s also helping us get a better understanding of the people we serve and the diverse issues that are most important to them.