An anonymous survey of the greater Chapel Hill community revealed varying viewpoints regarding The Daily Tar Heel’s representation of race, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Daily Tar Heel collected 529 responses between March 6 and March 24 via QR codes posted in physical copies of the paper and around Chapel Hill; link distribution from University and DTH newsletters; and in-person survey administration on Franklin Street and campus. Nearly 90 percent of respondents were University students, with the remaining percentage being community members.
Of these participants, 54 percent were people of color and 43 percent were non-Hispanic white individuals —with the remaining participants preferring not to say. Sixty-three percent identified as straight, while 37 percent identified as non-straight. Six percent identified as transgender, intersex or gender nonconforming.
The general public opinion of the paper was largely positive. However, separating respondents by race, gender and sexuality revealed disparities between subgroups for questions about representation.
Respondents were asked to rate the following statement using the Likert scale — strongly disagree to strongly agree — "The Daily Tar Heel writes stories that represent my identity/identities." Sentiment toward this statement varied across different social identities. In general, white and cisgender individuals responded more positively to this statement than people from other races and gender identities.
Transgender, intersex and gender-nonconforming (TIGNC) individuals expressed the most disappointment for the representation of their identity in the paper, as almost half of all respondents indicated disagreement with the above statement. Only 16 percent of their cisgender respondents expressed disagreement.
Responses about identity representation were rated from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree) and were tested for statistically significant differences between groups of interest. Our analysis provided evidence that people of color and TIGNC individuals feel significantly less represented by The Daily Tar Heel.
Statistical significance proves the observations are unlikely to occur due to coincidence, ensuring the ability to draw accurate conclusions based on the data. The most common responses for non-Hispanic white respondents and cisgender respondents were “agree,” while TIGNC individuals and people of color often responded with “neutral” and “disagree."
Analysis was also conducted to find trends among respondent subgroups. Non-Hispanic white women were the most likely to answer “agree” or “strongly agree” — indicating they most strongly feel their identity is represented by The Daily Tar Heel. Straight Asian males, straight white males, TIGNC respondents and Middle Eastern, American Indian / Alaska Native and/or Pacific Islander respondents were among the least likely to agree.
Seventy-eight respondents expressed concern about misrepresentation within Daily Tar Heel content and cited an incident that either occurred to them or someone they knew. Many raised the issue of misrepresentation alongside frustration with a lack of context in articles. An anonymous respondent communicated: “you’ve misrepresented numerous friends of mine as well as me. taken us out of context and refused to fix the issues. you do not care about the repercussions this has on your sources.”
Gender identity and student affiliation had a statistically significant impact on an individual’s likelihood of experiencing misrepresentation.
TIGNC individuals had the largest agreement percentage with the question “Has The Daily Tar Heel ever written a story that misrepresented you or someone you know?” at 32 percent. Compared to cisgender respondents, they are three times more likely to say they were misrepresented in a published story.
Non-student individuals came in second at 23 percent and are two times more likely to claim misrepresentation relative to students.
Specific concerns about the lack of coverage of queer individuals and people of color were communicated through the optional free-response sections. A lack of diversity in the paper’s staff persists to this day, evident by the most recent audit that confirms our staff is disproportionately white compared to UNC’s demographics.
One respondent wrote: “It feels weird to have articles about bipoc people or bipoc issues (written) by white people.”
This survey aimed to address community concerns about representation in our newsroom and coverage. These results serve as a reminder that this paper has a long way to go before becoming an organization that reflects the community it serves.
“A good student-run newspaper is essential to the University community. The DTH, as it currently exists, is very far from fulfilling this role.”
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