When KPCC conducted human-centered design research into the census and the opportunities for public service journalism, one finding stood out:
We can’t assume educated news consumers know the stakes or the mechanics of the census. There was a very low level of census knowledge among the people we interviewed, including current NPR listeners.
Most of the community members we interviewed demonstrated a low level of census knowledge, including current KPCC listeners, LAist readers, and other educated information seekers. Many knew about the proposed citizenship question but little else.
How can we address this knowledge gap? We outlined several ideas in a recent post.
We also wanted to make sure our newsroom colleagues were up to speed so we recently held a week of breakfast time workshops called “Cereal + Census.” While we munched on Cocoa Puffs, we shared what we learned from our research and discussed the stakes specific to Los Angeles County, the hardest county to count in the nation. Our goal is to fortify our journalists understanding of the census so that they can connect it to people’s lives, whether they cover infrastructure, immigration, or education.
Questions from the reporters during the workshops included: “Why should we be concerned about the census now?” “What do we do with this information?” “Why should our audience care if federal programs get funding anyway?”
The answer: We should start reporting about the census now because it impacts everything from Congressional representation to funding for federal programs like Head Start to data for local governments to design public safety strategies for the next 10 years.
During the workshops we held at KPCC, many reporters and producers started to talk about potential census-related stories that aren’t centered on the citizenship question. Immigration reporter Leslie Berestein Rojas’s recent story looked at how one’s sense of self can be in conflict with the census form.
At a time when people are losing faith in their democratic institutions, it’s important that we impart information in creative, impactful ways.
Want to start a census conversation in your newsroom? Here are some resources we would recommend:
Our census reporting and research
- LA Explained: The 2020 Census
- KPCC studied how to cover the 2020 census so you don’t have to
- Outside the box: What design thinking taught KPCC about the 2020 census and opportunities for public service journalism
Tips for reporting on the census
- Tip sheet for census reporting — Hansi Lo Wang, NPR national correspondent
Better understanding the census generally
- 2018 kids count data book — Annie E. Casey Foundation
- 2020 Census: Counting everyone, only once, and in the right place — Census Bureau
California and the census
- Census 2020: Low Response score analysis map — Los Angeles County
- The 2020 Census and Political Representation in California — Public Policy Institute of California
- California Census 2020 — California Census Office