How to prepare your newsroom for the 2020 census

David Rodriguez
Mar 19 · 3 min read

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.

KPCC staff discusses potential coverage on the 2020 census.

Want to start a census conversation in your newsroom? Here are some resources we would recommend:

Our census reporting and research

Tips for reporting on the census

Better understanding the census generally

California and the census

Engagement at KPCC

Dispatches from the community engagement team at Southern California Public Radio (KPCC + LAist)—what we’ve learned and what we’re up to.

David Rodriguez

Written by

Assistant producer for Community Engagement | Focus on the 2020 census for Southern California Public Radio (KPCC + LAist) | Twitter: @DaveeJonesLock

Engagement at KPCC

Dispatches from the community engagement team at Southern California Public Radio (KPCC + LAist)—what we’ve learned and what we’re up to.