Reporting with Census data

Census data — and population trends in general — never cease to interest me. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

People like to know where people are living, moving to and from and how they fit in. Many stories, all across the country give that information. But far fewer stories seek out and find both anecdotal and academic evidence explaining the big question: Why?

Ten years, the time between each census, is a long time for trends to form. And there are often very important trends that go largely unnoticed or unevaluated until the census reveals them. One such trend, while not shocking, is still very interesting when reported thoroughly as in this Wall Street Journal story.

This sort of story is even better when handled by a journalist who supplements it with further data analysis. The term “computer-assisted reporting” is becoming a more common one. And the census is one of the most obvious chances to use a skill that is being taught by numerous organizations, most notably Investigative Reporters and Editors. Their census training page is an excellent resource, as are their numerous webinars and training conferences.

That extra level of reporting could prove useful, since New York City is also currently the stage for a drama over the accuracy of the census data. In the New York Post’s story, Mayor Bloomberg contends there has been a massive error.

A good mixture of reporting techniques could both explain census data and change it.


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