A playbook for reporters interested in reaching people at risk of being undercounted
Session facilitator(s): Ashley Alvarado, Megan Garvey, Dana Amihere
Day & Time: Friday, 11:45am-1pm
ASHLEY: So I think we’re going to go ahead and get started. Thank you so much for coming. Anybody who’s interacted with me at all last year knows that I care a lot about census and I think that we just need to work to get more people to care about what’s going on with the census and that’s beyond the most-recent headlines. So we’ve also put together a PowerPoint. So we can talk about the census and how to reach hard-to-reach communities and this is not one that has a really cool activity. I apologize ahead of time. But this is one that I aim to have super interactive. So if you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions, that would be really cool. So just to share who we are. We’re from Southern California Public Radio, which means KPCC, and LAIST, which we started a few years ago, which focuses on news in Southern California. So who are we?
MEGAN: Like I said, I’m always exactly that happy. I’m Megan Garvey and I’m the executive editor in the newsroom.
DANA: I don’t need a microphone. I’m fine. I’m Dana Amihere. I’m our data newsroom editor. I’ve been there since last August. So I’m relatively new to the news sphere.
ASHLEY: And I’m Ashley Alvardo. And so why are we here? Because the census is a really big deal. So there’s a lot at stake.
DANA: All right. So…
MEGAN: We’re audio people; you can tell.
DANA: I hate microphones. So obviously, census is a really big deal in terms of representation. Most people don’t realize this but there have been instances where states have lost representation or gained representation because of the census. Our State of California is one of them that’s at risk of losing a congressional seat if there is an undercount. Money. In California, alone, $76 billion in federal funding is the result of census-related formulae funding services. That translates to things like food stamps and SNAP. Things like WHICK, things that you wouldn’t think about like foster services and childcare. Things we’re constantly thinking about like highways in California. So if you care about filling in potholes and highway planning, fill out your census. And especially for data journalists, good data. If for the next ten years, we don’t have good people filling out the census, we could potentially have numbers wrong potentially from how many kids in schools, to how many low-income people there are in our country. So a good dataset is obviously what we’re aiming for.
ASHLEY: And so today when we’re thinking about what we’re talking about, it really is what’s the research we’ve been bringing that we’ve been conducting in Southern California. All the things that we’ve learned through this process which we can’t take for granted, which is a lot. The role of the leadership at the newsroom and what it means to have buy-in at the top. And what we’re doing now, and what we’re doing next. And what’s the great work that you’re seeing, what you would want to bring back to your respective newsrooms. And throughout I think one of the things that we’ve done from what we’ve learned is we’ve done months and months of research and I’ll get into that in a minute, but once we’ve shared that research, that was one of the greatest moments we had because we had things that we were doing, we weren’t, things that we thought reporters knew, they didn’t. And we had a lot of good things coming out so far. So what we did, didn’t quite work in the early stages and so we’re pivoting and working towards this, as well.
So really quickly, if you have haven’t seen it, we did a ginormous research project where we knew going into the census for Southern California was going to be a really, really big deal. And Dana said some of the stakes but also when you look at LA County, for example, and a population of 10 million, nearly half the population is considered hard to count for one reason or another. So that means we have only big risks, but the stakes are really, really big. So that comes with the citizenship question with that. So we needed to understand the better the needs of the communities, and what are the opportunities for us to get to them in a way that would activate them to learn more.
And so something that’s always really important for us as a newsroom to share is we’re not advocating for people to do the census; we’re advocating for them to seek out more information and make those decisions for themselves. And so through the research we interviewed three dozen organizations on the ground. Community organizings, foundations, institutions, public government, ≈ who’s doing the work to reach both the traditionally hard-to-count and sort of the new hard-to-SOUPBT and we’ve conducted human-centered design research. Is anybody familiar with that? This is one meeting where it’s going to be like, “People are gonna know.” So that’s great. But as we did these interviews we were able to pick out themes, common needs, common habits and we came back to our organizations and we spent time a analyzing those interviews, and pulling out those shared needs and really brainstorming on what we could build out of it.
Some of this — all you can find, by the way on the etherpad link or if you just go to kpcc/srccon. But coming out of it one of the really big things for us, and one of the reasons that I advocate for people doing this kind of research with their audiences, and more specifically with their communities because they’re not the same thing necessarily, is because it gives you an idea of what you can do but it also gives you an idea of what you shouldn’t be doing. And so we identified these three barriers of census in California. There’s an issue of access. Those who have home addresses, those who have access to home Internet, it’s, like, 20% that don’t. There are issues of are they — how will they get to the Internet. And for those of you who don’t know, the census in 2020 has been primarily digital and that’s a really big deal we’re not talking about. Really big deal is kind of the theme of today.
Vulnerability, perceived and real. You know, we sort of, through the research, dealt with two kinds of vulnerability. One was those who felt vulnerable to the census, meaning, you know, if you have undocumented status. If you’re scared of the administration. There’s that kind of vulnerability, and that’s what we’re talking about here but I would say there’s also the vulnerability of who’s going to be most affected by an undercount. Who relies most heavily on services? And so when it came to people who were afraid of the government. We, in our interview process, we talked to people you wouldn’t expect who talked about hiding from administrators. One person you’ll see in a minute, was afraid that his information was being sold to market, and marketers. But both who had legal status that were undocumented both thought we had ties to law enforcement. And so there was a real fear. But also we found that there was a real knowledge gap. So when you think of of the first two barriers, us, as a news organization, we can do that. Knowledge, that’s our sweet spot. That’s what we do every day.
Except we discovered that people who are listening to NPR all day, every day, people who are consuming huge amounts of information and seek out the news didn’t know anything more about the census than those who didn’t. We had folks talk about, like, oh, the citizenship question. Or, oh, the undocumented question. Other people said, I think it’s counting and everybody should be counted. But that was it. And these are heavy news consumers. So when we’ve done similar research in the past, we were thinking of something that we had done really well, and, oh, here’s what we can do to make it better. Through this research it was really an opportunity for us to reflect and say, as a public-media newsroom, we hadn’t gotten that preliminary, necessary work done.
I feel that was something we were going to talk about in a minute. And also going back to the theme of fearful to share and this is something that the move to digital is also important. There’s a lot of fear in the government. Multiple people shared the exact same quote of saying, “The damage is already done, regardless of what happens with the citizenship question.” They’re terrified. They feel there’s been a real intent that’s laid out there and they’re not going to trust the system. In Southern California, the memory of Japanese Internment is still fresh. And that memory is still palabraable, and ≈ are living in fear of it.
MEGAN: So people who are not aware of it, the U.S. Government did play a role in the Japanese Internment in World War II. The ahead of the Census Bureau apologize -D, and there were debates as to whether there were specific privacy laws broken related to it. But they basically gave them maps where there were people heavily Japanese-ancestry neighborhoods and it did help them rat out the Japanese a lot more efficiently than they could have without that assistance. So it’s something that’s a memory that’s very fresh. And the Japanese-American community has been very active in social-justice issues as a result. They’ve participated a lot with Black Lives Matter. They protested the immigrant detainment centers. So that was something — and we’ll show you in a couple of minutes and I’ll talk about it. That’s when we realized that we should be — we should report on, and be transparent about it but we also had to make sure how to not make people afraid knowing that there is very strong federal law safeguarding this information. With that said, can we really promise, as journalists, that nothing will change, or that the current administration might seek other avenues to get at that information. So those are some of the things that we have to weigh.
ASHLEY: The other thing that I want to point out in addition to privacy concerns and what we do and don’t know about how this behaves still online is thinking about the messaging that we send out, especially when it feels like almost every day on NPR citizens where we’re telling senior citizens to be afraid of online scams and it’s this messaging that’s hitting really hard. But we have this census saying,, hey, can you put all this information online, please, now? So we’ve had senior citizens volunteering and raising their hands saying, this is an issue. So there are organizations specifically addressing this population.
Something else that came up was that personality and self-identity matters a lot when it comes to the census. So you think about how we describe who we are, and that’s one of the most nuance -D ≈ complex answers, and, yet, the census is one of the most dry, clinical forms that you fill out. And for people who have identities that don’t show up as a box on the census, there are questions of: am I quite? Like, why aren’t we counting this? Why aren’t we counting that? And so it’s been interesting, specifically like the decision not to include the NINA option of Middle Eastern/north African, even though the researchers ≈ thought it would be really helpful. You have this dual challenge of people being afraid to be counted and people being angered because they don’t feel like there’s an option for them to be counted. We actually had the woman at the top actually lied to us about how she participated in the research. And she had a bit of a gotcha. You thought I was Muslim but I’m Persian.
And it’s just that she’s that angry at the system and, you know, whether or not to participate. Other things we’ve found is this disconnect. If you live in a city that you don’t really feel as your community and the other thing that you think of the census is, oh, streets, yay, then you’re not driven to participate. So understanding how people self-identify and how we can connect their sense of self to the census is really important.
There’s a lot of shame, especially for all those — the highly educated information-seekers, also known as big NPR listeners. We have one interview subject who just very clearly started making stuff up. And it was this moment where it was like, Kay, Terrell. Sorry. And so, like, figuring out as a newsroom: how we find a way to sort of play into that and have us be fun and also understand, like, we’re starting — I think I said one of the challenges we have in journalism is we still have a high level of understanding to begin with and this is one where we can proactively say, we know people, and that’s where we can start and start playing with it. And, I don’t know, Megan if you want to talk about credibility. But it’s constitutionally mandated to do the census. We’re all required to participate in the census and, yet, nothing happens if you don’t, except maybe sort of just one time.
MEGAN: Well, theoretically you could be find. And I was at another meeting about the census in Boston on Wednesday and the former director, the guy who quit last year because of all the stuff going on, he said that there was an incident in the ’70s where someone was prosecuted for filling out the census. But out of how many millions of Americans, that’s probably not a deterrent. We think a lot about this in how we cover elections, as well, and, again, this is a public-media organization.
Our worry or concern is are we advocating for people to vote? And if we were, is that a bad thing? Are we advocating for people to take the census, if we did, is that a bad thing? So what we’ve tried to sort of make sure is that we frame it in providing the needed information. So, you know, for voting, what we say is, you know, will you we will give you all the information that you need that would make you vote aligned with your beliefs. And what the implications and effects are if you don’t do it and how that’s amplified throughout the community. And, I mean, Ashley talked about it, LA is the hardest county to count in the United States for a myriad of reasons. It has some of the hardest count, census tracts, as well, right? How many languages in LA County?
DANA: Over 200.
MEGAN: And how many are they going to translate?
DANA: They’re going to translate the actual form into 13 languages and you can do your phone — no, you can do the digital or the phone and, I think, 59 languages.
MEGAN: So there’s significant challenges on the face of it taking away the whole issue around citizenship questions. Also, disproportionately effects the border states in particular, but, certainly, California, Texas, New Mexico, you know, Arizona. And if you look at the projections on that, Myoson, and a group of people did a survey of people with citizenship questions on it and off of it and they found that the undercount for, Latinos in particular, jumps to, I think, over ≈ 6% with the presence of that question. And that really in states with big Latino populations is a really significant undercount where we were looking at those states losing representation. And largely that representation being shifted to Southern states. So I think how we talk about that in a really easy to understand way, I think, will help people understand the importance of census. But even we sent someone out on the day of the SCOTUS decision, we sent someone out to the hardest-count tract in LA in a place called Koreatown with a large Latino population. Well, there’s a lot of Korean people there, too. And he was talking to people largely in Spanish and they didn’t even know the census question. But you have this lack of baseline knowledge in communities where people are not necessarily paying attention to national news
ASHLEY: And as you’re thinking of stories and thinking of what your county is doing in order to engage more community members in the process, for LA City, LA County, they’re using Google Translate for their websites, which just kills me.
MEGAN: Someone told me that it’s better than it used to be.
ASHLEY: But yeah, that’s a really low baseline.
[ Laughter ]
And one thing that it reminds me, when you sort of say, we’re the hardest to count and it’s not something that we’re proud of. But it really is it’s sort of —
MEGAN: We’re number one!
ASHLEY: They have those hand gloves that say, “Number 1!” And show them. But we have the hardest to count — we have a lot of — Dana, do you want to talk about that?
DANA: So there’s a hard-to-count index that has 15 indicators as to determining where you’re hard to count. LA has all of them.
MEGAN: How many people have seen this index in your community? I really recommend it because it’s a really good way to orient yourself in terms of what the risk is where you’re reporting, and also, how much manipulation did you have to do to get it down to the census-tract level?
DANA: It’s actually pretty easy especially depending on if your state has a good census office site. So California’s State Census Office has a website that has all of the hard-to-count census tracks, and also by bloc group. And it’s also information that you can download as a spreadsheet. Pretty simple. I mean, two buttons. I had it all and uploaded to MapBox and checked with it. If not, you can also get it straight from the census.
AUDIENCE: There’s a website censushardtocount2020.org.
DANA: Add that to our etherpad, please. So some of the reasons that LA County is hard to count. We have what are called high-density populations. So our high occupancy dwellings where you have more than 1.5 — I don’t know why it’s one and a half people per room. But we have — but we also have a lot of what they classify as basically — they’re essentially apartment buildings. There’s a long, fancy name for it that I don’t recall offhand. But it’s basically we have a lot of apartment buildings. We have a lot of minority populations who are historically hard to count including — we have a lot of Native Americans, which a lot of people don’t realize. We have a high population of Native Americans. Though, we don’t have a huge black population, the ones that we do have live in census tracks that are historically hard to count. And we also have, because of the language barriers in a lot of cases, a lot of foreign-born also makes that incredibly hard to count.
ASHLEY: We also have a big zero to five population.
DANA: We also have a lot of children in the state. A lot of people forget that they have kids in the census. They’re considered one of the hardest-to-count groups. People forget to list their kids on the census. A lot of multigenerational households that have children have been shown in studies to forget that they have the kids in the household because they’re not necessarily “their” kids. So…
ASHLEY: One of the theories has been just the number of lines that they gave you on the paper form. So there’s a reason that the oldest and the youngest are left off. We also have a significant homeless population.
MEGAN: I don’t know if you’ve heard that.
ASHLEY: You may or may not know.
DANA: Living without an address can be definitely a barrier to census. And, of course, with the move to digital, broadband access is also going to be a huge thing. And the Census Bureau has been saying, well, you can just go to to a library. Well, that’s great if you can get there or that would be great if your city has a library branch. So some of the community advocacy groups that are trying to get people to fill out the census and bridge the gap in filling out the census whether it be translation services so that they understand what they’re filling out, or providing a hub, or opening up a school or a community center so that they have a place where they can fill it out on a paper or a computer form is trying to bridge the gap to the fact that the Census Bureau is a little out of touch with some of our communities.
ASHLEY: There’s so many interesting quirks. So the day — it’s supposed to be everybody that’s living in the United States on April 1st but there’ll be the link to fill out the form online a week before and then they’ll send out the enumerators. But for women who are pregnant, there’s the question of sort of, where’s the baby when you fill out the form, and whether it’s inside or outside on April 1st and then shared custody situations. You know, how many parents are filling out that their child is with them.
MEGAN: I would say that even though there’s a significant undercount overall with count with kids, there’s a significant balance of undercount and overcount. Particularly white children in situations of divorce and multiple houses get overcounted by about a million. But the overall undercount, it basically balances out to a million undercount kids total. So there’s about a 2 million undercount of children of color, and 2 million undercount of white children. So there are all these of undercounts and overcounts depending on demographics.
ASHLEY: There was a democrat who said something at a meeting in California that came to the different lawsuits coming out of California and different organizations and something that he said he was very involved in the community is he said, they’re trying to erase us and participating is an act of resilience and revolution. And I thought it was just this really — it goes to the heart of a lot of this. That, if populations aren’t counted and if they don’t show up, and what does that mean in just sort of how we talk about this in the future.
MEGAN: And please feel free if you have any questions at any time, please feel free to speak up.
ASHLEY: I will jump back into the slides and say, you know, there were a lot of takeaways for us in the research and leverage points. We had all this sort of information coming back to us, and we’re like, oh, shoot, we’ve got a lot of work to do. But also there are ways that we can activate people to care a little more and understanding what those leverage points are is really important. One of them, and how I sort of — and maybe I have to still think about it myself — is I didn’t care about my health until I became a parent. And when I became a parent, I was like, I want to be healthy enough to play with my kid. I want to be healthy enough to ensure he had a mom. So in the same way, a lot of Angelinos don’t see how the census affects their everyday life but we need to make sure that when we’re talking about the stakes and we make the stakes personal, we have to make sure we talk about we’re talking about schools, and services. And as an extension of that, schools are the most trusted source of information for many of these parents.
So, you know, we’ve been talking to teachers and I’m a big fan of cubby distribution, which is basically when can we get our stories in the preschool can you beies because parents always read the stories when they pick up their kids. So with all of that, it was really a moment for us for things we should start or stop. And Megan will talk about the conversations that she’s had in the newsroom.
MEGAN: So, obviously, we’ve had a lot of challenges even with our core listenership. And even people who listen to us 24/7, they didn’t have fairly basic knowledge of the census. And to be fair, the census happens every ten years. It’s not something that permeates coverage all the time. So we started already knowing that, how do we start talking about key points of the census beyond just the citizenship questions. Actually, Hazzi Bow Long covers the census for ≈ NPR, and he’s done an excellent job. And if you don’t follow him, he’s doing it really good in a plain-speak way to make it accessible. I even asked him: well, how do you weigh broader census questions around the census? And he said, obviously, the citizenship question is a key question. It’s not just like as journalists we can’t not cover it because it’s some weird political theatre and who knows how people are going to receive it. And then it becomes the work of the local newsrooms to really do the level-setting on the stakes. And so we thought a lot about how do we make sure even when we’re talking at a local level about that particular question or the census in general, how do we introduce the census and talk about the census in a way that resonates with people and leads to takeaways.
And one, I think, for me, an ah-hah moment was listening, looking at office research, talking to Ashley, thinking about how we were going to move forward. I think my key takeaway was that covering the census wasn’t going to do it. So just doing stories where we’re just talking about the census was not actually going to leave anyone with a takeaway about the importance of the census. So one of the things we’re talking about is as we get closer to the actual census-taking in the spring of next year, how do we make sure that we are tying back in on all the different leads and subjects we cover or roles the census plays in funding, or access, or other issues. And you’ll hear a clip in a little while that gets at, like, how we did it in one particular case.
ASHLEY: Can I talk about one thing?
MEGAN: Oh, sure.
ASHLEY: So I just wanted to say, that in looking at what was the coverage ten years ago, and what’s the coverage now, ten years ago, NPR devoted 0.3% of time. CNN had the highest percentage of dedicated programming time to the census and that was 0.6%. And I think for of us, and going back to this, too, is now we feel like we’re hearing a lot about census but it’s this citizenship.
MEGAN: And Nancy Shorenson made the point — she used the word —
ASHLEY: She used the word.
MEGAN: It’s fine. I’m woke. She had the point that it shouldn’t be political. The point is to count every person living in the United States. That’s in the constitution and so…, obviously, we have historically issues around representation in even how we count. But now we have that standard. And I think in our newsroom we also realized that we started to ask reporters to read the research that we had done and to come in and listen to, sort of, a briefing on it and then challenging them to think, okay, well, some basic things.
Do all the reporters actually know how to find the census data? Do they know what the American Community what survey is? And do they know how it defers from the census and it does in very many key ways. Me and Jill understand this really well. So LA Unified National School District was one of the — what do you call it — plaintiffs — in the citizenship question because it affects a significant amount of money so that’s just one example but we have a reporter who covers mental health. So in what ways does in census affect, like, health funding, you know, for example housing’s obvious. But others might be less obvious. How does it affect things like veterans and how does it affect, like, science. There’s a lot of aspects of it.
And then, you know, even do the reporters realize basically the digital-first census means? I mean, there’ll be printed versions of the census. That’s part of why the whole timeline of the Supreme Court decision happened. But it is primarily going to be digital and when they call it the non-response follow-up, what does that look like in terms of how we get out there. One thing that came up at this meeting that I was in on Wednesday, and maybe, Ashley, you did not know this that I thought was interesting is that the Census Bureau is going to report in realtime but a tracks are being undercounted. And that raised fears in certain communities that it’s an indication potentially of underdocumented status. And the Census Bureaus are saying to the communities, we’re detecting a significant undercount. It’s on your community to fill out there. But it was interesting because it was half journalists, and half officials from across the country. And so it was interesting to hear that feedback, as well. Maybe that something that was intended to increase the count could potentially suppress the count or cause fear in those communities. So I thought that was interesting
ASHLEY: I would just add that ≈ it might sound silly that do your reporters know the census is going digital. But it was because when we started sharing that the census was going digital, they were surprised. So reporters saying, I don’t feel acquit to reporter on the census because I don’t know enough about it now. So I think that, there, we did a week of trainings in our newsroom which was a start, when was not nearly enough. But it was a start. Because we want reporters to be in a position to be knowledgeable about what they’re reporting on. And it’s hard because it’s changing all the time. ≈ Do you want me to just hit play?
MEGAN: The role of leadership.
ASHLEY: That’s you.
MEGAN: It’s so fun being here because a lot of times we’re like, management, and they’re like, okay. We’re not all bad. So I think an example — I think this was on Census Day, a year ahead of the actual census count and we realized in our morning meeting that we didn’t want to fall into what we had identified which is a focus on the citizenship question and a failure to connect the census to real-world issues and so this is a just a spot.
ASHLEY: I actually have no idea what’s going to play so we’ll find out.
DANA: Can you turn the sound up?
Left chanting if the 2020 census, all counted. Elected officials said that it’s all — be counted.
ASHLEY: Essentially that was just really —
DANA: So it’s Leslie Rojas who’s now an editor but she’s covered immigrant communities and issues for a long time, I mean, more than 20 years. So she went out to the event and then went from from the event to a health clinic and reported on the impact of an undercount for the underfunding of both clinicsd .. So she did report on the counting on census day and connected that to real-effect not counting people in LA County would have, people in LA County.
ASHLEY: This is also a really good opportunity to tell you that should this be really interesting to you at KPCC.org/jobs, we’ve listed both a politics reporter position and a diversity reporter position.
MEGAN: And an investigative reporter position.
ASHLEY: And a housing position. So if you would like to be employed over here… KPCC.org/jobs.
MEGAN: I’ll just hand it over to Dana. So this is an example of some of the things we’re doing. So one of the things we’re doing is creating foundational documents. Things people can come back to. When we made the switch to LA, we decided to go to a switch to a much more conversational style. I don’t know if you guys live in places like DCS, and the Gothamist, and so on. And it was a good thing for for our newsroom to do in general. So these are examples that are not written in a way that you might see in a traditional-print newsroom. They’re kind of like, hey, we have this question. Let me help you understand. Let me help you explain. And Dana has a really great example around understanding the data and some of the challenges she’s identified here today about why LA is hard to count. And then she’s working on a really cool project.
ASHLEY: I’ll go real quick and then… sorry. I need to follow the microphones. So you’ve heard me talk about this already because I live on a soapbox but something that I’m because excited about is understanding that reporting on hard-to-count communities is — as we role out the research and talk about this more, it’s really sort of more of an owning of what our limitations are and that we’re public-service organizations. We want to get beyond our existing audiences to reach people who are most affected by a possible undercount and and who are vulnerable to loss of services. So there are more than 100 of these organizations in LA alone. And so, starting earlier this summer, we had a convening where we had ten different languages being spoken in the room. We had journalists from all over the city and the world.
MEGAN: Armenian, Japanese, Chinese…
ASHLEY: And really co-designed what a collaboration would look like. So it wasn’t asking — we were very mindful. I don’t think I breathed . during the first half of this meeting because we didn’t want to big slip. We didn’t want to say, hey, we’re going to come in and ask you for your source list or come in and treat you as a distribution. What do you need, and what are the things that you’re interested in.
MEGAN: And these were things we weren’t necessarily expecting. I think we were going in there to identify opportunities for misinformation out in the communities. And it’s interesting because of these places are really small shops. They were saying, we don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to really do these explainers. If the only thing that you did for us is provide us your English-language stories and allow us to translate them and give them to our audience, that, in and of itself, would be really valuable. It was also interesting to hear where people in those communities get that information. And so I think we really do is have a big advantage being public media. And so we obviously need members to sustain our journalism and David has to listen to our radio in the bag. So it’s not like we don’t have a business model. We don’t have to be cognizant of it, but we also have a mission to serve our broader communities. So unlike our main goal of yours which is to drive subscriptions. So we can provide information in a way that doesn’t damage our business. But, in fact, enhances it.
ASHLEY: Do you want to mention the role of the Chinese media?
MEGAN: Yeah, one interesting thing I thought was I was sitting at the table at lunch and the guy across from me works at —
ASHLEY: He did Vevo before Ambersource.
MEGAN: So he’s very conversant in the Chinese language which in the San Gabriel Valley is very deep and wide which ranges from people from Hong Kong to people from Taiwan and that community’s changed a lot over the last decade and I asked him: hey, what do your communities think of the tariffs. And he said, they don’t know about them. He said, you know, they read Chinese media. Because of the Internet, they’re reading original sources from back home. And I was like, okay, extra challenge, how do I get fundamental U.S. census information in Chinese sources — but I think we will fail.
ASHLEY: So I think it was that moment of saying, if you dig into the observation habits of your audiences, it’s going to tell you what your very real limitations are, and opportunities are. Something that we’ve been working with Dana are is the number of newsrooms that are like, we don’t know how to access census data, we don’t know how to get to it. So we’re hoping to build trainings, in what their uses would be and we’re finding ways — what I love about this work is the census is happening next year but the infrastructure we’re building is something that we can use for years to come and it does take time not only in the relationship-building and sort of the determination of what you’re going to be doing, but also in what are the legal — what are the legal sort of things that you need to figure out in your newsroom now to be able to do it.
So I’ve been spending months working on creating MOUs that allow us to have other organizations translate, and then indemnify us against the translation of our work because there could be really big liability issues, right? So understanding it’s not just this ah-hah moment of, “We’re going to do good!” But this is how they’re actually getting their information. So any time we have time, feel free to grab me about conversations about this, because I just think it’s something a lot of us are thinking about. I do want to make sure that Dana gets a chance to talk about what she’s leading which is also super exciting.
DANA: So one of the things that we’re working on right now is really awesome. I actually had a census intern this summer. That’s actually how much buy-in we have newsroom leadership. That I have a dedicated intern for ten weeks to build what I hope to be a very innovative and helpful tool that helps people connect the census to themselves and their communities. So the premise of this is to basically be able to say, okay, you enter this interactive experience and it asks you two questions: how do you identify yourself? It has things like: are you a parent? Are you a person of color? Are you a student? Are you a veteran? And I believe now, we have 14 different things that you can identify as. You can choose one. And it will take you to another screen and it’ll ask you: what do you care about? And you have the option to choose from, I think, right now, we have 15 different things. And I’ve come up with a patched-together algorithm to link all of these things together so that when you — depending on what your choices, it links specifically to a program that aligns who you are, and what you care about that would be affected by census funding.
So, for example, if I said that I was a parent of — well, right now, it just says parent, it doesn’t specify what age. If I said I was a parent and I cared about kids having access to a quality education — that makes sense. The thing that I might get spit back as my thing connecting myself to census is something like Title I funding. Everybody knows what Title I is, right? I might get something back —
AUDIENCE: What’s Title I?
DANA: It’s a special bucket of funding that can go to many different things in education. You might get something back on special-education programs. You might get something back on Head Start. Right now, we have a roster of 23 things that this intern is doing write-ups for and she’s basically writing a mini story for each one of these things and so she’s finding real people with real stories that are affected by each one of these programs or services or pieces of funding and contextualizing it so that when you go through this tool, you get a picture and story, and see a real person that is affected by the funding behind all of this.
So what we’re hoping to do is actually open source the technology behind this so that other newsrooms can use this in their work. Hopefully, it’s something that people will use and want to keep playing with. I don’t know — does anybody have any questions about how it works?
AUDIENCE: Super cool!
DANA: Well, thank you.
ASHLEY: So we just, for the sake of brevity, we have this link and a link on the etherpad, a bunch of resources that we’re turning to and we would love for you to add yours. But you’re so many more people than us. We have questions for you. And I can be at my printer, if anybody wants to share how your newsroom’s approaching this, or whose work you love because I think that’s always an opportunity to learn from those of us that —
MEGAN: And even if it’s not directly on the census — if it’s like a broad, national topic that people have done a good job of communicating it, or have done a good job of helping people understand the importance of a subject. Because I know that beyond the citizenship question, I don’t know that there has been a ton of — well, if you’re in a newsroom, if you started working on how to cover the census at this point… show of hands?
AUDIENCE: Medium hand.
AUDIENCE: So our census projection actually comes from our local section. I’m an audience editor for the Washington Post and it’s kind of like this lazy thing for our newspaper. So there’s a lot of, like, trying to figure out how to make it work for our national section. Sorry, the reason why I shake my hand is it’s in terms of how it works for the national patterns. There’s a lot of flight patterns and making sure it all works together. But yeah.
ASHLEY: This is when I build empathy for all my brothers in our organization. We do have a lot.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. The thing that I wanted to bring up is the misperception that I’ve experienced in my newsroom time and time again which is that people think that the data from the census comes out, like, independently. Oh, we have — everyone’s — the census is coming! The census is coming! And it’s like what’s the team gonna do with all this census data? And it’s like a year later.
MEGAN: In 72 years, I’ll give you a very complex look at what happened in 2010.
AUDIENCE: So that goes back to the relationships and making sure that people understands that the census process is different than the census publication.
ASHLEY: Anybody have other questions or things they wanted to share?
AUDIENCE: I have a question for you guys. So I’m curious how you’re measuring the success of the project since you’re not directly get people to fill out the census but trying to get more people who are undercounted information.
ASHLEY: I’d add something that in the report that we published and I’ll add the link to that — we asked everyone who participated in the 2010 census, so it was fascinating, some people didn’t know. And we did have a number of people said that I am because of this process. And so I think that, we’re a newsroom, our former president, this favorite thing to say is, “Anecdote is not the plural of data.” But we are a newsroom that embraces the anecdotal and what people are telling us. And so I think there’s just that. And because we meet people in so many different places. What are they telling us? Are they starting to show up in conversations around the census and how are they participating with the journalism? I also think we’re looking at the metrics of the stories very closely. Megan?
MEGAN: I mean, I think it’s a great question and I think it goes beyond how far the story travels which is one measure. You know, it’s harder — I spent many years primarily in print publication and they were like, how would you know whoever was reading in print. There was a lot of assumptions made about what was or wasn’t being consumed by the people who got the paper. And similar on air. I think we are prepared to devote a fair amount of our airspace to talking about this issue now. How do people know if they’ve heard or not. I will say anecdotally that people will say something like I heard something. Or, oh, wow, I used that term 8,000 times and it’s extremely… and I think looking overall in LA County we’re not going to be directly impactful because there’s many agencies working on it but I think knowing what role the news could play in mitigating it will be a huge subject.
ASHLEY: And I would add I think the health in how long this collaboration lasts and whether it goes beyond the census will be a big part. We have how far health reporters is going to be on a Persian radio station next Friday and that never would have happened before we started this census project.
MEGAN: If you look at who the NPR audience is on Unified Survey, you can probably look at pretty close to what it looks like and, obviously, we’re reporting from an incredibly diverse place in the country and so we thought very actively not only on the census but other topics, as well, as to how do we actually get into the communities, as well. So a good example of another project that followed along the same course is reporting that’s been done on black mortality. So we have reporting done on early childhood, so zero to five. And they went through a whole design process of how that coverage would be. And I think there were a lot of key takeaways about how those caregivers and parents were receiving that information and most of them were not listening to NPR. So I think in the interest of getting that information, we had to get into the informations and figure out where they’re getting their information. So it was church bulletins, it was libraries. And in that position, we identified in the interest of the black children mortality story, we did an event on the — the reporter’s intent going in was to ultimately reach black women of child-bearing age. So instead of just reporting after the fact, actually, get women before they get pregnant so that they would have information they needed to have more-successful pregnancies and births.
And so the cost postcards went out to those areas and Ashley will tell you the results.
ASHLEY: So we had the goal of having — my colleague who runs the team set the goal of having everybody in the room — all saying I think the black population in LA is 7%, or actually, it’s 8% black, is what the census says, and when you think of only women in their child-bearing years, it’s only this big. So as I rolled this from 100, we ended up having 200 people in the room. 95% of it is black women. 95% of it I mean. We had a library reach out and ask, can we have a rinse and repeat. So we had another room that had capacity, too, and we started a texting service out of just to make sure we weren’t showing up and then disappearing.
‘Cause I think any time that you’re launching these deep initiatives, you have to be mindful of how you stay in contact because otherwise, it really ends up being interactive.
MEGAN: And in the events that we’ve done, she’s spoken at numerous events around the country. So what could have just been — I think the old way of doing is you would just write your story and hope for the best. And I think the whole experience on that particular beat was even when she was reporting on the story, I asked her to try something different and report in realtime ahead of writing the story so that she would be out there on social media talking about how she made trips to Oakland and I always get it wrong, Akron? Toledo? She always yells at me, it wasn’t Akron! It was Toledo! I have a mental block on it. And, actually, she built this big audience ahead of publishing her stories and they’ve continued to follow her so…
ASHLEY: I think — and I know we’re at time and the last thing that I really want to say is it’s a reminder of when we’re doing this kind of work and we’re really intentional about how we get information in people’s hands and how we stick with people. That people kept wanting to give her advocacy awards and she’s had to say with advocacy policy, that’s not something she can accept. But when we get into issues like this. The fact that we have an early-child reporter, and the fact that we’re spending as much resources we are on the census, it is a question to think about. And not to go on because I’m sure you’re hungry, but that’s coming up. It’s about, like, saying we want to activate. So…
AUDIENCE: You have 15 minutes.
ASHLEY: Oh, we have 15 minutes, I lied. Sorry.
AUDIENCE: I just wanted to say, I hope my presence hasn’t had made you felt to rush.
MEGAN: I was going to say, big fish! Encore.
AUDIENCE: So I was interested in that question of advocacy and we talk about that all the time and I’m in a public media newsroom, as well, but I was wondering if you could talk about, as well, the side deciding if we’re going to do this thinking process, to learn more about the census — like, how are those conversations in the community and in the newsroom?
MEGAN: Gonna leave it to Ashley.
ASHLEY: So we defined it as a longer answer, which I’m sure you’re shocked that I’m going long — we decided that we’ve had had a lot of success with the early-childhood work. We had the early childhood be for six or seven years and we hit the goal we wanted to do it was to elevate the awareness around the outcomes of early childhood.
MEGAN: I mean, for example, the new governor for California, Gavin Newsum, he has actually appointed someone to be ≈ in charge of that specific area. So are we responsible for that? I don’t know. Sing certainly the conversations around early childhood has changed substantially over that beat.
ASHLEY: So we were having this moment, okay, we hit that goal. So what do we do? How do we challenge ourselves? And what happens when we actually identify a target audience that we deeply want to serve? So we said, our chief officer did some time at the University of Stanford and is really interested in design thinking and was like, this is a really great opportunity for us to look at that, how can we design coverage with its audience at its core and we also worked with a woman named Chan Ha, and if anyone doesn’t know her, I recommend working with her, she essentially comes in and teaches you how to do this work once you’re not working with her anymore. So we found it really, really useful. It was clarifying. It gave us next steps.
So we’ve moved away from — our chief officer says that she has a bias towards technology. So she, going into the research process, not actual day to day but has a solution. PowerPoint skills are not really where she would like to be. But, you know, she went in going, if we’re going to really serve this audience with we’re going to build a Yelp for preschools, and thinking that it was going to be a high-tech solution to engaging these audiences and what we found through the research is what we needed was that a low-tech high-touch solution. We needed to figure out how to do a direct mail distribution. We’re working out figuring out a grant on how to get flyers to people. That’s why we’re talking about cubby distribution, and that’s why we’re talking about libraries and backpacks. And all those types of things. And because that process was so healthy for for us and we knew that the census was going to be a big story for us, and I think the primary answer to your question is LA is really going to be affected one way or the other and knowing that we are number one in hard-to-count, this is a story of our communities.
But because we’ve had that success with early childhood, and then, also, we realized that there were — when you’re doing human-centered design and you’re thinking about who are these extreme profiles, we realized many of the same kinds of voices and perspectives we were looking for were similar as far as what were those socioeconomic distinctions, how did race play into this, how did the education level people are. And those were really interesting things because with early childhood you’re able to go — you can go back to the stakeholders and map them pretty quickly. With the census, everybody’s affected so we had to really zero in on those that are vulnerable to undercount.
MEGAN: I also will say that philosophical in our newsroom, we have made, ≈ I’m going to use this term, and a lot of the reporters in our newsroom is allergic to this term: that the concept of being honest is a universal priority and I think if you boil that down to what that means, I think people hear that as being undercutting their expertise or their background and how I’ve tried to change it, and flip the explanation, and say, no, what it really means is part of our job, I’m not the first person to say it, it is to make important stories interesting and that’s we have to understand how people consume their information and we have to listen to what information they need. And that doesn’td . mean we’re ticket-takers and that’s what we’re doing all day long, but there’s a real value in listening intensely and closely to your community and the premise here is that you can do better journalism as a result. But just a real small example. So we’re a very small Hearken newsroom. We have small media stations and Heaken embeds all their stories who ask thems questions and give them core feedback on their missions. That’s a pretty decent development and I’ve read a lot about our mission statement process. So if you want to read about it, it’s widely available.
But we had some writing that asked why did mosquitoes get so much worse last year. And it turned out there was an entirely new species of mosquito that showed up in California the year before. And we had that because someone asked us that question and we bothered to look it up and publish it.
ASHLEY: Human Voter Guide.
MEGAN: So they did an early concept of this several years ago. And what they found was that actually — people want to know who to vote for. But we don’t do that. We’re a public company, we don’t do endorsements. But the problem was that people didn’t even know. But as a part of that, our program put out, and that’s a pretty big repository of the typical questions that you get but every once in a while you get a very different question, and you find a problem, or and that becomes a story and so we were very early on the DMV registration questions in California because people were contacting our voting guide saying that they were having problem with registration and by following that string we were able to report early on more systemic problems that were happening. And I think as the reporters start to see the tangible results of stories that other people don’t have because our emphasis is on original reporting. That’s a big shift but we have made over the last year. We’ve had to clear out a lot of stuff first to make that space. So I’ve asked for 75% of their work to be original. And the gold standard has been something that we’ve never seen anywhere else. But the goal — and I said to them, like, one of the fastest ways to make sure that you’re meeting the goal is to actually listen to the audience because they’re going to tell you things that you wouldn’t otherwise know and they’re going to tell you the things that the sources go into could meet a journalist in LA, you’re going to have different sources. Sorry. Aaron?
AARON: I was just gonna ask because you touched on this a little bit, it sounded you had competing issues. How do you reach out to communities that you don’t necessarily have listeners in and listening to your audience. I’m curious especially, like, in this human-centric design thing, how do you identify and how do you specifically identify and reach out to…
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