CAR Conference Blog

VIDEO: Census tips for every beat

By Irina Ivanova

Census tips for every beat from IRE/NICAR on Vimeo.

We all know the census contains data, but getting just the data you want out of it can be tricky. Paul Overberg and Ronald Campbell know this. Campbell used to call American Fact Finder "the tool of the devil" (though today only about a quarter of his audience agrees with him.) But there's hope.

Campbell, an independent journalist in California; Overberg, database editor at USA Today, and Mike Maciag, the data editor for Governing magazine, explained how to use Census-mining tools like IPUMS microdata and Census Reporter during a session at the 2014 CAR Conference.

Here are some of their tips:

  • Check out the Census Bureau's calendar of public release dates and get on the press list. The Bureau gives journalists about two days’ lead time on new data sets before they're released to the public.
  • Data sets come with a "definitions file" describing what's included. It's helpful to look at the file before you look at the data, especially if you're new  to the subject matter.
  • Census questionnaires from the past can be great sources of story ideas. The original records become public after 72 years, and we're now starting to see records from the 1940s.

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