the kdmcinfo weblog

Own the Census in your community

News organizations are diving into the 2010 Decennial Census and the latest American Community Survey release. These orgs are spending a lot of time using some sophisticated (and frequently expensive) programs to develop the base information. Here's a plan on how to leverage that work to engage the community beyond the initial reporting and to create a new role for the news org.

Here's one of many GeoCommons Census-based maps. GeoCommons now has 50,000 unique data sets. geocommons map 25553

The Census's Tiger maps often need to be simplified for online use and coastlines in waterfront tracts need to be clipped. Census data "prep" work also includes filtering the data down to the local community and cleaning the data. Then journalists need to find and prepare non-census information that adds to the value of the Census information.

All this work takes place before any of the analysis is done. Virtually no other community organization has the resources and ability to create this technical foundation for doing Census data analysis.

Of course the news organization puts all of this foundation work to good use. Reporting and storytelling based on Census data is some of the most interesting and important coverage of the year.

But what about everyone else?

Think of all the different organizations that could use the census information.

  • Individual businesses
  • Alternative business groups
  • Parent Teacher Associations
  • Home improvement associations
  • Churches
  • Environmental groups
  • Health support groups
  • Bicycling groups
  • Gardening clubs
  • Block Watch organizations
  • Add your own ten ideas here

In the Advance Multimedia class, I work with students who are mastering data reporting by using Census and other data sources to illustrate changes in renters/owners ratios in nine San Francisco Bay counties. The students are, as always, doing an awesome reporting job and learning great skills. Data acquisition, cleaning and vetting is a formidable task and the team is spending significant resources to get the data right. The final project will be excellent.

The students are planning a life for the data beyond the final project. Recognizing that the data is useful to many other groups and individuals in the community, the students are going to post the cleaned data sets on GeoCommons and use their social networks to get the word out. The students are using the story as the start of a community dialog not the "wrap" of a reporting project. The intent is for the community to take the data and build new insights. Some community organizations may use the data to build arguments for more community resources. Some bloggers will build new maps specific to a hyperlocal area.

A news organization that builds not only good reporting based on the Census information but also provides essential information for the entire community creates an important new role. Would it be possible to extend that role by providing a night of basic training in GeoCommons? Could the news organization get not only UGC of cute pets but also community-originated issue maps built on data that the news org provided?

This extension of data reporting from "been there and done" to creating a resource for the community is a good first step in re-orienting a news organization's focus. Consider all the other ways that a news organization can take excellent reporting and build a base for community engagement. This is an important transition that news organizations need to make if they are going to be relevant in the new media/social environment.