How does census news reach hard-to-count communities? Collaboration

By Daniela Gerson

Photo: Quincy Surasmith/KPCC

On May 10, an Armenian television reporter, an Iranian radio host, and a Thai newspaper writer sat down with about 30 other journalists who publish and broadcast in 10 different languages. Joining the ethnic media reporters at the half dozen tables scattered around the auditorium were journalists from Southern California Public Radio. They all cover Los Angeles, but many had never met each other, let alone worked together.

The big occasion was the not-so-sexy-but-incredibly-consequential 2020 census. Money and power are contingent on residents filling out a form, this year a mostly virtual one. In fiscal year 2016, California received an estimated $115 billion in federal funding tied to the state’s population count. At the meeting, journalists strategized about how they can ensure their diverse communities receive accurate information that conveys the importance of the census, and how they can come together to cover the concerns expressed by residents in the hardest-to-count place in the country.

It’s an urgent conversation in Los Angeles County, home to the country’s largest and most diverse immigrant populations, unprecedented numbers of homeless residents, and a plethora of unconventional housing situations. Overall in California, almost ¾ of residents belong to at least one group “that the census has historically undercounted, including renters, young men, children, African Americans, and Latinos,” according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Ensuring verified information about the census is effectively disseminated could make the difference for billions of dollars and maybe even a congressional seat (or more) in California, not to mention accurate data that is used across planning programs from schools to health care.

The attendees at the meeting are trusted messengers in their communities. Often overlooked by mainstream media, the more than 100 outlets that serve Los Angeles-area residents span the globe in their connections and formats of news production. Publications and stations represented in the room were a sample of that range: among them, a Japanese American bilingual daily newspaper that has been around for more than a century, a small Oaxacan biweekly Spanish-language magazine, and a television station based in the Philippines but with special coverage for the L.A. diaspora community.

Their collective reach is vast, but reporting resources tend to be scarce. Working together on common issues could make journalists more effective at reporting on the census. It also provides connections so that they can identify shared issues across hard-to-count communities.

Read the full report here.

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