Covering the 2020 Census — Poynter

TEACHING DATE: March 17-19
LOCATION: The Poynter Institute
COST: Free for selected applicants

Poynter is putting on two workshops about covering the 2020 Census. The program at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. is aimed at members of the Washington press corps.

Covering the census is the epitome of public service and accountability journalism, and the 2020 Census presents more opportunities than ever before for newsrooms.

Starting now, people across the U.S. need to be informed about the census — how they can participate, what happens with their information and how that information affects their communities, and the entire nation, for the next decade. The data collected influences the amount of money spent on roads, where hospitals are built, how many new schools open and even who represents them in government.

But 2020 marks the first time the U.S. Census Bureau is trying to collect the majority of its data online. This raises questions about access as well as data security.

And the Trump administration’s proposal to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census — spurring multiple lawsuits that likely will be decided by the Supreme Court — is another major story that needs to be closely followed.

This intensive two-day workshop hosted by Poynter and Georgetown University will arm reporters and editors with the sources, background, context and data skills they need to accurately and vigorously cover how the U.S. government counts its residents. It’s also tuition-free for accepted applicants.

D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer and editor focusing on immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center, will lead this training. She covered the 1990 and 2000 censuses as a Washington Post reporter before joining Pew where she tracked the 2010 census. Statisticians, experienced journalists and former U.S. Census Bureau directors will join Cohn as guest instructors. Together, they will provide history and context for national reporters and offer guidance and training for local and regional reporters who’ll be localizing this massive and complex story.

$800 billion

Federal tax dollars distributed based on census data


Estimated number of states that stand to gain or lose power in the U.S. House, according to analysis from Election Data Services


Lawsuits against the Trump administration relating to the 2020 Census


Margo Anderson
Distinguished Professor Emerita
UW Milwaukee

D'Vera Cohn

D’Vera Cohn
Senior Writer/Editor
Pew Research Center

Josie Hollingsworth
Audience Engagement Fellow

Paul Overberg
The Wall Street Journal

Kaile Bower
Chief of the Integrated Partnership and Communications
U.S. Census Bureau

John Thompson
Former Director
U.S. Census Bureau

Program details

An accurate, credible census is critical, and the task is daunting. The 2020 Census could be the first in which most Americans are counted over the internet.

Because of concerns about the impact of the proposed citizenship question, it may be particularly challenging to get reliable counts of immigrants, young children, the tenuously housed, and racial and ethnic minorities. Undercounts would have far-reaching consequences, from the number of electoral votes each state receives to how federal funding is allocated for Medicaid, transportation, housing and other priorities.

Census numbers are also critical to enforcing civil rights laws. Researchers rely on census data to study health, poverty and other differences among groups. Businesses use it to decide where to establish new locations.

Reporters have already begun covering the 2020 Census — its funding, its methods and the lawsuits. With concerns growing about the accuracy and politicization of the 2020 Census, this workshop will prepare journalists, many of whom are covering the census for the first time, to contribute meaningful reporting the moment they return to their newsrooms.

What you’ll learn

  • Why is the census important and how its numbers are used
  • A step-by-step guide to census preparations, operations and data release, with local, state and national story ideas at each stage
  • The key challenges and political battles, including the citizenship question and the growing size of hard-to-count groups
  • Key sources and resources for covering the 2020 Census
  • The challenges the bureau faces in persuading people to participate


Updated Feb. 8, 2019. Schedule subject to change.

Networking reception, welcome and overview

Important themes in census history that guide today’s census

Timetable and story guide to the 2020 census process:

  • Preparations, including a massive hiring campaign and outreach to hard-to-count groups
  • Taking the census: The mechanics of counting people online, enumerating the homeless and other special groups; following up with those who don’t answer
  • Finalizing the numbers: Filling in missing information and data-release schedule

Quality metrics: How do we know whether everyone was counted?

Hot-button issues for 2020, including cybersecurity, the citizenship question and persistent undercounts of children, immigrants and other populations

Who are the census advocates, watchdogs and stakeholders to know about?

The state and local perspective: The challenge of overcoming fear and privacy concerns to get everyone to participate

What are the big national stories at each stage, and how can they be localized?

A brief tour of the Census Bureau website, and of how to find currently available census data for states and communities


Poynter and our teaching partner Georgetown University are hosting two Covering the 2020 Census workshops:

Please apply to only one workshop.


This workshop is tuition-free, thanks to support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Accepted applicants will be responsible for the cost of transportation; however, there are limited travel scholarships available for both workshops.

Who should apply

Journalists who will be covering the 2020 Census, whether from a national, regional or local level. In particular, reporters and editors who cover politics, government, family/household, social change, demographics, immigration, race, population, home ownership, business or transportation will benefit from this two-day workshop.

Application process

The process to apply is straightforward and simple. No letter of recommendation or reference is required. Please be prepared to answer questions about your professional experience, areas of interests and basic demographic information.

We will receive far more applications than we can accommodate in this program. Our goal is to be as diverse as possible, including job title, market size, big cities, rural areas, ethnicity, etc. and to accept journalists who plan to cover the 2020 Census. Apply as soon as you know this learning would benefit your coverage.

Poynter is hosting two workshops about covering the 2020 Census; please apply to only one. (The program in D.C. is aimed at members of the Washington press corps.)


We’d love to hear from you. Email us at

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