Covering the 2020 Census — Chicago

Covering the 2020 Census — Chicago

LOCATION: McCormick Foundation in downtown Chicago, Illinois
COST: Free for selected applicants

Covering the census is the epitome of public service and accountability journalism. Reporters and their editors should prepare for 2020 coverage, or they’ll be left behind.

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 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.

Poynter’s intensive two-day workshop 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 Census Bureau directors will join Cohn as guest instructors. Together, they will provide history and context for reporters and their editors, as well as tips on 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

Anita Banerji
Democracy Initiative

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

Michael Cook
Public Information Officer
U.S. Census Bureau

D'Vera Cohn

D’Vera Cohn
Senior Writer/Editor
Pew Research Center

Dr. Julie A. Dowling
Associate Professor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Marilyn Sanders
 Chicago Regional Director
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.

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 April 25, 2019. Schedule subject to change.

9 a.m. Continental breakfast
9:15 a.m. Introductions
9:30 a.m. Census big picture: Why it’s important, what is asked
9:45 a.m. Census history
10:45 a.m. Break
11 a.m Census A-to-Z
12:15 p.m. Lunch (provided)
1:15 p.m. Census partnerships/outreach/communications
2:15 p.m. Break
2:30 p.m. Evaluating the census
3 p.m. Local and state challenges to getting a complete count
4-4:30 p.m. Recap the day and adjourn for optional off-site reception

9 a.m. Continental breakfast
9:15 a.m.  Story ideas and big issues
11:15 a.m. Break
11:30 a.m. Lunch and story swap
1 p.m. Basic data and census website tour
1:45 p.m. Taking it home
2-4:30 p.m. (optional, and if enough interest) Additional hands-on data training


This session takes place in Chicago on June 6-7. It is designed for journalists in Illinois and surrounding states who will be covering the 2020 Census, with sessions specifically geared toward finding local and regional stories.

(If you are from Michigan, please apply by May 10 for training June 3-4 in Detroit.)


This workshop is tuition-free, thanks to support from the McCormick Foundation. Accepted applicants will be responsible for the cost of transportation.

Who should apply

This workshop is designed for journalists based in Illinois and neighboring states, especially Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, 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.

We will notify qualified journalists of admission on a rolling basis through early May.

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.


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

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