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Introduction

Finding fresh data for news stories used to be difficult. Now data are available on a wide range of topics whenever you want it. Rather than having to wait for the once-a-decade census, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) has emerged as a resource that can strengthen many kinds of news coverage and feature stories with annual social, housing, and economic data.

The ACS gives reporters three significant improvements in access to demographic information. First, the Census Bureau’s estimates of characteristics for local areas are now updated every year. Second, much of the survey is available through the Census Bureau’s user-friendly Internet site, the American FactFinder. Third, the ACS can sharpen your overall understanding of what is going on in the towns you cover, especially when you learn how to combine it with other sources of demographic information.

The purpose of this guide is to teach reporters how to use this new tool. The guide begins by describing how the ACS is put together and outlining the key concepts you need to know to get the most out of it. It explains the various ways you can fi nd and access ACS data and the best ways for novice and experienced users to use the estimates. There are also brief descriptions of other sources for local area data, as well as step-by-step stories of how journalists have used the ACS to fi nd and improve their published work. A glossary provides defi nitions for key concepts, and a series of appendixes off ers more specifi c information on technical topics, such as interpreting margins of error.

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