MyTwoCensus and the Future of Journalism

Last Updated Mar 31, 2009 3:50 PM EDT

If you happen to be a doctor, every time someone meets you at a party, the chances are good that he or she will ask you about some weird symptoms they have been having lately. Naturlly, you get sick of it, but it comes with the territory.

Me, every day somebody asks me how this whole media industry mess is going to turn out. Will serious journalism survive; what about investigative reporting?

Not possessing a crystal ball, I really should try to resist the prediction-making business. Things rarely turn out the way we expect them to.

Nevertheless, there are a number of promising ventures out there that may just shed some light on the future of journalism. One of them is MyTwoCensus.com, which bills itself as "a watchdog blog for the 2010 U.S. Census."
Narrow focus? You bet? A big, important beat? Yep.

Billions of dollars in government expenditures depend on how the census determines our population is distributed. Infrastructure of all sorts is affected, as are local public services.

MyTwoCensus promises to keep a close eye on how the Obama administration supervises and conducts its first national census. Historically, only about two-thirds of U.S. households voluntarily participate in the census, by filling out the mailed forms and returning them to the Census Bureau. An army of paid volunteers then fans out across the nation, attempting to locate and interview the rest, which next year means finding over 102 million people!

Three young, award-winning political journalists are behind the MyTwoCensus operation: Stephen Robert Morse, Michelle Dubert, and Evan Goldin, and they promise to use investigative reporting to keep the administration honest (most censuses turn into partisan politcal affairs.)

Morse told me, "As of now, I am relying on Google News to find under-reported stories to highlight on the site... With 1.4 million Americans working for the Census, there are sure to be people who have (1.) partisan interests (2.) a lack of qualifications... I have already gone undercover by sitting for the census employee exams and "recruitment sessions." I am now releasing many of my findings in the form of recommendations for improving hiring practices. I also hope that other employees of the Bureau will contribute to the blog or tip us off if they notice something going wrong."

The site contains a "donate" button, which visitors can use to help sustain its work, and Morse says they are also approaching foundations for support.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.