There has been considerable recent discussion about why Vermont’s response rate to the 2020 census form is so low. Several possible excuses have been floated, but one explanation is frequently overlooked when discussing why 43% of Vermonters have failed to complete the census form. The U.S. Census Bureau in its ill-conceived marketing plan virtually ignored advertising in community newspapers in Vermont – and some other states.
The message about the critical need for an accurate Vermont population count by filling out the form is clearly not getting to residents through social media and other limited marketing ways selected by the Census Bureau. Now facing a dismal response rate, the Census Bureau has been asking newspapers to devote free space – something that is not in great supply these days with the attack on businesses due to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
From the start the Census Bureau and government should have been investing in and supporting this newspaper and other community newspapers in Vermont. Newspapers remain the No. 1 news source in Vermont communities for all things – Covid-19, politics, sports, and more. So it would make sense that newspapers are the obvious answer if the Census Bureau wants its message delivered about the importance of completing the form.
Print edition newspapers are available 24/7 and even if interrupted by a phone call or knock on the door, you can always resume reading when free. You can also find the print newspapers online. Non-daily newspapers sit on tables in homes and offices for four to five days for reading and for browsing. Most weekly papers are read by three to five people. And with the Census Bureau cutting back on census workers going door-to-door due to the coronavirus, it makes complete sense to use newspaper advertising even more.
Newspapers have been around before the start of this country and will continue on for a long time to come. The Vermont Press Association, which represents the interests of 10 daily and more than three dozen non-daily newspapers serving the state, has reached out to the Census Bureau to help it try to recover from its failure. We await action. As Vermonters, we just hope it is not too late to get an accurate state population count. Otherwise, Vermont will be penalized for the next 10 years when federal funds are distributed based on the limited responses.
Lisa Loomis, president
Vermont Press Association
Loomis is co-owner and editor of The Valley Reporter in Waitsfield.