Training: Breaking Local Stories with Economic Data

by February 26, 2013

Photo by flickr user MTAPhotos

The free workshop, “Breaking Local Stories with Economic Data,” was originally held in Louisville, Ky., on Feb. 27, 2013. Two additional workshops by the same title will be held in Washington on April 4 and San Antonio on June 19. Check out materials for Louisiana, Texas and Washington, D.C. below.

Government data offer unparalleled opportunities to distinguish your reporting with trend stories about what’s happening in your local economy. Especially this year, with the release of the every-five-year Economic Census, journalists will have a unique opportunity to track changes in their local community from 2007 — before the recession — to 2012.

The key is to know where to look on often confusing government websites and then how to analyze the data you find. Just in time for the International Year of Statistics, this self-guided training will provide you with a road map to finding and delivering at least five local enterprise stories from the data collected by each of these government agencies:

  • Census Bureau, including the Economic Census and County Business Patterns data. For inspiration, take a look at this Reuters series on income inequality that made extensive use of Census data.
  • Bureau of Economic Analysis, including gross domestic product and personal income by local area.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, including local unemployment trends and ways to figure which industries are highly represented in your area. The key fact in a New York Times Magazine piece about Tallapoosa County, Ala., called, “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy,” came from BLS data; it indicated women are proving more adaptable than men in coping with economic change, such as the downturn in manufacturing.


You will learn where to find and analyze the economic data to do at least 15 trend stories on their local economy: five from Census data, five from Bureau of Economic Analysis data, and five from Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Examples will focus on data from the Louisville, Ky., region, but the techniques can be applied to any other local area. The resources include a calendar of important release dates for data from each of these agencies and several videos that show how to find specific data.


Jeannine Aversa is chief of public affairs and outreach at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Before joining BEA in 2011, Aversa was a journalist for nearly 30 years and reported for The Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Fairchild Publications and other news organizations.

Thomas Dail is a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. He brings a dozen years of experience in newspapers and public relations to that job. Prior to joining the BEA, he covered politics and business for Freedom Communications in North Carolina.

Paul Overberg has been a USA TODAY database editor since 1993. He is one of the foremost experts among journalists in analyzing demographic data, especially the U.S. Census. He has trained journalists through the Reynolds Center, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists in using census data. He describes his job as finding news in data.


Review the resources below at your own pace for tips and tools on breaking local stories with government data.

Session recordings & video tutorials

PowerPoint presentations