years old, like the previous long-form samples) offset the increased margin of error. She followed up by asking whether the journalists thought that there was anything the Census Bureau could do to help address the point suggested by all three speakers that reporters cannot or will not present (and so might not fully understand) margins of error, and what they would do if ACS data were not available at all.
El Nasser replied first, agreeing with Lowenthal’s premises; she and her colleagues understand the problems and complications associated with ACS data, but concluded that Fessenden put it best with his basic conclusion that “the good outweighs the bad.” She said that she understood Campbell’s concerns and criticisms—cutting the data by small area and by specific job types “slices it down to such a small level” that the analysis is decidedly complicated. But she said that for she and USA TODAY, the great value of the ACS is that “it is news”—providing a wealth of data on such a regular schedule. She conceded that USA TODAY might not push down to the neighborhood level as much as The New York Times or a local newspaper like The Orange County Register, but the ACS’s capacity for analysis by metropolitan area and county is “quite amazing.” She said that she does not necessarily agree with the argument that the ACS promised more than it delivers because “I think we always knew what the problems would be; my expectations were not that much greater.” Clearly one could wish for more and more precision, but the current ACS seems to be a reasonable compromise.
Fessenden agreed with El Nasser’s points, particularly the assertion that the ACS “is news.” More than that, “it is the news business; it is what we like.” Recalling the earlier question from a Census Bureau staffer on the practical difference that might come from ACS releases in June rather than September (Section 2–F), Fessenden said that the answer to that question is “an easy one for me”—“the fact that we have this data in much-more-like-real time is really important, and the only thing I would ask for is more.” He said that the availability of the ACS has helped create a culture at The New York Times that data can be used to say things about what is going on in the city, and what is going on in policy, in ways that were simply unknown before. Just the fact that the ACS is releasing data on a regular schedule ensures that there will be new stories using the ACS all the time—the newer and fresher the data, the better. That said, he noted that he and his colleagues learn to live with a necessary problem: They very much like pushing the data into very small-area analysis but understand that this necessitates working with the 5-year numbers. The problem is that combining so many years means missing the ability to answer some questions (or possibly getting some misleading readings) because the newest 5-year numbers meld pre- and post-recession numbers.
Returning to the question on margins of error, James Treat (ACS Office division chief, Census Bureau) commented that the products from the 2000 census long-form sample did not publish margins of error with its estimates, yet