Posted in Behind the News

How data journalism tools localized Trump’s travel ban

, by Lauren Easton

A staff memo by State Government Editor Tom Verdin describes how, in the chaotic days that followed President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, a data journalist helped AP member news organizations and customers “localize a story of international significance”:

As media outlets all over the country scrambled to find people affected by the executive order, data journalist Meghan Hoyer focused on the numbers. The result was hard data that provided tremendous value for AP customers across the country, allowing them to localize a story of international significance. How did Hoyer do it? She quickly researched the relevant data and extracted it from the U.S. State Department’s website. She pulled 10 years’ worth of numbers about refugees from the seven countries in question, providing the city and state of their destination as well as topline national summary data. Hoyer then reformatted the data into a clean spreadsheet that members could quickly sort and filter. Hoyer's data set provided settlement information for 2,100 cities in nearly every state and the District of Columbia. Not surprisingly, it showed that the number of Syrian refugees dramatically increased in recent years, from just 26 in 2007, to 247 in 2014 and to 15,479 in 2016. It also revealed that Republican-leaning states such as Texas, Michigan and Arizona were among the top recipients of refugees from the seven countries.
Standing beside her mother, Yemeni refugee Samar Alwahiri, 3-year-old Laila Alamri tries to make a heart shape with her fingers after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Even within states, the data showed that distribution of refugees is typically concentrated to a few communities. Suburban Detroit, for example, gets the majority of Michigan's Syrian immigrants. In California, the most popular destination for Iranians, immigrants from that country mostly go to Southern California, with large concentrations in Los Angeles and Orange County. And yet the Central Valley farming town of Turlock, with a population of 73,000, has an outsized proportion of Iranians. It took in 1,175 over the 10-year period, more than double the number going to San Diego. For Somalis, Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, are the most common destinations. Within the first two days of Hoyer’s data set being provided to AP customers, the emailed advisories providing the link had been opened more than 1,000 times, suggesting exceptionally strong interest. The feedback Hoyer received from reporters, editors and news directors using the information illustrated just how valuable this kind of localizing data is to our core mission. Hoyer’s data set was accompanied by a graphic from Francois Duckett in Interactives and a short text block that moved on the wire. It also was emailed to AP regional and news editors, who have used the state and city numbers to add important context to their own stories. For working quickly to find, analyze and package a decade’s worth of demographic data on the biggest global story of the week, adding tremendous value for AP state news customers, Hoyer wins this week’s Best of the States award.