When editors with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting approached AP with a story on unfair lending practices, data editor Meghan Hoyer and data journalist Angel Kastanis saw an opportunity to use AP’s reach to expand the story and generate real impact.
Kastanis had previously wrangled the records made available by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act for a story idea about Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s former bank, OneWest. That analysis didn’t lead to a story in the end, but it prepared her to dive in with the reporters from Reveal. She was able to independently verify Reveal’s analysis, and she worked with them to hone their methodology and findings.
Starting with 31 million records, representing nearly every mortgage loan application submitted in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016, they found that 50 years after the federal Fair Housing Act, people of color are still denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts. The analysis found a pattern of denials across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia.
While Reveal took the lead on the national story, Kastanis and Hoyer worked to take the story deeper. The data distribution they prepared and shared with AP reporters and members showed 61 metro areas where applicants of color were more likely to be denied a conventional home purchase mortgage, even controlling for factors such as income, loan amount and neighborhood.
Kastanis restructured the data, shaping the overwhelming mass of figures into reports that allowed AP and member journalists to see quickly not only whether their reporting area exhibited redlining practices, but which lenders and neighborhoods were affected. Kastanis and Hoyer provided step-by-step instructions for finding local stories in the data, itemizing questions to ask and additional queries that could provide important local story material. Kastanis also identified localization possibilities for AP reporters by finding places where the story was strongest and helping AP reporters from those places tell their story.
The project benefitted from a team effort on the AP side: Business editors Brad Foss and Fred Monyak edited Reveal’s national pieces and put them on the wire. Graphics journalist Maureen Linke worked with Reveal’s graphics team to make sure their interactive met AP standards, and then helped members use the interactive map to zoom in to their area and embed it on their website.
Reveal reports the first hints of impact: Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are calling for hearings, and the stories continue to generate coverage and discussion.
To date, more than two dozen AP members have used the data to tell local stories, and even more created charts or added local details to the national story. Several more are still in the works. AP reporters Janie Har, Ryan Foley and Juan Lozano wrote state-specific stories released alongside Reveal’s main bar that got significant play in those states. Together, the national or local versions made it onto the covers of roughly two dozen newspapers, and the data analysis was featured on radio shows in Pennsylvania, Michigan and California.
Reveal executive editor Amy Pyle reports that the first hints of impact are coming in already, with lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia city hall calling for hearings, and the stories continue to generate more coverage and discussion.
For taking the story to the next level in a way only AP can, Kastanis and Hoyer receive this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.