Last November, more than 200 counties across America, scores of them in the upper Midwest, turned from blue to red on the electoral map. Why did voters in once-Democratic strongholds support Donald Trump?
An all-formats AP team of Claire Galofaro, Martha Irvine, David Goldman and Angeliki Kastanis set out to find the answer by focusing on one rural Wisconsin county and getting into the lives and mindset of its people. The result was a revealing package that earns the Beat of the Week.
"The very best journalism storytelling ... I may never go to Crawford County but after looking at this terrific package I now feel like I've been there." – Brian Carovillano
The package, part of the AP's exploration of “Trump's America,” started with some in-depth research. Galofaro, administrative correspondent in Louisville, and Kastanis, a Los Angeles-based data reporter, studied a map of the 218 counties that switched from Democratic to Republican in November, hoping to find a place to help explain the tipping points. What stood out was a clump along the Mississippi River, with county after county stretching continuously for hundreds of miles through four states.
With data compiled by Kastanis, Galofaro then studied the demographics. By most measures – median income, poverty levels, unemployment rates – the counties were in line with American averages. One data point was dramatically different: The levels of college education were very low. Galofaro talked to economists about what those numbers meant: Trump's message resonated in this historically blue-collar region, where people once were able to leave high school and get good jobs, a trend that has declined in recent decades.
Galofaro whittled the list of 50 counties to choose a representative place and settled on Crawford County, a rural area that for the first time in more than 30 years abandoned the Democrats in a presidential contest.
The week of Trump's inauguration, Galofaro hit the ground there to find those who'd flipped from Democrat to Republican. She was joined by Goldman, an Atlanta-based photographer, and Irvine, a national writer and videographer based in Chicago.
At first, they hoped to find one person whose story was compelling enough to carry a narrative. But as the reporting unfolded, it became clear people’s political choices, though rooted in a shared economic disappointment, were far more nuanced than could be explained by a single profile. The journalists opted to create a mosaic of voices that revealed the fears and hopes that fueled Trump's rise.
This piece is just one of many this AP team will tell over the coming year from the towns and communities across America that supported Trump.
The package, which included strong shoe-leather reporting, and top-notch writing and production in all formats, was touted in an extensive plan for social media and presentation that kept readers coming back. It was the most engaged on APNews for two days straight.
On Facebook, the story reached 80,000 readers, with some 1,200 comments, likes and shares. It was No. 1 on mobile for the day and No. 11 for the week. It also was featured on newspaper front pages nationwide, including several in Wisconsin.
Brian Carovillano, vice president for U.S. news, called it "the very best journalism storytelling. ... Just about every shot in Martha's video is worthy of putting in a frame on the wall, and Goldie's photo package is just masterful. And the story, Claire, is so well done. I may never go to Crawford County but after looking at this terrific package this afternoon I now feel like I've been there."
And there was this from a resident the AP team met there: "We'd be more than happy to have you back."
For their illuminating package, Galofaro, Irvine, Goldman and Kastanis share this week's $500 prize.