Honolulu newswoman Jennifer Kelleher had noticed Native Hawaiians leaving for cheaper locales for years, and she finally found a hook to write about it in the 2020 Census. It showed the biggest population growth for Native Hawaiians in the past decade has been in Las Vegas and Sacramento, not Hawaii.
Kelleher knew something important was happening in the place where she was born and raised: Time and again, Native Hawaiians she knew were packing up for cheaper locations on the U.S. mainland.
Kelleher, who is not Native Hawaiian but was born and raised on Oahu, worked for months in between other assignments to find the right families to communicate the angst and despair of people uprooted from their homeland by median home prices that surpass $1 million.
She spent hours listening to their stories, and she said that after every interview, she cried -- but she continued until she talked to an aide to a Hawaiian lawmaker, who was the perfect main character for her narrative.
In a deeply reported and sensitively written story that also reflects AP's commitment to diverse storytelling, Kelleher used the story of Kona Purdy and several others to relay the pain of Native Hawaiians who are trying to build community in Las Vegas, far from Hawaii's beaches and mountains.
She also took photos in Hawaii and connected Las Vegas photographer John Locher with Native Hawaiians now living in Nevada for a complete visual package.
Kelleher combined her own personal observations with hard numbers to help readers understand Hawaii behind the tourism and glitzy beaches. It is a place that is now out of reach for the islands' original inhabitants. On Jan. 22, the day the story moved, it ranked second in the Top 10 rankings for engagement with a score of 99%. A day after it moved, it was still seventh, with 88,828 page views.
For engaging AP’s audience and telling a story about her native state that resonated beyond the islands, Kelleher earns Best of the Week – Second Winner honors.
Visit AP.org to request a trial subscription to AP's video, photo and text services.
For breaking news, visit apnews.com.