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2016 Explanatory Reporting, Large Newsroom finalist

America’s Great Housing Divide

About the Project

From 2007 to 2009, a housing crisis crashed the American economy and left millions of Americans financially vulnerable. This year, in a first-of-its-kind project, a Washington Post team of data and graphics journalists revealed how seven years of recovery have only exacerbated the gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else. The five-part series helped explain why the economic recovery still feels so incomplete, especially in neighborhoods where the value of housing — often the biggest family asset — has hardly recovered.

“The Divided American Dream” was conceived and executed with digital readers in mind. The series introduction, America’s Great Housing Divide, was geotargeted — allowing us to customize the story to a reader’s location. We also built an intuitive, super fast interactive map that allowed readers to see, in context, the performance of their neighborhood over time. A meticulously selected color scheme helped readers immediately grasp what had happened.

Behind the series was an exclusive data analysis of housing prices in 19,000 Zip codes from 2004 to 2015.This analysis also drove a series of accompanying narratives that used evocative writing, compelling graphics and a clean, gorgeous design to document how the housing recovery had divided the country by race, income and geography. In California, The Post showed how a housing bubble in San Francisco ended up ravaging nearby Stockton, and online graphics included beautifully textured ridges to add to the experience. The story about Atlanta showed how African Americans had been left out of the recovery with a shocking scatterplot. Stories about Charlotte and the Washington, D.C., area used photos and graphics to convey disparities in those places.

All along, we were not platform-agnostic; rather, we were platform-specific. In print, we fused the Stockton story with the overview, but we separated them online so the experience was more intuitive for the reader. With each story, we rigorously a/b tested headlines and social share texts to reach the largest audiences. And we sent customized emails readers in the four states where we focused our stories, so that we could touch readers yet another way. The series received hundreds of thousands of unique visitors and millions of page views.