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2018 Explanatory Reporting, Large Newsroom winner

The Wall

About the Project

s a candidate, Donald Trump made a signature campaign promise: He would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

When Trump took office, that promise became an immediate policy question: Should Congress fund the first $1.6 billion for construction?

But we knew the questions were bigger than that. Could a wall be built? Would it work? Would there be unintended consequences? The USA TODAY NETWORK set out to answer those questions in a bold, transparent and groundbreaking way.

This wasn’t just our role. It was our duty. Our border-state newsrooms – in Phoenix, Las Cruces, El Paso, Corpus Christi, Palm Springs and Ventura — know the issues best.

So together, we looked at every angle, from up close, and from a bird’s eye view. Our team flew and drove the entire border in a single trip. At the same time, more than 30 network reporters and photojournalists fanned out to interview migrants, farmers, families, tribal members — even a human smuggler. We joined Border Patrol agents on the ground, in a tunnel, at sea. We patrolled with vigilantes, walked the fence with ranchers.

The result was “The Wall.”

We pushed the boundaries of traditional journalism, making the material available in print, online, in documentary videos, in virtual reality, through podcasts, with a chatbot, in live in-person storytelling nights and in our wall newsletter. And we revealed information that changed the national conversation:

We let viewers watch aerial video of every foot of the border to see the terrain for themselves, simply by touching any spot on our interactive map. Or they could enter the virtual reality experience and stand at the border itself.

• We created the most current and comprehensive map of border fencing. We scoured every mile of aerial footage, compared it to government data, inspected fencing from the ground, and then mapped exactly what barriers existed in summer 2017 – before any wall construction began.

• We spent months researching property maps to determine, for the first time, that the government could have to seize or disrupt about 4,900 parcels of property to complete a wall in Texas. This previously unknown fact could portend decades of litigation.

• We spent the year building the most complete count ever of border-crosser deaths from 2012 to 2016, to reveal how many are missed in the government’s official number.

Our journalists repeatedly put themselves harm’s way. They met with the human smuggler in Mexico, knowing cartels could be watching their every move. They scoured the desert with a woman looking for her brother in brutal 110-degree heat. They spent the night in the hills with armed vigilantes. They endured monsoon storms, washed-out roads, heatstroke, scorpion stings – travails we shared in our behind-the-scenes podcast series.

But this effort wasn’t about us. It was about the purpose of “The Wall.”

We educated, informed and empowered our communities.

We invited America to learn, discuss, debate and decide.