Stepping up its commitment to investigative journalism, ABC-owned television stations have launched an ambitious project, “Our America: Equity Report,” which analyzes disparities that exist in the nation’s 100 largest cities.
For the last year, dozens of journalists with the eight Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC stations, including KABC-TV Channel 7 in Los Angeles, have sifted through reams of data to uncover patterns of discrimination in education, housing, policing, health and the environment. The team compiled data from public agencies to build an interactive online report that compares communities in the five categories.
The report, which was unveiled Tuesday, is the first major initiative undertaken by the data journalists at ABC stations. The effort grew out of a realization that typical coverage of news — live reports from crime scenes, wildfires or a high-speed police chases — often lack depth or context about larger societal trends.
“People expect more from local news these days than just reporting the news,” said Anna Robertson, vice president of content and partner innovation with the ABC-owned television stations. “We are constantly thinking about what kind of products can we create to serve our audiences? ... How do we make sure the next generation cares about, and engages in, our local news?”
Local news ratings have been declining. Two years ago, Robertson spearheaded the effort to build a team of data journalists with help from two grants from the Google News Initiative. (ABC declined to disclose how much money it received from Google.) The goal of the project, Robertson said, was to compile and organize data from public agencies “so that we could find what we call ‘stories hiding in plain sight.’ ”
The effort ramped up last year during protests over George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. ABC reporters had already been looking at disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Los Angeles, for example, KABC found more COVID-19 testing centers in wealthy communities when compared with less affluent areas, which had fewer and more crowded facilities.
“A lot of these issues get covered as one-off issues — there is a gap here, or an inequity there — but a lot of the same patterns are showing up in quality of life issues,” said John Kelly, director of data journalism for the ABC-owned television stations, who oversaw the reporting effort.
“Where do our kids go to school? What is our house worth? Can we even buy a house? What is the air we breathe like? What is the water like?” Kelly asked. “We wanted to show these issues in an easy-to-understand way, and show them side-by-side” for the top 100 cities in America.
In addition to Los Angeles, ABC owns stations in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Fresno, Houston and Raleigh-Durham. ABC plans to roll out the report to its affiliated stations.
The data is being used to shape stories. Julian Glover, an ABC race and culture journalist in San Francisco, documented how a Black family experienced racism earlier this year when they received a home appraisal with a low value for the area. Two weeks later, after adorning their home with photos borrowed from white friends, the home received a 50% higher appraisal.
Mark Nichols, senior manager for data journalism at ABC-owned television stations and ABC News, said the project has fostered collaboration between the eight ABC-owned stations and ABC News’ national investigative unit.
“The local stations have been able to get into neighborhoods and find great stories that often end up in our national reporting,” Nichols said. “These are local examples that we are seeing nationally. We hope this can be a living, breathing project that keeps carrying on.”