The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., pulled together a forward-looking, five-part series called “Home, Foreclosed Home” last month. The purpose, says Don Currie, local and business editor, was to look at the long-term effects of the housing collapse.
“We wanted to focus on the long-lasting stench that stays behind when people think the problem has been solved,” he says.
Don, editor Michelle Maxwell, and reporters Michael Rose, Timm Collins, Elida Perez, Queenie Wong and Laura Fosmire produced the series. Don says the reporters had all covered some aspect of their assigned stories, which focused on changing neighborhoods, property taxes, and the impact on city services.
Staffing was the easy part. They also needed people who’d lost their homes to foreclosure, Don says. They sought people by posting requests on the paper’s website, knocking on doors and using Realtors to find people who’d tried to sell homes unsuccessfully. They also went through property records and lawsuits. However, people didn’t want to go on record talking about their financial situations, Don says.
The other challenge was managing the data, which helped create the online graphic packages that were a big part of the presentation.
“I was surprised it took as much effort as it did,” Don says. “We had to change data providers midstream. The data is never as clean as expected. These were unexpected twists we didn’t think about.”
They switched data providers because the first company’s vendor contracts limited the data it could release, he says.
The paper hired Laura as data reporter during the reporting phase. Having her initially would have helped them know which questions to ask about the data, and how to get it quickly, Don says. For instance, with no data to show areas that had the most foreclosures, they relied on Realtors and anecdotal information.
“Having the data first then reporting is not always possible,” he says. “When we did put it together, it sped up a chunk of the reporting.”
The biggest lesson learned: “It’s important to be flexible,” Don says.