Newsday showcases power of video with housing discrimination investigation

By Tara Conry


Melville, New York, USA


As Newsday continues to transform into a multi-platform content company, video is key to reaching potential subscribers with our deep journalism. And in an era of distrust in the media, seeing can be the first step to believing.

Our recent investigation into Long Island housing discrimination, Long Island Divided, was anchored by 240 hours of undercover video, recorded by our 25 testers of various races to show how they were treated by 93 local real estate agents. The testers were trained in how to conduct fair housing tests, paired up, and separately solicited an agent’s assistance in buying houses with identical requests. There were also hundreds of hours of interviews.

This was an exceptional volume of footage that we needed to distill into digestible segments. In addition to the footage, we had written 45,000 words across 24 articles and 72 graphics. Our team’s biggest challenge was how to make those videos consumable for our mobile-first audience.  

The response to the series was remarkable. We collected 259,360 unique visitors, 60,293 video views, and elicited widespread reaction from across the nation, including from state and federal politicians who pledged change.

So how did we do it?

People learn differently, so we wanted to give our audience as many options as possible to engage with the project.

The investigation revealed the extreme bias against minority homebuyers.
The investigation revealed the extreme bias against minority homebuyers.

Choose your own adventure

Our strategy was to break the subject down into pieces that were easy to understand and navigate, and assemble them into a design that allowed users — who are used to video on-demand and customised experiences — to control how they consume the information:

  • They could digest it in a linear fashion, reading the investigation from start to finish while watching relevant video highlights along the way. 
  • They could exclusively consume the 40-minute documentary or “binge” the 12 major produced videos.
  • Or they could take a hybrid approach: jump around, skim through the multi-part series, and explore the elements that stood out to them. 

No matter what path they chose, we made sure each element was framed with proper context.

Videos meet written articles

We also embedded simple, elegant video graphics, often at the start of a section, that introduced a finding. These were often short, soundless clips that auto-played. They made it easy to convey the overarching theme of the section, and provided visual “bookmarks,” especially for mobile users who were more likely to consume the series across multiple visits.

It also was a great way to remind readers of the impressive video packages that accompanied these articles, which hopefully encouraged them to seek them out too.

Taking the audience deeper

Building trust in our brand was also an important objective.

With the issues surrounding fair housing, race, and the undercover nature of the project, it was important to be transparent with our methodology and findings. 

The undercover videos provided an emotional hook to the series and were our version of “showing our work.” Wherever possible, we wanted the viewers to see the interaction between tester and agent for themselves. 

We also created an interactive database where users could find summaries of all 34 cases in which our experts found evidence suggesting fair housing violations. These summaries were quite visual. They included headshots of the undercover tester involved in each case along with key information — what each requested of the real estate agent and, when relevant, maps of the house listings they received. 

Newsday's database provided interviews with testers as well as full video encounters of them with real estate agents.
Newsday's database provided interviews with testers as well as full video encounters of them with real estate agents.

From this database, users could also watch full video encounters of agents and testers.

Surfacing the content

Our social team crafted a comprehensive plan that included clips optimised for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that highlighted some of the key findings and emotional moments from our video packages. We also created custom homepage and app front designs that leveraged the project’s strong visuals and gave us multiple opportunities to surface it.

About Tara Conry

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