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Divided America: Seeing options shrinking, white men ask why

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As the bitter election season winds down, a recurring theme has been the conviction among many white men that they have been losing ground in society. National writer Matt Sedensky wanted to find a way to tell their story for a concluding installment in the series Divided America.

The yearlong assessment of America’s national disunity comprised more than two dozen deeply reported, multi-format stories exploring splits along racial, religious and socio-economic lines, as well as clashing attitudes on issues ranging from gun regulation to immigration.

“The forces that have led us to this era of political volatility are not only ideological. They are cultural, social and more than anything, economic”

Sedensky focused on the views of white men turning toward Republican nominee Donald Trump and rejecting Democrat Hillary Clinton. He listened to the voices on a call-in radio show in Texas _ both host and callers revealing their angst _ and then, through backgrounding interviews with them and reporting on research, showed why these men feel as they do.

The story earns the Beat of the Week, with the contest’s judges saying the selection also stands as an honor for the whole Divided America series.

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This 1876 engraving by W.L. Ormsby shows a version of the painting “Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776” by John Trumbull. – W.L. Ormsby / Library of Congress via AP

“The forces that have led us to this era of political volatility are not only ideological. They are cultural, social and more than anything, economic,” said Brian Carovillano, AP’s vice president of U.S. news. “AP journalists fanned out into communities across the country to better understand these forces, and ‘Divided America’ is the result of that reporting. We are really proud of this work, which is enduring and important journalism.”

The dissatisfactions of white men have been widely noted as a major force in today’s politics _ but how to measure these attitudes fairly and without stereotyping?

After considering other possible reporting avenues, Sedensky looked to talk radio shows with mostly white male listeners, then cajoled one host in Dallas to let him sit in on a show and, with help from a producer, arranged to contact callers for interviews off-the-air.

The callers complained about illegal immigrants taking jobs. They expressed confusion and anger about cultural changes. And they worried that their children will suffer from a declining standard of living.

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Response from readers was strong and varied. “This attack on the working class can be seen for 35 years and now they are angry that the ‘trickle down manna’ is not there,” wrote one. And another: “We are in need of egalarchy where each person is equally privileged.”

“I want America to be America,” the show’s host said at one point. “I want some semblance of what this country used to be. It’s worth protecting. It’s worth defending. I don’t recognize this country anymore.”

The story became a portrait of men confused and resentful about their perceived loss of long-privileged status in America. Sedensky included polling data and academic research showing that, while still relatively privileged as compared with women and minorities, the status of white men has slipped in areas such as health, wealth and educational attainment.

The Only on AP story, with Matt Otero’s photos and an accompanying interactive by Roque Ruiz, won wide play. It was No. 2 for the day and No. 5 for the week on AP Mobile, according to Google Analytics. Social media engagement, as measured by Chartbeat, was deep, and the story appeared on front pages of newspapers from Pensacola, Florida, to Worcester, Massachusetts. http://trib.in/2epJpGB

Response from readers was strong and varied. “This attack on the working class can be seen for 35 years and now they are angry that the ‘trickle down manna’ is not there,” wrote one. And another: “We are in need of egalarchy where each person is equally privileged.”

For illuminating in-depth reporting that exemplified the entire Divided America series, Sedensky wins this week’s $500 prize.

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