OCT. 30, 2013
The day after the government shutdown, when most federal websites went black, we thought we had dodged a problem.
Our editor, Donna Vestal, had downloaded a large batch of data from a USDA site the night before, only to discover the next morning that everything was gone from the federal web sites, taking all that delicious data with it. How lucky we were, we thought, to have those numbers in hand so we could build a map we were planning.
Well, the luck was short-lived.
Because when we started looking for national statistics on the kids we were profiling for our series “In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse,” we came up with a blank. And we couldn’t blame it on the government.
Abbie Swanson and I, who have been working on this series for months, tried at least two dozen sources, hoping to find some kind of statistical tracking of the children of immigrant workers in the U.S. meatpacking plants. Abbie made dozens of calls — to federal agencies, researchers, advocacy groups and unions — only to be told at each turn that those kids aren’t counted.
“That was really surprising to me both because of the sheer number of these children — we’re estimating that thousands of kids have parents working in meatpacking plants across the country — and because these immigrant and refugee children are living in remote, rural parts of the country where access to services is limited,” Abbie said.
So that became part of our story – we were reporting on a diverse population invisible to most Americans. And that lead to our series title: “In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse.”
On the luckier side, Donna used the initial information gleaned from the government to do much more reporting to create our map of the largest slaughterhouses in the U.S. Combining the data and calls to most of the largest meatpacking companies in the country – who were often reluctant to share the information — Donna and Kate Golden of theWisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism charted the information inthis interactive map.
Still, we are not certain that this is an all-inclusive gathering of employee figures for meatpacking plants – and this is where you come in.
If you click on the tab above the map that says “About the data,” you can see Donna’s explanation of how she and Kate came up with the numbers. Under “Limitations” you will also see that this map is a work in progress. If you can shed any light on this – or you just want to comment on our series – click here to chat with us via the Harvest Network.
Thanks for your interest in our series. We’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to contact me directly, I’m firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is brought to you in collaboration between The Gazette and Harvest Public Media.
Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration of several Midwestern public media stations, including Iowa Public Radio.
Harvest's multimedia work — appearing on radio, TV, and in print and online outlets — explores issues related to food and food production.
For more information go to: HarvestPublicMedia.org.