Using infographics to report on COVID-19 impacts that go beyond cases

Using infographics to report on COVID-19 impacts that go beyond cases

Lessons learned from my team’s ongoing infographic tracking local coronavirus cases have helped me to find additional opportunities to use infographics in my work.

I’ve always been interested in data journalism but, in the past, had few opportunities to delve into it from my seat in a local newsroom. It simply wasn’t a part of our daily coverage.

That changed when COVID-19 came along.

Suddenly, we found ourselves reporting on an ongoing, data-heavy story. It was a perfect confluence of opportunity: A state government that publishes a great deal of raw numbers and a need for journalism that gives context and explanation to all of it.

Our original infographic was published in March and it has been renovated several times as new data became available or new patterns emerged.

Recently, a viewer sent an email containing this unsolicited praise:

“WCVB’s Covid case reporting graphics are by far the best in the market. They’re much more accessible – and inclusive – than the State’s daily “dashboard.’”

Of course, that made my teammates and I feel pretty good about having have had to collect reports and update that data every day.

Every. Single. Day.

It’s been a time commitment that compares with only one other project in my career, the weeks of full-time coverage for the theater shooting trial in Colorado.

But all of the time spent with the COVID-19 data has also served as a learning experience. Through those daily data dumps and many surprise changes from health officials, I’ve been able to improve my skills at interpreting, cleaning and organizing databases.

And the pandemic itself has caused numerous changes in government and daily life, which can be mapped, charted or compared. More opportunities to hone my skills.

Hundreds of school districts, for example, had to develop plans for their fall semester. When we finally got our hands on a all of their decisions, I was able to apply that data to a map that a teammate had formatted in anticipation of this database.

Weeks later, after many districts began at least some in-person classes, there were inevitably cases of the virus that appeared among their populations. Education officials began publishing data about these cases last week, which I turned into a searchable database so families can check on the status of their district or neighboring districts.

Elections have also been changed by the safety precautions brought on by the pandemic. New procedures implemented by state government allowed over 814,000 voters to cast their ballot by mail in the primary. Nearly all were successful, but several thousand did encounter problems and it was my task to keep those issues in context.

For the upcoming general election, mail-in ballots are again expected to play an enormous role. Now that they’re being distributed to voters, and with ongoing concern about the U.S. Postal Service in the background, I compiled and organized a database of every ballot drop box in the state from a record kept by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. With that, I created a Google Map showing all the locations.