2021 Shortlist

Texas coronavirus cases: Latest updates

Country/area: United States

Organisation: The Texas Tribune

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 14 Apr 2020

Credit: Chris Essig, Mandi Cai, Carla Astudillo, Anna Novak and Darla Cameron

Project description:

The Texas Tribune is tracking how many people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Texas each day. From March to December, more than 1.5 million people in Texas have tested positive for the virus and at least 27,000 have died. The burden of the virus is not spread evenly across the state, and our tracker’s charts and maps make it easy for readers to see how the situation is unfolding in their area. It is our goal to make this data as simple to understand as possible, because it is so important.

Impact reached:

What distinguishes the Tribune’s coronavirus tracker from our competitors is its clear design and its focus on accountability. It is our goal to make this data as simple to understand as possible for our readers, most of whom (like us!) are not epidemiologists. As Texas rolled back its restrictions and cases surged multiple times in 2020, we wanted a clear, reliable place for readers to understand the situation and how state leaders’ decisions impacted their personal safety.

The Texas Tribune’s case tracker was the Tribune’s most-visited story of 2020, with 2.65 million page views from 834,000 users from April through December. Users also spent more than more than three minutes on the page, which is more than double the average time spent on all other Tribune stories.

We know that the story attracted a very loyal audience, because a large portion of readers get to the page via direct links, indicating they’ve bookmarked the tracker and check it regularly. Data from the tracker also led to dozens of related stories, and the tracker charts were embedded across our site and others. Charts from the tracker were republished by news organizations across the state.

Techniques/technologies used:

This story was created by a team of data reporters and developers, and updating the story every day requires innovation and creative storytelling techniques. When updating we use a Python scraper to fetch the state’s data from multiple sites and insert it into our own database. Then, we use that data to publish a page with interactive maps and charts built using D3, a javascript charting library. All of this is based on the Tribune’s open-source, dynamic page publishing platform. Because the data changes every day as the pandemic situation changes, the charts must be dynamic and flexible. The maps and charts can also be embedded in Tribune stories or by our media partners across Texas.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Throughout the pandemic, the state has repeatedly changed the way it reports the data, and the team of journalists on this story responded to those changes on the fly. For instance, the state added new, more accurate data as pandemic upfolded, as well as introduced errors that needed to be explained to readers. We rebuilt our data scrapers and redesigned the presentation of the tracker again and again as the story — and the virus — evolved. This story also requires a high level of team coordination and communication to pull off updates every day of the week for nine months. We take turns and share the load, and we all have the state health department’s press officers on speed dial to resolve frequent problems with the data on their end.

What can others learn from this project?

A data tracker that updates every day and has no set end point is a huge undertaking — especially when it features data that is brand new to everyone involved. Everyone on the team producing the story needs to be ready to collaborate, adapt and support each other.  

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