2021 Shortlist

Youyou Zhou

Country/area: United States

Organisation: Quartz, Substack, Vox, Scientific American

Organisation size: Big

I would like the jury to consider my work in the past turbulent year for a personal portfolio award. The data and visual stories that I will detail below consists of two broad themes: the impact of the pandemic on communities of immigrants and migrants around the world in the first half of the year, and in the second half, the failed effort by the U.S. governments to contain the virus. 

2020 was a special year career-wise for me. I accumulated a sizable body of work using data and visual storytelling skills in the subject domain of immigration and migration, which I cared deeply about and had reported out over the years. The stories I produced during the year created real world impact that reinforced my belief in the power of data journalism and visual storytelling. 

I am a designer, a developer, and at the core, a journalist. I started working in data visualization and storytelling at a design studio in Washington, D.C. back in 2012. A few years later I switched to journalism, covering oftentimes top breaking news and big set events with data visualizations and interactive features at the Associated Press. But my obsession over data journalism—including mining messy data to identify trends and insights, writing scripts to produce beautiful curious data visualizations—is always about journalism: data and visuals need to be in service of storytelling that’s ultimately in services of the audience. With that in mind, I joined Quartz in 2017, which gave me an abundance of editorial freedom and support to pitch, report, write and produce stories on important global narratives. Instead of being a generalist, I strived to create space and produce data and visual stories around immigration and global migration.

My obsession over the topic is rooted in my personal experience as an immigrant. As reporting went, I found that the diverse immigrant communities and issues around them were significant but underreported. Immigrants are the driving forces of the global economy. Migration is and will continue to be a central topic affecting the changing demographics of the world, the internationalization of companies, the global competition for talents, our increasingly fluid identities in a digital and globalized world. These are topics well suited for data and visual presentations. I tracked down data trends and created visual narratives around topics including visas, immigration policies, citizenship, international students, and skilled labor. Some of that is reflected in my work in 2020.

2020 was also special in that it was the year I lost institutional support and challenged myself to go solo. The layoff in the middle of the year opened new opportunities for collaboration and experiments. The projects in the second half of the year, hopefully, reflect some of it.

Description of portfolio:

1. How international students are supposed to deal with coronavirus, according to their US universities https://qz.com/1822530/

When the U.S. announced the pandemic a national emergency, universities scrambled to close their campuses and dorms. They didn’t have plans for the large number of international students who did not have places to stay off-campus. To show the scope of the problem and the haphazard instructions universities gave to international students, I collected responses related to international students sheltering from the universities that hosted the most international students and displayed them in a full-page bleed of documents. The project shows the varying, often contradicting, responses students have been receiving on whether to leave or stay. The tones some colleges used showed that international students got lower priorities than domestic students, and some were dehumanizing.

The project includes the links for the audience to go to the colleges’ websites to track and check in case the messages were updated later. Some colleges contacted us after the project published about their updates.

2. (1) Those passports lost the most value during a pandemic https://qz.com/1838486  & (2) These are the countries Americans can travel to right now without a visa  https://qz.com/1893192/

An American passport became quite useless in 2020. The countries that were most impacted by the pandemic saw the biggest drop in passport rankings. These two projects, one published in April and the other in September, tell the country-specific severity of the pandemic through the lens of passport rankings and how that has shifted from Asian countries in the spring to the U.S. in the fall.

The “snake graph” draws the audience in. The annotations contextualize and explain what’s happening on the screen for readers. I collected and verified the data, did the reporting, and built the charts.

3. As the data became available, a reverse globalization could be seen around the world. Foreigners have left the US and other western developed countries.

4. UK prepared to revamp its immigration system as Brexit deadline loomed. One of the proposals is a points-based immigration system to control who gets to work in UK. I built a calculator based on their released policies to answer: Can you work in the UK under its new points-based immigration system? https://qz.com/1804992/ 

5. In other immigration stories:

(1) I charted the global inequality of mobility by showing that citizens from richer countries had a higher chance of getting their US visas approved;

(3) I looked into how the severe outbreaks in high-income countries affected low-income countries due to a plunge in remittances.

6. I was comissioned to visualize the history of Chinese immigrants in the Bay Area on the newsletter Golden Stats Warriors.

7. I also worked on a number of data stories explaining Covid-19:

1) One examined the effect of mask mandates on containing the spread of the virus. I did the data analysis and created the graphics. The story was retweeted by the governors of California and New York;

2) The individual decision of wearing a mask is often times a negotiation with the environment. We surveyed the US population on their behaviors of wearing masks in various social settings. I produced a story that guided people through the decision making process;

3) In a story for Scientific American, I analyzed the data and detailed how Covid-19 became the third leading cause of deaths in the US.

Project links: