Some personal news

Shout-out to my friend Raquel for both taking this picture and giving me a pre-photo haircut.

This will be my final week at my day job, the data journalism publication Stacker. I do not have another staff job lined up. Instead, I’ll be freelancing and working on the COVID-19 Data Dispatch full-time.

Why this move

I’ve worked at Stacker for over three years now. I started as an intern in January 2018, then was hired on as a data journalist when I graduated college. The job taught me so much of what I now know about data reporting, from VLOOKUPs and pivot tables to the mindset I needed to really interrogate a dataset and figure out what stories may be told.

I’m incredibly grateful to my colleagues at Stacker—especially Sam Gross, who has been my supervisor and mentor since I started. He supported me as I got up to speed on data reporting, built a science and health vertical, and managed our COVID-19 coverage. I’m also grateful to have had the flexibility to pursue freelance projects and start the CDD while working full-time there.

But I’m committed to the COVID-19 beat—and beyond that, the wider public health beat—and it’s become clear to me that, to continue on this path, I need the time and bandwidth to pursue more stories outside of Stacker’s capacity.

Also, I have to be honest here: I’ve come really close to burnout in the last few months.  Stacker, running the CDD, volunteering at the COVID Tracking Project, additional freelance projects on top of that… It’s a lot.  I’ve been working 40 hours a week at my day job, then spending all my nights and weekends working more. Reading, writing, analyzing, visualizing. Immersing myself in COVID-19 data. I’ve had little time for other creative writing, movie nights with my girlfriend, or basically anything else that would be a real break—and when I did take a night off, I’d feel guilty for not working. I haven’t had a break longer than, like, four days since February 2020.

This shit isn’t sustainable! I spent a few weeks earlier in 2021 looking for another staff job; but after a few interviews, I realized that even with a full-time gig that aligned more closely with my desired beat, I’d still take time out of my “non-working hours” to work more. Another staff job would just drive me deeper into burnout.

My choice to go independent will, I hope, enable me to spend my time more intentionally. I want to actually work 40-hour weeks, instead of 60+ hour weeks. In addition to seeking out new projects and opportunities for the CDD, I’m aiming to spend time learning Python and other coding languages, developing my data viz skills, and reporting on new topics in the public health realm. (Also, NYC friends, you may see me out on the streets more.)

All this said, in the interest of transparency, I want to acknowledge the privilege I have that allows me to make this move. My parents paid for a large part of my college tuition; while I did take out a student loan, I paid my debt within a year of graduating. I am 24, young enough to stay on my mom’s health insurance for two more years. And I’ve been able to save up from Stacker and past freelance projects—nothing major, but enough to provide me with a sufficient cushion during this transition. Many young journalists would not be able to do what I am doing this spring.

I hope to give back to my early-career community in the coming months by offering a (paid) platform to other journalists whose voices may add to the CDD. Readers, you can support that goal by becoming a member… more on that option below.

What’s next

My last day at Stacker is this Thursday, April 22. Starting in May, I’ll be officially open for freelance work.

For the potential future clients reading this: Hi! Here’s some of the work I can do for you:

  • Data journalism stories on science and health topics, both short-form/news and long-form/features
  • Data analysis and visualizations (Tableau, Flourish, Datawrapper, etc.)
  • Content writing for science/health nonprofits
  • Webinar planning/virtual event management

If you’d like to work with me, hit me up at betsy@coviddatadispatch.com, or schedule a meeting on my Calendly page. This also goes for anyone who would like to collaborate with the COVID-19 Data Dispatch on anything pandemic data-related.

Meanwhile! My new independence will allow me to spend time implementing a lot of the CDD ideas I’ve failed to act on (or half-assed) in recent months. Current members, expect some Slack revamping and one-on-one reach-outs. Everyone, expect more reader surveys, data resources, events, and more.

If you have any ideas for CDD projects or other ways you think I should be spending my time, please reply to this email!

And, if you’d like to support me during this exciting and terrifying career move, here are three things you can do:

  • Share the CDD with a friend whom you think might find it useful. Help me grow the community of data nerds (and data novices) around this publication! It’s as simple as forwarding this issue—or any issue you’ve loved in the past few weeks. 
  • Become a member. Your regular contribution (suggested $10/month, or pay-what-you-will starting at $2/month) will help me devote more time and resources to the CDD by making this project more financially sustainable. You can find the publication’s current costs here, but in the coming months I hope to hire a regular editor, solicit pitches from outside writers, produce further events, and more.
  • Buy me a coffee. If you’d like to contribute to the CDD but can’t commit to membership right now, I get it! These are, by all definitions, unprecedented times. But every dollar helps, and I’m deeply appreciative of those who have donated through my Ko-fi page.

As vaccinations increase in the U.S. but outbreaks surge elsewhere in the world, it will be a challenging time to remain on the COVID-19 beat—and I intend to. I’ll be relying on you, loyal readers, to ask me questions and shape my coverage in the months to come.

Also, you may expect to see more posts here that supplement my freelance work: behind-the-scenes reporting notes, interviews with sources, data visualizations, commentary, and more. If there’s anything that particularly interests you about a COVID-19 story I do, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Starting a sustainable media business has been a goal of mine since college. The CDD might be that business, or it might lead me into something bigger. But with this move, I’m done pursuing that goal halfway during my nights and weekends. I’m diving in headfirst. And I’m grateful to have all of you along for the ride.

And a P.S.

Stacker is hiring right now! If you’re a budding data journalist with an eye for research and an immense curiosity for new topics, my soon-to-be old job might be a good fit for you. Here’s the job posting, reach out if you have questions.

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