The COVID-19 Data Dispatch at NICAR 2022

This time next week, I’ll be at NICAR 2022—the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ annual data journalism conference. And I do mean “at”: though the conference this year will be held in a hybrid format with both in-person and virtual options, I’ve chosen to travel for the in-person sessions in Atlanta, Georgia.

It will be my first in-person conference and my second time traveling via airplane since February 2020. While I’m nervous about the travel and the gathering, I feel confident in the conference’s COVID-19 protocols (requiring full vaccination and boosters, plus indoor masking), in low transmission levels at both my origin and destination, and in my own ability to wear high-quality masks and utilize rapid tests as I go. (I wrote about precautions that I took on my first pandemic-era airplane trip in a post last summer.)

I chose to attend NICAR in-person to better take advantage of data journalism skills sessions—and, of course, in-person networking! If you’re planning to attend and would like to meet up, please reach out: email me, hit me up on Twitter, etc.

Also, for folks attending in-person or tuning in virtually, I’m excited to share that I’ll be a panelist at a conference session discussing the use of data for solutions journalism. The session’s moderator is Matt Kauffman, who leads data reporting at the Solutions Journalism Network. Dedicated readers might remember that the Solutions Journalism Network supported my Opening project last summer; I’ll be discussing my work on that project (which provided lessons from public schools that safely reopened during the 2020-2021 school year) and other solutions-related reporting at this session.

The session is scheduled for next Saturday, March 5, from 3:45 to 5 PM Eastern time, and will be livestreamed for virtual attendees. Here’s the full description:

Solutions journalism is rigorous, evidence-based reporting on responses to social problems. And data make for a great partner in solutions reporting, because when the impact of a response can be measured in numbers, it’s easy to discover the places that stand out and are worth a deeper look.

This session will explore the use of “positive deviants” – outliers in data that might point to a place or a program that has found a better way: the school district that cut the achievement gap by implementing specific policies; the state that applied new protocols in hospitals that significantly reduced the number of women who die in childbirth; the neighborhoods that have reversed environmental injustices and greatly improved urban tree canopy. Stories like these attract readers and viewers, who are increasingly turned off by news coverage focused exclusively on failure.

Adding a solutions lens to traditional investigative reporting leads to better accountability journalism, and data can play a key role in that. This session will present an overview of solutions journalism and positive deviance, followed by tips from a reporter explaining how they used data in pursuit of a timely and critical solutions story: identifying school districts around the country that found ways to safely reopen schools during the pandemic.

I hope to see you there!

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