Reflections and format shifts following the CDD’s first hiatus

Beach selfie from my last week of vacation!

This is my first COVID-19 Data Dispatch issue after my August hiatus! Here are a few updates on how that went and changes I’m thinking about for the publication going forward.

First off, I owe a big thank you to everyone who reached out with well wishes on this break. After two years without missing a single week of publication, I was (perhaps irrationally) nervous that some readers would be upset that I was taking off for a bit. But that didn’t happen! I appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience.

Besides a few hours at my part-time job (MuckRock’s Documenting COVID-19 project) and one day of poll working for New York City’s August primary, I didn’t work at all between August 4 and August 29. Here are a few fun things I did instead:

  • Spent a lot of time outside (mostly at various beaches and NYC parks);
  • Biked in every NYC borough (longest trip: to Van Cortlandt Park and Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx);
  • Read three books (highly recommend “An Immense World” by Ed Yong!);
  • Drafted most of a long fanfiction project;
  • Watched a lot of Star Trek: The Original Series.

If you’re curious about the logistics of taking a longer vacation as a freelancer, you can check out this Twitter thread I wrote last week:

The break was really all that I had hoped it would be: a refreshing step away from constant COVID-19 coverage that allowed me to reflect on why I do this job. With the COVID-19 Data Dispatch and my other work, I aim to give readers the information they need to make individual health decisions, while also thinking about how they fit into broader communities. While my work has evolved a lot over the last two years, that basic tenet hasn’t changed.

At the same time, though, my hiatus made me think more about how I can balance the newsletter and blog with other activities that are important for maintaining my mental health: getting off my computer, spending time outside, non-journalism writing, investing in new skills, and so on. I’m probably not unlike other independent creators when I say there are weeks when writing this newsletter/blog feels more like a chore than a useful service; I want to keep it feeling like the latter.

With that in mind, here are a few shifts I’m thinking about for the coming months:

  • The “National numbers” and “Sources and updates” sections will stay consistent. In considering this project’s format, I knew that these two sections are particularly valuable for readers (and they tend to be fairly straightforward for me to write). So, don’t expect any big changes here.
  • Shorter posts. As any editor who’s worked with me could tell you, I am a writer who constantly goes over my assigned word count. And when I have no set word count, as is the case for these issues… They often get quite long, even though I know that shorter summaries tend to be more helpful for readers. In the future, I’m aiming to keep posts shorter, and only write a longer explainer or commentary when it seems actually necessary.
  • More reader engagement. We continue to be in a confusing phase of the pandemic, with less reliable data or reliable guidance. I want to prioritize answering your questions. To that end, I’ve made an anonymous Google form for submitting COVID-19 queries. It’ll be linked in every issue going forward and on the website’s homepage. While you can still reply to emails too, I hope this will be an easier way to send me ideas for topics I should cover.
  • Potential events and multimedia: As older readers may remember, in spring 2021, the COVID-19 Data Dispatch ran a series of virtual data workshops— which I really enjoyed putting together! I’m thinking about more possible virtual events for the future, as well as ideas for new content formats (maybe a podcast miniseries? should I do explainers on TikTok?). I’d love to hear from you, readers, if there’s anything in particular you want to see here.
  • Expanding beyond COVID-19: Between the continued monkeypox outbreak, the resurgence of polio in New York, and plenty of climate disasters this summer, it’s clear that COVID-19 is far from our only public health concern right now. While my projects in the immediate future are still mostly COVID-focused, you might see some other public health and data information creep into newsletters/blogs going forward. (For example, this week’s “Sources and updates” section includes a couple of non-COVID items.)
  • Occasional breaks. While I have no intention of making like the CDC and pausing my newsletter for any federal holiday, you can expect that the COVID-19 Data Dispatch will not run every single weekend going forward. Like, I’ll take Christmas off. Reasonable stuff.

None of these are particularly major changes, but in the spirit of transparency, I wanted to share what I’m thinking about with all of you. As always, comments or questions are very welcome: just shoot me an email or fill out the new anonymous question form.

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