COVID source shout-out: Remembering the COVID Tracking Project

This Tuesday, March 7, will mark two years since the COVID Tracking Project stopped collecting data. For readers who might not know, I was a long-time volunteer for the Project; my early newsletters referenced it so frequently that I added a disclaimer to my “About” page clarifying that the COVID-19 Data Dispatch is a separate, personal endeavor.

I got to catch up with a few fellow COVID Tracking Project alums at the NICAR conference this past weekend, which led me to some reflection on the care and comradery that shaped CTP. The Project was a massive effort to provide U.S. COVID-19 data that would help people understand pandemic trends during a confusing, scary time. But it was also a place of collective learning, innovation, friendship, and so many Slack threads.

To quote from the post I wrote about CTP on the day of our final data entry shifts:

I have seen the Project as another form of mutual aid. I’ve given countless hours to CTP over the past year in the form of data entry shifts, analysis, writing, and custom emojis—but those hours have also been given back to me, in everything from Tableau tricks to playlist recommendations. My fellow volunteers, the vast majority of whom I’ve never met in person, are my neighbors. We live in the same spreadsheets and Slack channels; we see the world in the same way.

That final day of data collection feels like it was just yesterday, and also like more than two years have passed. Sometimes, I miss those earlier days of the pandemic, when covering COVID-19 felt like an “all hands on deck” top priority. The beat is lonelier these days, of course. (And I probably don’t have to tell you how few people were wearing masks at NICAR, even among those who used to report on COVID-19.)

Even so, CTP was a model for a newer, better, more collaborative form of data journalism. I hope the COVID-19 Data Dispatch can remain a vestige of those efforts, for as long as it’s necessary.

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