COVID Between the Coasts


As the historic nature of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic became clear, WNIN news managers collaborated with the University of Evansville to create an account of its impact.

The resulting project, COVID Between the Coasts (CBC), covers the intersection of systemic failures and destructive cultural norms in a search for answers about the extent of the pandemic crisis in the Midwest. CBC is entirely replicable in any locale that has both a news organization and a university.

This project has two unique aspects.

First, our partnership with the Center for Innovation and Change at the University of Evansville provided critical data gathering and analysis resources. Second, building upon the distributed reporting model of our bilingual podcast ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? gave us locally sourced, diverse reporting resources that resulted in a much richer, authentic narrative for our coverage.

In all, seven professional journalists, two professors and a dozen students contributed to CBC. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the UE resources to this project. The university committed two ChangeLab classes to work with us. One was an investigative journalism group, the other a data science group.

Each of the seven states in our survey area had slightly differing coronavirus reporting protocols, some at the state level and some at the local level. The data science group spent weeks painstakingly gathering, cleaning, analyzing and then creating a visualization of their findings. Also, in combining the COVID-19 data with U.S. census data to learn what role income inequality may have played in the crisis, we were able to clearly show the need for new occupational breakdowns of census data post COVID-19.

Their data research had significant impacts in two ways: It helped focus our early reporting on areas of impact and it created a separate reporting of the numbers, which freed up the rest of the team to focus on the human impact of the pandemic.

The visualization created for this project is an ongoing resource for journalists and community leaders. It contains updated COVID data by date for each county in our seven state survey area. It provides a clearly defined set of data about the pandemic’s progression and impact for the historical record.