New partnership provides new opportunities for seeing the numbers
by Melanie Jongsma
LANSING, Ill. (July 1, 2020) – In late May The Lansing Journal received an invitation from a company called HiGeorge to participate in a pilot project. HiGeorge “makes it easy for newsrooms to create engaging, interactive data visualizations,” and they were looking for a handful of publications across the country to partner with. CEO Anuj Saigal had noticed our daily posts about COVID-19 numbers, and he suggested that his team might be able to present those numbers in a more attractive and engaging format than the basic bullet points we were publishing.
“We are not journalists,” Saigal explained. “We’re not going to do any reporting—that’s your job. We just want to provide some visualizations that might complement the reporting you’re already doing.”
Numbers, code, and words
With so much COVID-19 data available from so many sources, The Lansing Journal has often struggled to determine the most meaningful numbers to report and the clearest way to report them. We were curious to see how a team of data geeks could help us.
The HiGeorge team automated our manual process of visiting several different health department websites in order to gather each day’s numbers, and they wrote some code to present those numbers visually.
The code updates the charts automatically, so we considered publishing a static page that readers could visit anytime they want to see the numbers. But many readers have told us they like receiving the daily numbers in each morning’s email. So we will continue to publish a fresh post each day, changing the date in the headline so that subscribers will receive a fresh link each morning. However, if on Friday you look back at the graphs in today’s post, both will look the same—because the graphs are continually updating. They are “live” visuals, not static snapshots.
We will, however, update the reporting between the charts in order to provide some daily context for each post. Today’s post is our first entry in this new visual format. It’s a little lengthy due to the background explanation, but future COVID updates will be briefer.
HiGeorge created four Lansing-specific visuals related to COVID-19 data. The first provides an overview—the daily number of new deaths and new cases. HiGeorge also added a running total of the COVID tests administered in Illinois and the current positivity rate, which we weren’t reporting before.
A second chart shows the cumulative total cases in Lansing plus a repeat of the new cases per day number. The included bar graph is an example of the advantage of working with HiGeorge. Whereas previously we were posting only today’s numbers and yesterday’s numbers, for comparison, the HiGeorge bar graph allows readers to hover over any specific day to see that day’s new cases. And hovering over any point along the light blue line will show the cumulative total cases in Lansing.
Chart 3 graphs the number of COVID-related deaths in Lansing—as a daily total and a cumulative total. Since tracking began in mid-March, 10 Lansing residents have died.
HiGeorge also asked if we would be interested in demographic information about the Lansing COVID deaths, and we said yes, recognizing this as an opportunity to personalize the state and national news to our own hometown. So the chart below shows that our 10 deaths include 7 Blacks and 3 Whites—or 70% and 30%—while the overall Lansing population is 41% Black and 49% White.
Hovering over the bar graph below reveals that today’s new cases (828) are an increase of more than 100 over yesterday’s (724). But seeing the full span of daily reports shows that new cases in Illinois have remained rather steady for the past month:
Some of our readers also expressed an interest in Indiana’s numbers. Because we share a border, and because they began opening up before Illinois did, there was curiosity about the impact they might have on our numbers. We’ve asked HiGeorge to present the Indiana numbers visually, and we’ll include those charts when they’re available. In the meantime, the numbers below come from the Indiana State Department of Health:
- New cases today: 371 (yesterday: 385)
- New deaths today: 8 (yesterday: 16)
- Total cases: 45,952
- Total deaths: 2,456
The data visualizations provided by HiGeorge also include an opportunity for readers to respond. Clicking the button at the bottom of each graph will slide a giving interface over the chart, and readers can decide whether they want to make a donation to a relevant nonprofit. Because The Lansing Journal is partnering with HiGeorge in publishing these charts, we receive a percentage of any donations made. In a Zoom meeting this morning, Saigal reported that at least one gift has already come in from Lansing.
While most of our conversations with HiGeorge have been about COVID-19 data, our partnership is intended to be a collaboration. If The Lansing Journal is working on articles that might benefit from a data visualization, we can ask HiGeorge to create it. And as HiGeorge is working on visualizations for news publishers in other locations, they ask if we would like a Lansing or Illinois version of that chart. We are currently discussing data visualizations for crime rates, real estate, changes in employment, police fatalities, business ownership, and voting by mail.
If there are other topics you are interested in having The Lansing Journal explore, please let us know in the comments.
In addition to Indiana numbers, can you include numbers for just NW Indiana? Those numbers would be more relevant.
Hmm, I’ll have to look into that. Right now I get a daily report from ISDH, and I lift the numbers from that. I think they have more detail on their website, so I could probably get county numbers there. Is it only Lake County you might be interested in?
You can google counties in Indiana Covid numbers. Indianapolis area is the highest.
I like the simpler data better. This confuses me! I just want to compare one day’s numbers to the previous day’s numbers to see if numbers are increasing or decreasing.
I understand and sympathize, Patricia. This is a whole different look and feel, and it takes some getting used to. To be fair, comparing today’s numbers to yesterday’s does not give an accurate sense of whether we are going up or down, but I understand the desire for that kind of simplicity.
It’s possible that all these graphs are just too much information. Are there certain ones you would get rid of?
The Lansing Covid demographics chart has little contrast between shades of blue. Perhaps a contrasting colors would make it easier to read.
Thanks for that feedback, Elizabeth. I will forward that to the HiGeorge team.
I liked the old way better. One can easily see what was up, down or stayed the same in Lansing from the previous day. What is wrong with simplicity?
Simplicity is nice, but COVID-19 is a complex issue, so a simple presentation might not be the most accurate. And, to be honest, there was a complex process involved in gathering all those numbers and making them look simple! But this is good feedback, and we will keep exploring effective ways to gather, organize, and report meaningful data. Thanks for speaking into the process!
I like seeing the testing numbers and positive test rate, I think that is important. I agree with the above idea of only including Lake County, IN. For simplicity, I think the Lansing deaths chart could be eliminated, and those numbers included elsewhere.
Thanks for your input on the Lansing deaths chart, Megan. That was one that HiGeorge and I discussed because the numbers are so small (which is good). In the end we decided to try it and see what people think, so your feedback is helpful.
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