ArkansasCovid.com will publish its last report this Friday, on Dec. 10.
We are ending the project as the semester concludes at the University of Arkansas and our talented student journalists head off into new directions. In addition, I am leaving Arkansas for a new job at the University of Maryland’s journalism school. I have been unable to find another entity with the combination of journalism experience and data analysis to keep ArkansasCovid.com running.
ArkansasCovid.com was never meant to be a permanent thing. Our founder, Misty Orpin, created the site in March 2020 as a way to inform her father about the severity of the pandemic. I partnered with her in May 2020, with the help of Niketa Reed and ArkansasSoul, to examine racial disparities in the pandemic.
Misty’s early work on ArkansasCovid grew rapidly in popularity and became a go-to source for the latest news about the pandemic for lawmakers, hospital officials and journalists. Running the site was a crushing time commitment, and she handed ArkansasCovid.com to me and the School of Journalism and Strategic Media in August 2020. We revamped the workflow and had a group of talented journalism students — Katy Seiter, Mary Hennigan, Rachell Sanchez-Smith, Abby Zimmardi and others — report on all aspects of the pandemic. It still was a crushing time commitment.
I am most proud of the group’s reporting on Covid-19 in the workplace, which was distributed nationally by The Associated Press. Mary Hennigan won multiple awards for her reporting, as did Seiter, both of whom became my assistant editors. We published in three languages — English, Spanish and Marshallese — and presented our findings at national conferences and for community groups in Arkansas.
A special thanks to Austin Wilkins, a data science graduate student, who helped with important coding of the website, and to Niketa Reed, a University of Arkansas journalism professor who helped with the website redesign and operations. Kyle Kellams and Leigh Wood at KUAF supported our work and featured the students providing monthly updates on our local NPR affiliate.
Thank you again to our financial supporters, the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Arkansas Community Foundation, the Honors College Service Learning program and the Walton Family Foundation. We are grateful for the funding that employed multiple student interns over the last 17 months.
All the best, Rob Wells
Listen to us discuss the November COVID-19 trends and ArkansasCovid.com on KUAF’s Ozarks at Large.