Tag Archives: Harry Stevens

And The Pulitzer Prize For Explanatory Reporting Goes To …

… Harry Stevens of the Washington Post.

Well, he was part of a team of writers, photographers, researchers and (his specialty) graphic designers who contributed to this year’s prestigious award.

“2°C: Beyond the Limit” — a series on climate change — “fundamentally reshaped the climate debate by showing that extreme warming is not a worry for the future,” the Post said in a story about the Pulitzer. “10 percent of the planet has already warmed by 2 degrees Celsius.”

The paper employed reporting from a dozen global hot spots. The series included “vast datasets to help readers visualize our rapidly warming planet.”

Stevens — a 2004 Staples High School graduate — co-authored a piece about how we know global warming is real.

He posted on Facebook at the time:

The idea that the planet is getting hotter is not based on computer models or some kind of fancy voodoo science. It’s actually much simpler than that: readings from thousands of thermometers, many of which have been around for centuries. When scientists wanted to figure out if global warming was real or not, they went out and collected all those thermometers’ recordings.

My coworkers and I wrote about those thermometers and how they are being used today to monitor a disaster that could scarcely have been foreseen by 19th-century meteorologists, but which now constitutes the single most significant fact about the planet’s environment.

He was involved in all aspect of the story: analyzing temperature data, making maps, interviewing scientists and archivists, tracking down a 3D model of an Alpine weather observatory, framing and writing the narrative, and more. The story occupied most of his time for the first several months after he joined the Post.

Harry Stevens (Photo/ Sarah L. Voisin for The Washington Post)

For other stories, he built the spinning globes that locate where in the world the stories take place, and he created a map for a story about Australia.

“But the series had already been launched when I joined the Post,” he says modestly. “So the credit for the idea and execution goes to my brilliant colleagues.”

If Stevens’ name sounds familiar to Westporters: It is. In March — right at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis — “06880” profiled his work on the Post‘s interactive, ever-changing simulation of how the virus can spread throughout a population.

His “data journalism” drew worldwide attention. Who knows? That story might draw the attention of the judges a year from now, when they meet to award the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism.

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)

Understanding Pandemic Spread: Staples Grad’s Simulation Goes Viral

Much has been written about the spread of COVID-19, and the importance of social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine.

But it’s one thing to read about protective measures. It’s another thing entirely to watch them unfold.

Thanks to Washington Post graphics report Harry Stevens, we can.

And — because the 2004 Staples High School graduate’s piece on the virus has been shared relentlessly by readers — so can the rest of the world.

The “corona simulator” (click here to see) provides vivid evidence of how a disease spreads through a population. Moving dots represent healthy, sick and recovered people.

The dots move randomly, interacting with other dots. Importantly, each viewing of Stevens’ simulation is different. My random sample is different from yours. In fact, each time you scroll up and look at the graphic again, it’s different.

A static screenshot of Harry Stevens’ moving simulation.

That illustrates the randomness of our encounters with each other. But the key finding is usually the same: Extensive distancing is the best way to slow the spread of disease.

(There is one unrealistic element to his moving graphs, the story notes: Dots don’t “disappear” when someone “dies.”)

Harry Stevens (Photo/ Sarah L. Voisin for The Washington Post)

Stevens’ route to the Washington Post began in another down time: the recession of 2008. After acting in Staples Players and college, he graduated at a time of few enticing professional opportunities.

“I kind of fell into journalism by mistake. But I liked it,” he says.

So he headed to Columbia Journalism School, to learn enough to be hired by an actual newsroom.

At Columbia, he saw how journalists can enrich their reporting through data analysis and visualization. He was hooked.

A year after graduating he followed his girlfriend (now wife) Indrani Basu back to her home town: New Delhi. She’s a fellow journalist, and had just gotten a great job helping launch HuffPost India, as news editor.

Stevens landed a newspaper job in Delhi. They let him experiment with “all kinds of weird ideas” about how to do data journalism on the internet.

He started at the Washington Post 6 months ago.

“It’s really cool,” he says. “There are so many smart and talented people here, so there are lots of chances to learn new things and get better at the craft.”

The idea for the COVID-19 story began as he read how diseases spread exponentially. “I had a hard time internalizing what that means,” he says.

A year earlier he’d been experimenting with making circles bounce off each other. He realized now that he could apply that to show how network effects work.

When he got the basic simulation working (with help from data pioneers Bret Victor and Adam Pearce), he realized the story could be “very cool.”

It is.

As well as amazingly educational, and incredibly important.

Part of Harry Stevens’ story shows 4 different outcomes in disease prevention.