Tag Archives: Washington Post

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.

Jane Green: “A Home Should Always Have Books”

The world knows Jane Green as a wonderful author. Her books have sold over 10 million copies, and been translated into more than 30 languages.

Westporters know Jane Green as our neighbor.

It’s in that role that we love a story from last week’s Washington Post Magazine. In a series of interviews, writers talked about what books meant to them — and to their homes.

Jane described her life with her husband Ian Warburg on Owenoke — and gave a great shout-out to her fantastic mobile library project, modeled on the Remarkable Book Shop.

She says: 

I’ve run out of space. Books are starting to get stacked up on the floor, underneath tables, underneath chairs, on top of tables. They’re everywhere. With no more room on the bookshelves, I’ve been eyeing this gorgeous French armoire that takes up an entire wall. That wall is just perfect for shelves and would make the room warmer. I know, however, that my husband really likes the armoire. He sees: storage, storage, storage. I see: books, books, books. We’ll see who wins.

For years, I couldn’t get rid of anything. I have had to learn to manage the flow. Paperbacks I tend not to keep unless I love them and know I’m going to reread them. Hardcovers are really hard for me to get rid of. They all signify a time in my life. They all have stories around the stories. I will sometimes just stand there and look at my books and remember.

Jane Green, at home in Westport. (Photo/Chris Sorensen for Washington Post)

The first place I go in someone’s house is their bookshelves. You can tell exactly who they are.

I used to do something that I now realize was a bit creepy. After my first book was published and very successful, I was looking for a flat in London. Almost every flat I went into had my book on the shelf. I’d take it down and sign it! Sometimes, I even personalized it: “To Julia, with love, Jane Green.” I’ve never heard from anyone, but if they ever come across that, they’ll likely freak out.

They all signify a time in my life. They all have stories around the stories. I will sometimes just stand there and look at my books and remember.
Last summer, I started a little mobile library called the Remarkable Bookcycle. For 35 years, there was a bright pink bookstore in my town called Remarkable Book Shop. We had this cargo tricycle just sitting in our garage. I paid a high school student to turn it into a mobile free library. We cycle it around the beach in summer. I lurk around the bookcycle; I love to watch what happens. What’s extraordinary is that everyone gathers around the bookcycle and has conversations. I’m now able to get rid of books much more easily knowing they’re going to a good home.

I think I like to be surrounded by books when I’m writing, but the truth is I don’t. I’m easily distracted. I’ve done my best writing at my local public library in one of those little cubbies with noise-canceling headphones. If I need to do some research, I just make a note for later. If I go to a book or online, the whole day could be gone. Writing takes focus, and books pull mine in a million directions.

I subscribe to Nancy Lancaster’s rule of decorating; she’s an American decorator who moved to England in the ’20s. She brought the English country-house style into the mainstream. Her rules were that a home should always have books, candles and flowers. I walk into so many houses today that have been decorated. They’re exquisite. I find them beautiful: two artfully placed objets, stunning coffee table books. For a minute, I think, “I wish my house looked like this.” But then I remember I don’t feel like taking off my shoes and curling up on the sofa in these homes. In fact, I sit there terrified I’m going to spill red wine. A home needs a bit of curated clutter, and that curated clutter has to include things that tell the story of your life, of what you love. For me, that’s books.

(To read the full Washington Post Magazine story, click here. Hat tip: Elisabeth K. Boas)