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Like a lot of good enterprise stories, this one started with a hunch — but it finished with a bang, thanks to a promising innovation by the ABC Owned TV Stations that is changing the way they report on the coronavirus pandemic and has valuable lessons for every newsroom.
Kim Dillon and her colleagues at WABC-TV in New York noticed that as COVID-19 deaths started to rise rapidly through the city, a large percentage of the victims had something in common. “You suddenly began to realize that this was a series of black and brown faces,” says Dillon, the senior executive producer who oversees the station’s investigative team. “And it occurred to us early on: ‘What’s going on here?’”
An emergency room source confirmed that the pandemic was having a disproportionately deadly impact on poor and minority communities, but to nail down the story, Dillon’s team turned to a new colleague, John Kelly, who joined the station group in November in the newly created job of director of Data Journalism. Kelly, who previously worked with the Gannett newspapers and its TV stations (before they were spun off to form TEGNA), is directing an ambitious new initiative across the ABC Owned TV Stations to enhance coverage and community service with data journalism.
John Kelly was able to confirm the racial and economic differences in the impact of the pandemic and even created a zip-code-level interactive map that correlated COVID-related deaths with poverty levels. “I can honestly say that we were ahead