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Journalism Program Launches COVID Vaccine Dashboard

Website Adds to Terp Efforts to Ease Process of Securing Appointments

By Josh Land

Volunteer administers COVID vaccine

Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A volunteer administers a coronavirus vaccine as cars line up at a mass vaccination site at Six Flags in Prince George’s County on Tuesday. The Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s Capital News Service launched a new dashboard yesterday, sharing information about how to get vaccinated in Maryland’s five most populous localities.

For the third time in a matter of weeks, Terps are doing their part to help fellow Marylanders track down coveted COVID-19 vaccination appointments—this time through a new online hub created by Philip Merrill College of Journalism students. 

Capital News Service (CNS), the University of Maryland’s nonprofit, student-powered news organization, yesterday launched the Maryland COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard, sharing information about how to get vaccinated in the state’s five most populous localities—Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Montgomery County. The site includes the state’s eligible groups and how and where to get a shot in each area, presented in an easy-to-use, accessible format.

“There is no topic more important for my bureau to cover this semester than the vaccination rollout,” said CNS Digital Bureau Director Adam Marton. “With it being difficult for some Marylanders to get vaccinated, we wanted to create a public-service journalism project to help address some of these issues. This was a good opportunity to combine reporting, data, design and coding into a project that helps our students expand their digital journalism skills and the general public to navigate how to get vaccinated in Maryland.”

The new CNS dashboard—a cooperative effort between the bureau’s data and graphics team overseen by Marton, its audience engagement team overseen by Audience Editor Alexander Pyles, and Howard Center Data Editor Sean Mussenden—will include frequently asked questions about vaccination, as well as data and graphics about the process so far. All information will be updated weekly, while data and graphics will be updated biweekly.

“I've spent a lot of time this year struggling to secure vaccinations for family members, and social media is full of anecdotal evidence that other Maryland citizens have had the same experience,” Pyles said. “So, my students are using those stories Marylanders are posting online to crowdsource frequently asked questions and offer as direct an answer as possible after extensive primary-source research. We're just trying to make it easier for Marylanders to get their vaccine and get on with their life.”

The project adds to two other recent Terp efforts to shorten the vaccine appointment waiting game. Elliot Hazzard ’17 last month started Maryland Vaccine Hunters, a 66,000-member Facebook group—which CNS links to from its new site—that pairs tech-savvy volunteers with vaccine-seekers. Computer science student Mathew Steininger ’21 took a different approach with his MDVax website and 12,000-follower Twitter feed, using a technique called “web scraping” to publish in real time when vaccine portals update and change their information about available appointments.

The dashboard is just the latest project from CNS, which has offices and news teams in Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington and College Park. The students, directed by professional journalists and educators, deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations, a destination website, an on-air and streaming television newscast, and social media channels. Other recent work includes stories and interactive graphics during the 2020 presidential election, data analysis from racial justice protests and additional local COVID coverage.

“This project shows what good journalism can do,” said CNS Managing Director Marty Kaiser. “Journalists don't just report problems, they also report to find solutions. It is a win for CNS reporters and a win for the public we serve.”

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