2020 Explanatory Reporting, Large Newsroom winner


About the Project

On January 8 this year, Washington Post reporters Gerry Shih and Lena Sun reported an outbreak of an “unidentified and possibly new viral disease in central China” that was sending alarms across Asia in advance of the Lunar New Year travel season.

Already, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines were contemplating quarantine zones and scanning travelers from China for “signs of fever or other pneumonia-like symptoms that may indicate a new disease possibly linked to a wild animal market in Wuhan.”

Gerry is a correspondent for us in China, with extensive journalistic experience in the country. Lena, a former Beijing bureau chief for The Post, is a veteran national reporter covering health, with a particular focus on public health and infectious diseases. These two reporters launched our coverage of the coronavirus and the disease Covid-19, declared this month to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Lena and Gerry are emblematic of the highly skilled journalists The Washington Post deployed to cover this complex, ever-expanding and profoundly serious story.

We drew on our entire staff – throughout the world and in the United States – to bring essential health information and the latest news while also digging into the reasons for the rapid spread of this disease, the sometimes chaotic and counterproductive decision-making by governments and the impact on citizens and medical systems. Hundreds of our journalists were enlisted in this effort and worked tirelessly around the clock.

The Post kept readers informed with a daily live blog, pulling reporting together from across the globe from our front-line correspondents, editors and researchers in the most affected areas. Additionally, The Post created a free newsletter to keep readers informed and it quickly became the largest newsletter at The Post. We also offered a free newsletter with links to stories for which there was no charge.

In the first days of March, before the coronavirus outbreak had been declared a pandemic, graphics reporter Harry Stevens had an idea for a graphic that would try to explain how a virus can spread so quickly. He conceived of using balls bouncing around the screen to explain how viral spread can gain speed exponentially. As the graphics team refined the article, the concept of “flattening the curve” was making its way into public discourse. The simplicity of this explainer resonated with readers and became the most visited article in the Post’s history and was translated to 17 languages. It has been shared on social networks by former president Barack Obama, comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani and Japanese soccer star Keisuke Honda. It has been featured on television broadcasts all over the world. We have heard from scores of readers who said that they used the graphic’s clarity on the benefits of social distancing to persuade family and friends to stay home.

We are proud to nominate this work on coronavirus for the Online Journalism Awards.