2016 The University of Florida Award for Investigative Data Journalism, Large Newsroom finalist

What Went Wrong in Flint


About the Project

This project is an in-depth analysis of how officials in Michigan ignored signs that Flint’s water system was giving its residents lead poisoning. Using FOIA’d documents and data sets, this carefully reported article reported on Flint’s crisis from the ground, mixing narrative storytelling with data analysis to show how officials looked the other way, even when the evidence in front of them was undeniable. This was an investigative news story for a general audience, intended for anyone who had read snippets of news about Flint but was still seeking deeper understanding of how we had arrived at such a harrowing moment.

There was a lot of coverage of the Flint crisis, but little that reported from the ground and interrogated the data surrounding the case. The article’s data analysis demonstrates how easy it is for officials to claim a city hasn’t exceeded lead-regulation thresholds even when it has, and its data visualization shows how glaring the differences were between officials’ version of events and the version from Flint’s amateur scientists. Those charts mixed with shoe-leather reporting show both how people were poisoned, and who those people are.

The article was widely cited for using science and statistics to help explain the crisis to non-scientific readers.

We did our data analysis in Excel and R, our mapping using QGIS, and our chart-making in Illustrator.