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By Joe Rull Published 02/19/21 1:54am
Please stop emailing my boss about the COVID tracker.
If you're one of the few dozen people who open our newsletter, you've probably noticed that we haven't updated our COVID tracker since Dec. 22. And if you're one of the even fewer people reading this article, it's pretty likely that you know me personally to some extent.
So maybe shutting down the tracker comes as no surprise to most of you. But I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past year of COVID coverage and talk about why we had to drop our tracking effort in the first place.
When the world ended last March, I was just a basketball beat writer covering yet another underwhelming season for the Lobos' men's team. At the time, I was barely getting into data journalism, and the Daily Lobo's data desk was still months away from existing.
Just like everyone else, we were trying to make sense of what was happening. I've always dealt with — frankly, pretty embarrassing — reading issues, so the only way I can make heads or tails of anything is by breaking it down visually.
Thus is the pretty underwhelming origin story of our COVID tracker. We started manually logging and visualizing every bit of New Mexico COVID data we could find, ran a column or two about data visualization and went about our merry way maintaining and expanding our tracking effort.
I might be a little biased here, but our tracker was in my estimation far and away the most in-depth COVID tracker in the state for the better part of a year — for my money, even better than the NMDOH dashboard, which still sucks.
So what happened?
Well. Here at the Lobo, my friends are nice enough to call me the 'data editor' in charge of the 'data desk,' which is a mostly arbitrary title they gave me because I'd already failed pretty spectacularly in my roles editing the multimedia and sports desks, respectively.
In reality, the 'data desk' has exactly one reporter, who also happens to be the only editor, data graphic designer and data 'scientist' on staff. And while I do truly love what I do here, it can be absolutely exhausting.
I couldn't tell you how many hours went into our tracking effort. But I can tell you that from March 18 to Dec. 22, I manually updated the page hosting the tracker exactly 581 times and the underlying data feeding the Tableau dashboards at least three or four times as often.
All my data dork friends know that state governments are notoriously shitty about making data available. Because of this, the updating process entailed hours of work every single day manually whittling the data down into something we could actually work with.
I like to think we did an okay job, but I can't lie — manually tracking every new case, every death, every hospitalization, every nursing home, every thing every day all by myself has been so. Incredibly. Taxing. And for what?
Again, I hate to put myself on a pedestal here, but for all our ancient website's shortcomings, our COVID tracker was really, really solid, and is probably the most significant journalistic contribution of my career so far.
And I got paid absolute dogshit to do it.
It's no fault of the Daily Lobo; we're criminally underfunded despite whatever some of our favorite shit-for-brains student 'representatives' say. All of us make significantly less than minimum wage for what we do.
I'm just gonna be totally honest with you guys. Just like everyone else, I'm going broke, and my mental health is shot. All the way shot. I haven't been able to focus on anything, I'm weeks behind in school, I haven't felt creative in god knows how long and for months have been on the verge of dropping out altogether.
I've been running on fumes for a while. Once the fall semester ended, I lost whatever was left in me to keep tracking COVID for the paper.
I hate to say it's not worth it. I know the COVID tracker was an important resource for some of our readers, which is what kept me going for so long. I just can't in good faith keep telling people that I'll get it back on track soon when I know I don't have it in me anymore.
In the end, I appreciate the support we've gotten for our COVID tracking, and I hope people can understand where I'm coming from — even if this column reads like a rambling, self-aggrandizing, whiny mess.
In another universe, maybe the Lobo would be getting the funding it deserves, and maybe we'd have a data editor who could recruit data reporters, and maybe our COVID effort would be bigger and better.
But in this universe, I think it's about time I started focusing my energy on getting back on the horse, with an end goal of at least rediscovering the motivation to make something for the paper while I'm still here.
Joe Rull is the data editor and a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. He hopes to be working on things he cares about again soon, but in the meantime, you can dunk on him via his Twitter page @rulljoe or send him a strongly-worded email at [email protected]

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