With their production on Milwaukees Empty Cradles, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal (JS Online) is nominated for an Data Journalism Award. ‘One hundred Milwaukee babies died last year before reaching their first birthdays. In some neighborhoods, the rate at which babies died was worse than the Gaza Strip. In Milwaukee, black babies died at rate thee times that of while babies. Many of these deaths were preventable. We can save lives.’ An interview with JS journalists Emily Yount, Ben Poston and Crocker Stephenson.
What inspired you to make Empty Cradles? (Answered by Crocker Stephenson)
Milwaukee’s infant mortality rate is a moral outrage. Exploring its causes and examining solutions taps a journalistic journey to the very heart of our community. In understanding this critical issue, we better understand ourselves.
Did you work by yourself or in a team?
The Empty Cradles series began in January 2011 as a year long effort to confront Milwaukee’s infant mortality crisis. A major installment of the series was published roughly once a month with related coverage throughout. A handful of reporters contributed their specialities to the effort from science to health literacy to healthcare and economics. Reporters Crocker Stephenson, Mark Johnson, Ben Poston, Karen Herzog, Guy Boulton and John Schmid, as well as editors Greg Borowski and Becky Lang, opinion columnist James Causey, graphics editor Lou Saldivar, photographer Rick Wood and multimedia producer Bill Schulz all contributed to the project.
I designed and developed ‘Mapping Milwaukee’s infant mortality crisis,’ worked with reporter Guy Boulton to define and map access to primary care for each zip code, produced the interactive version of ‘Prematurity’s costs,’ produced ‘Timeline: Millie and Simona‘ with the help of reporter Mark Johnson and photographer Rick Wood, and worked with reporter Karen Herzog to design and develop a health literacy quiz to test how much readers really know about pregnancy. For the final installment of 2011 for the series, I produced the Empty Cradles page, a central place for all of the major stories, multimedia, tips, blog posts, on-going coverage and impact stories.
How did you get a hold on the data you needed? (answered by Ben Poston)
We downloaded data on infant mortality, teen pregnancy rates and sexually-transmitted disease rates, from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services query tool. We also obtained Census data for the interactive map on economic indicators such as poverty, educational attainment and household median income.
For the story about sleep-related death, reporter Crocker Stephenson read every pediatric medical examiners report for the previous 18 months and, using recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatric, created a spreadsheet that recorded every sleep-related risk factor present at each death.
For mapping of deaths, we wanted the most up-to-date information possible. Reporter Crocker Stephenson quarterly reviewed all pediatric deaths recorded at medical examiner’s office. We convinced the city Health Department, not without some difficulty, to quarterly provide us with raw mortality numbers.
For mapping volunteer resources, the UW-Milwaukee School of Public Health provided as with a resource guide of every pregnancy and infant health program in the city. There were hundreds. We divided them up among several reporters, called each one and asked what they needed in terms of volunteers and donations. We also built our own database for the story on dentists who accept BadgerCare.
Which tools were used making this production?
The timeline is a free tool from ProPublica called TimelineSetter that our developers integrated into our CMS. The tool allows you in categorize content and include text, images, audio and video with simple HTML.
The health literacy quiz and two other interactive charts were produced with Adobe Flash.
How did it take to make Empty Cradles?
I came into this series much farther down the line then most reporters, at the time as a summer intern, so a lot of the data involved in ‘Mapping Milwaukee’s infant mortality crisis,’ for example, had already been collected by reporter Crocker Stephenson and data editor Ben Poston. This sped up the process on my end significantly and we were able to produce the majority of the multimedia/data-driven components in about a month. However, the series as a whole was a newsroom-wide effort throughout 2011 and we are continuing to follow up on the issue in 2012.
Were there any bumps in the road?
Do you have a useful tip for starting data journalists?
Data journalism isn’t reserved for the tech-savvy folk. Empty Cradles was a newsroom-wide effort that relied heavily on data collected and analyzed by reporters, editors and multimedia producers.