UA Journalism School to run Arkansascovid.com

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 676 views 

Arkansascovid.com founder Misty Orpin and UA journalism professor Rob Wells.

The University of Arkansas said Friday (Aug. 28) it would take over the daily management and operations of Arkansascovid.com, a startup website tracking COVID-19 data using data from the Arkansas Department of Health. The UA said in a news release the School of Journalism and Strategic Media will oversee the website. The transition is scheduled to be completed on Sept. 14.

Springdale resident Misty Orpin, a journalist, small business owner and mother of two, started Arkansascovid.com in March as a personal project to understand how the pandemic affected the state and her community.

She launched the multimedia site from her laptop. It has gained popularity for its data visualizations, frequent Twitter updates and Orpin’s analysis. The Twitter feed @arkansascovid has more than 12,000 followers, including many state government leaders.

In May, Orpin began a partnership with Rob Wells, a UA assistant professor of journalism. He teaches data journalism, which included an intern to assist Orpin in the daily production of demographic data. Arkansas Soul, a site devoted to recruiting and training African American students about journalism, and the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sponsored the internship and paid the intern $500. Separately, Orpin received some donations from the public and gave some of that money to the intern.

As the workload grew, Orpin asked if the School of Journalism could operate the site full time. The school, part of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, will devote a mix of graduate students and students in Wells’ data journalism class to operate Arkansascovid.com, providing students an extraordinary opportunity to work with a real-time data journalism website. Orpin will continue to provide analysis and commentary as needed.

“I’ve been so gratified at the way the community has embraced this platform and created a welcoming space to share information about COVID in our state,” Orpin said. “Its growth in the past few months wouldn’t have been possible without help from the UA partnership. I’m thrilled to be handing it off to the UA team, in whom I have utmost confidence to shepherd it to even greater usefulness for everyday Arkansans.”

Wells said there was no money paid for Arkansascovid and the UA didn’t pay Orpin for the site.

Larry Foley, chair of the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, said running the website is yet another example of the high-quality professional opportunities available to the students.

“This is a real opportunity for our school to work on a project that delivers critical information,” Foley said. “Misty Orpin has done a great job with her work, and we are honored to move it forward. Dr. Rob Wells is the right person to lead his student team, at this most important time when all of us need data to help negotiate the rough waters of this dangerous, contagious virus.”

Wells said he is grateful that Orpin would provide such an opportunity to his students.

“There are not many journalism programs in the country that offer students an opportunity to operate and publish real-time news and data on a topic that affects every person in the state,” he said. “We have a big responsibility to keep up the high standards Misty Orpin has set to this point. I can’t wait to see what my students will produce this semester.”

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