Before 2020, who would have thought a nerdy stats page could become the most popular journalistic content ever made in Norway? That, in a time of crisis, such a page would become the No. 1 destination for facts and information — information the government often has not been able or willing to provide to its people.
We sure did not.
When it was published on March 3, 2020, the feedback was massive, all because it could answer the question everyone was asking: Has the virus been detected in my area? Has anyone in my area died? The government provided the number of cases and deaths registered in Norway as a whole, but it could not provide the number of cases or deaths per municipality. That became our first task.
Through extensive and meticulous research and data collection from all 356 municipalities, VG was able to give an overview of the situation in each municipality, whereas the health authorities did not publish cases per municipality until the end of March. They still refuse to publish the number of deaths per municipality.
The VG Coronavirus Live Tracker is still the only place Norwegians can find an overview of cases, trends, incidence, deaths, and hospitalisations for their municipality.
Like many other coronavirus trackers, we added sites to compare stats from countries and regions in Scandinavia, Europe, and the world.
But because the questions and need for information evolved with the pandemic, our services had to evolve, too.
Improving on success
Innovation has been at the heart of the Live Tracker since it launched. The goal was to spearhead the use of statistics, graphs, and information databases in Norwegian media coverage. When summer came, one of the biggest questions was where we could travel. We, therefore, wrote scripts that gathered and processed data from 21 countries and 47 regions in the EU/EEA. The result was live updated predictions for the government’s travel advice, showing what countries were about to be opened or closed for travel:
During the autumn and winter months, we also added pages for these topics:
Vaccines available: VG has the only service that links all the world’s potential coronavirus vaccines to the approval process for EU and Norway. Our readers can follow and compare the vaccination results for each country. Not until December 2020 did the Norwegian health authorities provide an overview of the six vaccines available to Norwegians.
Vaccine numbers: In January 2021, the site was expanded with the vaccination numbers for Norway and the rest of the world, including tables and graphs comparing the progress made in different regions and countries.
Restrictions: The live tracker has the only existing database of local restrictions for Norway’s municipalities, such as how many can gather at home and where you have to wear a face mask. Restrictions for all 356 municipalities are tracked and updated continuously, a service the government has not been able to provide.
To achieve all this, we tailored six unique registration tools (mini CMS) and databases that were combined with a graphic presentation. Our 20 different scripts were tailored to continuously monitor, quality check, convert, and import data to our databases.
These databases have been used in several investigative projects, like exposing the struggle for protective gear in the municipalities and how the most vulnerable groups in our society were affected by the pandemic.
Numbers and graphs from the live tracker have been used in several reports from Norwegian health authorities. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health asked for access to our databases to research the restrictions they helped introduce. We have shared our data with national and international researchers.
The tracker’s value lies in its unique databases and information, as well as its educational and innovative use of public data. This creative, experimental, and outside-the-box thinking has truly changed us as a news organisation.