They were not simply names on a list. They were us. – New York Times

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As the US approaches the grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths, the New York Times has filled the entire front page of Sunday’s paper with the death notices of victims from across the country.

In a decision the paper said was intended to convey the vastness and variety of the tragedy, the front page is a simple list of names and personal details taken from obituaries around the US.

The headline is “US deaths near 100,000, an incalculable loss”, with a sub-heading that reads: “They were not simply names on a list. They were us.”

In an article for Times Insider, assistant graphics editor Simone Landon explained the treatment was a way of personalising the tragedy as readers and staff developed data fatigue from the constant reporting of the pandemic.

Landon led a team of researchers in searching obituaries in hundreds of US newspapers that listed Covid-19 as the cause of death and extracting names and key personal details “that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost”, such as: “Alan Lund, 81, Washington, conductor with ‘the most amazing ear”.

New York Times “Instead of the articles, photographs or graphics that normally appear on the front page of The New York Times, on Sunday, there is just a list: a long, solemn list of people whose lives were lost to the coronavirus pandemic. As the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States approaches 100,000, a number expected to be reached in the coming days, editors at The Times have been planning how to mark the grim milestone. Simone Landon, assistant editor of the Graphics desk, wanted to represent the number in a way that conveyed both the vastness and the variety of lives lost. Departments across The Times have been robustly covering the coronavirus pandemic for months. But Ms. Landon and her colleagues realized that “both among ourselves and perhaps in the general reading public, there’s a little bit of a fatigue with the data.” “We knew we were approaching this milestone,” she added. “We knew that there should be some way to try to reckon with that number.” Putting 100,000 dots or stick figures on a page “doesn’t really tell you very much about who these people were, the lives that they lived, what it means for us as a country,” Ms. Landon said. So, she came up with the idea of compiling obituaries and death notices of Covid-19 victims from newspapers large and small across the country, and culling vivid passages from them.

Alain Delaquérière, a researcher, combed through various sources online for obituaries and death notices with Covid-19 written as the cause of death. He compiled a list of nearly a thousand names from hundreds of newspapers. A team of editors from across the newsroom, in addition to three graduate student journalists, read them and gleaned phrases that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost:

“Alan Lund, 81, Washington, conductor with ‘the most amazing ear’ … ” “Theresa Elloie, 63, New Orleans, renowned for her business making detailed pins and corsages … ” “Florencio Almazo Morán, 65, New York City, one-man army … ” “Coby Adolph, 44, Chicago, entrepreneur and adventurer … ”

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The Guardian / New York Times 

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