Best of 2020 No. 19: The New York Times' name-filled front page illustrates the 'incalculable loss' of the coronavirus pandemic

Sunday edition featured nearly 1,000 names of U.S. lives lost to COVID-19

Published On
May 26, 2020

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In late May, when the U.S. death toll of COVID-19 reached 100,000, the New York Times eschewed numbers and graphs for a front page listing of names—nearly 1,000 of them—of those whose lives were taken by the virus. It was a simple, yet jarring way to shine light on the impact of coronavirus in the U.S. The page dropped during Memorial Day weekend, a moment we typically dedicate to remember those who sacrificed their lives while serving our country. 

Original story:

Memorial Day is a time the U.S. typically reserves for remembering military who lost their lives while serving the country. But this weekend, the New York Times also stopped to honor the nearly 100,000 people who died from COVID-19 in the States in its eye-opening front page illustrating the "incalculable loss" with a listing of nearly 1,000 of their names.

As the U.S. coronavirus death toll approaches 100,000, the Times was looking for a way to mark that low point. But instead of the usual stories and images, it went with a simple list to convey how profoundly our country has been affected. 

According to the Times, the typographical idea came from Graphics Desk Assistant Editor Simone Landon, who wanted “to represent the number in a way that conveyed both the vastness and the variety of lives lost.”

The Times explained in a behind-the-scenes piece that Landon and her team eschewed straight-up data and numbers and veered away from graphics because such a figurative representation “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,” she said.

Instead, the team turned to the people themselves. Researcher Alain Delaquérière combed through multiple obits and death notices from newspapers across the country to gather a list of almost a thousand names, and then the Times' team of editors and grad students pulled descriptions that gave insight to the lives lost. 

Accompanying the front page is an online feature that allows readers to scroll through all the names and descriptions.