Names, Not Just Numbers

Jeff Davis
2 min readDec 16, 2020
The New York Times, Sunday, May 24, 2020

We’ve hit 300,000 covid-19 deaths. A 9/11 every day, some report, and among the deadliest times America has ever faced.

The Battle of Antietam resulted in about 3,600 deaths, and the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in about 2,400 deaths. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 killed an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 people.

Take a closer look and you’ll see that each day we’re losing someone’s mother. A neighbor. A coach. The grocery store cashier. Many dying in isolation.

Stats are important to track. But what’s been trending in coronavirus communications are the stories about the people who are dying and the ways their stories are told.

In May when we hit 100,000, The New York Times designed its front page to reflect the edition reporting on Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. No articles and no photographs. Just names and a glimpse of each person behind those numbers:

Ruthie Jacqueline Stephens Turner, 86, Alabama, sympathetic ear. Davis Begaye, 48, Cudei, N.M., worked at the Home Depot. Robert M. Shaw, 69, Beverly, Mass., loved being Grandpa to his “little man” and sweet pea.” Helen Kafkis, 91, Chicago, known for her Greek chicken and stuffed peppers.

Page one jumped to pages 12 and 13 so we could read more mini obits reminding us that it wasn’t just death number 1,977 or 31,117 or 82,253. It was the second-grade teacher. The nursing home assistant who worked three jobs.

We remember Grace Lee Hargrave Cradeur, 83, of Crowley, La., “who always had room at the table to feed anyone who showed up.”

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Jeff Davis

Public relations, social content and crisis communications insights and ideas from PR consultancy leader and co-host of the Practically Social podcast.