On the first page, a wall of sorrow

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From a distance, the graphic on Sunday’s New York Times front page looks like a blur of gray, a cloudy gradient slowly descending into a solid block of ink. Up close, it shows something much darker: almost 500,000 individual points, each representing a single life lost in the United States to the coronavirus, signifying a staggering milestone the country is reaching in just under 12 months. .

A version of the graph was originally posted online at the end of January, when Covid-19 deaths in the United States hit 425,000 after four of the deadliest weeks of the pandemic in the United States. Lazaro Gamio and Lauren Leatherby, both graphic editors of The Times, plotted the dots to chronologically travel a long roll, from the first death in the United States reported almost a year ago to the current number of often thousands. per day.

On Sunday, half of the first page was devoted to the graphic, with nearly half a million dots running the length of the page and across three of its six columns. Leading real estate in the print edition expressed the significance of this moment in the pandemic and all of the devastation.

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For Bill Marsh, a print graphics coordinator who helped oversee execution, the digital concept also worked well in print. “The fact that we can create something with half a million dots that is visible and readable in one piece, on a single sheet of paper, that people can scan and think about – it’s made for printing, in a way, ”he says. “It feels natural for the first page.”

This page was used to visualize the extent of the pandemic previously. When Covid deaths in the United States reached 100,000 last May, the page was filled with the names of those we had lost – nearly a thousand of them, barely 1% of the country’s toll as of today. time. And as that number approached 200,000, the main photo on the page showed the yard of a Texas artist, who filled his lawn with a small flag for every life lost to the virus in his state.

But unlike previous approaches, Sunday’s chart represents all deaths. “I think part of this technique, which is good, is that it overwhelms you – because it should,” Mr. Gamio said.

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Since the start of the pandemic, the graphics office has been continuously working on what publishers internally call “the state of the virus,” an effort to provide visuals that capture the defining moments in this story. The purpose of this particular visualization was to add context to a fluctuating death toll: April 2020 felt like ‘the skies were falling,’ Mr Gamio said, but this winter, the graph shows, has been significantly worse. .

“There’s just a certain numbness, I think, which is normal human nature when it’s been going on for so long, but we’ve tried to remind people what’s still going on,” Ms. Leatherby said. “And I think something striking about this particular piece that we were trying to bring home is just the speed at which it was all happening.

Transferring this effort to the print journal – a change led by Mr. Marsh and Andrew Sondern, an art director – has not been without challenges. On the one hand: the task was “just terrifying,” Mr. Gamio said. “Every time you do anything for the first page, you lose sleep.”

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Technically, editors and designers also needed to make sure that half a million tiny pixels of the digital concept would print correctly in the Times’ various presses across the country.

They performed two tests. In one – which in hindsight could now serve as a scavenger hunt for eagle-eyed readers – they placed a small scatter of dots in the lower corner of an inside page for a Saturday newspaper. In another, which involved The Times printing press in College Point, Queens, they ran a few dot sizes on newsprint that was not being distributed.

The final product is the latest of several very graphic cover pages over the past year that have chronicled not only the pandemic, but also the economic, social and political crises that have plagued the country. In an age filled with unknowns, said Marsh, “graphics can introduce a whole new way of understanding what is going on.”

They can also speak about the gravity of our time with as much force as words, Mr. Gamio said. “We are in an extraordinary time of the day,” he added, “and the visual language of the newspaper should reflect that.”

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