As COVID-19 deaths increased in New York City last spring, we started looking for data. We knew what we could see: obituaries in local papers. So we began tracking them — collecting names and stories from Legacy.com and unions mourning members who died. We also found some limited data from the city’s medical examiner and health department.
Our early analysis showed that the public obituaries skewed white, male and came from the wealthier enclaves of the city. Yet, the coronavirus was killing Black and Latino New Yorkers at twice the rate of white residents. People of color, including immigrants living in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, were rarely reflected in the obituary pages.
Last May, we launched MISSING THEM, a project to track down every New Yorker who died due to COVID-19 and write a story about them. The project is a partnership between the nonprofit newsroom THE CITY and Columbia Journalism School and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. So far, our living memorial has more than 2,300 publicly-identified deaths — all vetted with public records, searchable, filterable and grouped by occupation — and nearly 400 obituaries.
Through our tips, we’ve published more than 20 local accountability stories with partners such as Type Investigations, NPR and Vox.
Those stories include: