2021 Feature, Small Newsroom finalist

Year of Loss


About the Project

In Chicago, COVID-19 has killed people as young as 9 months and as old as 109 years. They were fathers, daughters, mechanics, talented dancers and more, beloved by family and friends. Every community has been touched by this loss.

Jim Wlodarczyk, 61, lost his life to COVID-19 on May 31, 2020. His wife Sherrie holds their wedding photo in their Portage Park home on January 15, 2021.

To mark a year since COVID-19 had come to Chicago, Block Club shared the A Year of Loss project. The project combines traditional storytelling with video, photos, interactive graphics, a specialty newsletter and a mini-site.

For our stories, Block Club spoke to the families and friends of 27 COVID-19 victims from across the city about what made their loved one special and what we have all lost through their death. We also highlighted people who have long-term COVID and have lost their good health.

COVID-19 has had a disparate impact on communities of color, but so often newspapers focus on white communities. We specifically sought out and highlighted victims from all ethnic and socio-economic groups and walks of life. We also ensured we had representation from every geographical part of our city.

Nikki Shepard, 44, lost her life to COVID-19 on December 8, 2020. Her family and long-time friends gather for photographs inside her family’s Greater Way MB Church in the Austin neighborhood on January 17, 2021.

To do this, we created a survey where people could submit information about a loved one taken by COVID. We reached out to community groups across the city to connect with members who had lost someone. And we pored through a database of the more than 4,500 victims in Chicago. Once we had a large and diverse group of people to feature, we worked with their families and friends over a period of more than a month for interviews, photos and videos.

The stories are not traditional obituaries — instead, they focus on what made a person unique and how we have all lost something in their death.

We created interactive graphics showing how many deaths and cases have been recorded in each community, as well, so people could have another understanding of how each neighborhood has lost something to this pandemic.

Mauricio Valdivia, 52, lost his life to COVID-19 on April 9, 2020. Photographed is his brother, Jorge Valdivia, showing family images for photographs in his Pilsen apartment on January 14, 2021.

The day the project launched, we sent our more than 100,000 newsletter subscribers a specialty newsletter focused solely on this project. It highlighted why we created A Year of Loss and shared stories from the projects. Read it here:

We shared a mini-site on our main website that featured all of the project’s content:

We also planned and debuted specialty threads on Twitter and Instagram to highlight the project. Read the Twitter thread here:
Read the Instagram thread here:

Every part of this project — from stories to videos to the newsletter — was provided to readers for free.