Hoosier State Press Association
On Jan. 26, 19-year-old Evansville resident Isaiah Mays, on the verge of receiving his high school diploma, died from complications of the Covid-19 virus. Two weeks earlier, on the other end of the state in South Bend, 85-year-old musician Marge Dudeck also succumbed to the disease. They are two of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died in the last year during the coronavirus pandemic.
This March represents the one-year anniversary since the first Covid-19 death in Indiana, since life for everyone in the country has been defined by lockdowns, quarantines, mask wearing and, now, vaccinations against the deadly disease.
In human terms, the toll has been staggering — more than 29 million cases and more than 530,000 deaths in the United States alone.
Covering the pandemic has been an ongoing challenge for news organizations, including telling the personal stories of the people lost to the disease.
“For a long time, we’ve been thinking here at the Times about ways to put a human face on all of these numbers and statistics that we were reporting so diligently every day,” said Marc Chase, executive editor of the Times of Northwest Indiana and Midwest regional editor for Lee Enterprises.
Chase spearheaded a collaborative project with newspapers across the state to mark the one-year anniversary since the pandemic changed the human landscape of Indiana, the country and the world.
Lee Enterprises’ papers in Iowa partnered with Gannett papers for a project called “Iowa Mourns.” Chase said he thought that model could be adapted in Indiana. So, he worked with HSPA’s executive director Steve Key and newspapers around the state to launch “Hoosiers We’ve Lost.”
“I was so pleased with the way HSPA was able to help us facilitate this with their members and how quickly the interest was just there — a number of often competing companies that were willing to jump in and share content,” Chase said.
The project, where papers contributed and then would have access to content from other newsrooms, involved 11 different entities including Chase’s Lee paper, Gannett and CNHI publications.
The Times NWI received sponsorship for their 12-page special section. Other papers took different approaches but all had a template to work from.
“There are going to be times that arise in the future where the pooling of our resources will better serve all of our readers.”Marc Chase, executive editor of the Times of Northwest Indiana and Midwest regional editor for Lee Enterprises.
The biggest goal was to personalize the pandemic.
“You have two things going on here,” Chase said. “One is the human face aspect and two is just the gravity of the numbers, seeing all of these together, knowing it’s not anywhere near the 12,000 — but still seeing an entire broadsheet page taken up with faces it’s like, wow.”
This cooperative effort could open the door for more group storytelling projects.
“There are going to be times that arise in the future where the pooling of our resources will better serve all of our readers,” Chase said. “This was sort of a first crack at it. It’d be nice to translate this and use it for other big things in the future. I think we have a model now for that.”
Alvie Lindsay said when Chase approached him about the project, he saw it as an opportunity to provide a show of unity with newspapers across the state in their coverage of the pandemic. Lindsay, news and investigations director at The Indianapolis Star, engaged other Gannett properties across the state to participate.
“I think this is a really good reminder for the public that they know we’re here to serve them and their interests,” Lindsay said. “Regardless of whether or not you’re a small paper in one part of the state or a large paper in the state capital, we have the same goals in terms of wanting to serve our audience and make sure we’re here for all Hoosiers.”
“I think this is a really good reminder for the public that they know we’re here to serve them and their interests.”Alvie Lindsay, news and investigations director, Indianapolis Star
As a part of its pandemic coverage, The Star already had an obituary project in place not long into the crisis. So, adapting content and showing the range of people affected by the disease for the “Hoosiers We’ve Lost” effort was easy, Lindsay said.
The point of this project is to humanize the tragedy of the pandemic and bring it home, for Hoosiers in a way that they can see not only their friends and their neighbors but, in some ways, themselves in the coverage, Lindsay said.
“This virus obviously knows no demographic or geographic boundaries. So, it was important to make this an intentional part of the effort just to remind people that it doesn’t really matter where you come from, the color of your skin or how much money you have in your bank account or where you live,” Lindsay said. “The reality is this virus is deadly. Hoosiers from across the state, from all walks of life have lost loved ones.”
Like Chase, Lindsay said he sees the potential for collaborative storytelling projects in the future.
“My hope is that maybe this will be the start of some other statewide efforts that we might be able to get involved with,” Lindsay said. There’s a lot of incentive to be involved in statewide projects both on a Gannett and HSPA level, Lindsay said.
“I look forward to the prospects of what we might be able to do in the future,” Chase said.