20 years of “No obits” for San Francisco’s BAR

by Fred Kuhr
San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter commemorated a historical milestone this month. On August 13, its famous “No obits” article turned 20 years old.
The original article was published because, for the first time since the start of the AIDS epidemic, no obituaries were submitted to the newspaper that week in 1998.
Front page from BAR dated August 13, 1998
Timothy Rodrigues, who was assistant editor at the time and wrote the original article, came back this month to write the newspaper’s guest opinion column, reflecting on what writing that article meant to him, and how it offered a little hope back with new protease inhibitor drugs were becoming more widely available.
The 1998 article emphasized that while no obituaries were submitted that week, it did not mean there were no AIDS-related deaths. And Rodrigues spoke with several people living with HIV/AIDS as well as activists who cautioned that the epidemic was not over.
In this month’s opinion piece, Rodrigues points out, “HIV remains a persistent scourge with nearly 40,000 new infections in the U.S. annually, nearly 2 million worldwide with 1 million deaths. Too many people who might benefit still do not have today’s better versions of treatments first heralded more than 20 years ago. Incomprehensibly, we still have to combat the repugnant stench of discrimination, shame and stigma.”
Rodrigues said he was assigned the 1998 story, in part, because he had recently been diagnosed with HIV.
Michael Yamashita, publisher and owner of BAR, said that his paper receives inquiries about the “No obits” article from time to time, and the paper is regularly asked for the cover image from that issue.
“After about 15 years of publishing an unrelenting and overwhelming amount of obituaries, we had become somewhat inured to death,” Yamashita said. “So when we did not receive any obits that week, it was truly remarkable. Dan Rather noted the article and the front page of the BAR on the national evening news. It was a hopeful sign that the new cocktail drugs were really having an effect and a sense that there might be light at the end of the tunnel after all. Twenty years later, it proved to be a turning point because AIDS-related deaths dramatically decreased.”

To read Rodrigues’ full opinion piece, go to http://www.ebar.com/index.php?id=263725
Volume 20
Issue 5

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