Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dying Words Reach A New Audience

Jeff Schmalz, The New York Times reporter who found his calling in writing about HIV and AIDS, is the subject of a new book and radio documentary titled “Dying Words.” Before Schmalz died in 1993 of complications of the disease, the 39-year-old journalist helped to change how the paper of record viewed gay people.

Between Nov. 15, 2015 and Jan. 10, 2016, the documentary will air on NPR affiliate stations across the U.S. Here is a list of locations and air dates. Or click below to listen to “Dying Words" now.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Attn: Someone Has Died

"It is a cruel thing, this wheel of obituary fortune. You can never be assured that your passage to eternal bliss will get the attention it deserves." --Thomas Vinciguerra

Sunday, September 20, 2015

RIP Leonard Neft

Leonard Neft, a former obituary writer for the San Jose Mercury News, was identified this week as the third victim of a wildfire tearing through Northern California. He was 69.

In 1983, Neft told the Mercury News' Sunday magazine that despite tradition, obits shouldn't be reserved for famous people.

"I feel I can do an obit on a housewife who's never done anything," Neft said in the article. "It's a challenge to find out what people did that was interesting in their lives."

FMI: Click here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Escaping to the death beat

What prompted Steve Miller to become an obituary writer? The September 11th terrorist attacks. In fact, he was in the South Tower working as a Wall Street technologist that day. Here’s his story.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Heather Lende Finds the Good

Two authors, one great interview in Salon.com. Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat ...etc., interviews Heather Lende about her newest book, Find The Good. Both women are standouts in the obits world. Do yourself a favor and read the interview. Then read the book.

Click here for the interview.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What life is like for the person who writes death notices

In the past 15 years, many newspapers have laid off their obituary writers, transferred these experienced journalists to other beats or pushed them out of the business with early retirement demands and buyouts. Why pay a reporter to write a fair and balanced story about someone's life when the family will pay money -- often a lot of money -- for a death notice?

But did you know that the person in the classified department who's paid to type those profitable ads also faces backlash about the publication's cash flow problems? As Adam Matcho noted in this essay for XOJane:

[My boss] asked if deaths were down this year in Westmoreland County, because revenue is down, and is that maybe something I would want to look into? He wanted me to email him back.

My boss and I, we’ve gone rounds on this before. He understands I am more concerned about not transposing two letters in one of those crazy last names from Polish Hill than how much money the paper makes. He understands people have to die for this department to make money. He understands I do not consider myself a salesperson. I consider myself an aide capable of typing 70 words per minute, a guide for people who are raw; people who react emotionally and hold fiercely to what they have left of the dead.

Click here to read the rest of Matcho's story.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The power of the last word

"Those who write about the dead face a similar conundrum: not only whether but how we should portray them. There seems to be an unspoken code, but it’s vague, nothing more than an urging to tread carefully. The code, if it exists at all, is an acknowledgment that those who write about the dead wield tremendous power—power that is largely uncontested. The dead can’t call up and contradict you; they can offer no alternate story. There is only interpretation and the potential to mangle. The people who write about the dead are playing with the only thing the dead have left—the stories we tell about them." --Laura Smith, The Paris Review

What is your code?