Saturday, October 08, 2005

more on the poynter piece

The proper response to the Denver papers' statement that, due to the volume of requests, "the editorial departments cannot guarantee publication of a news obituary," shouldn't be "Wrong!" It should be "Duh!"

Reporters like me, who regularly cover the death beat, are somewhat bewildered that a distinguished journalist like Steve Outing thinks that obituaries are supposed to "honor" the dead.

Or that everyone should be "commemorated properly."

Or that we obit writers are supposed to ease the pain of the grieving family. Although many of us do serve as surrogate therapists, when we interview the bereaved.

It's a view commonly held by bereaved relatives and by readers in general that obituaries are tributes. They need to understand that an obituary written by a reporter is not the same thing as a eulogy. It's a news story. It's not designed to honor the deceased. Obituaries shouldn't be platforms from which to praise or to trash the recently departed. Like the obituary's more prestigious colleagues - the news stories that dominate the front page and sometimes win Pulitzers for their authors - obit articles should be fair, balanced, accurate and aimed at providing information to readers. They should not be love fests.

Many newspapers don't run reporter-written obits every day. Those are the papers that write obits only for prominent people.

Those of us, who write for papers that run at least one reporter-written obit a day, know that we're not going to have a big-time stiff on our plate every day. Most days, we try to choose subjects, whose stories will be interesting to our readers.

Outing did get lucky when the lovely and talented Claire Martin took an interest in his dad's story. I'm sure she had several other candidates vying for her attention and the allotted space for "A Colorado Life."

The editor, who told Outing that it wasn't likely that his dad would get an obit, could have conveyed the same message without being so cold.

At The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), I give obit-seekers a reality check by saying:
That we generally run only one or two obits a day out of a dozen or more candidates.
That even if we write the obit, we can't guarantee when or whether it will run.
That we recommend a paid death notice be placed to be certain the person's death and funeral service arrangements are announced in a timely manner.
That our editors expect us to write about movers, shakers and newsmakers first.
That we have only a small window of time for publishing their loved one's obit.

Then I tell them to submit information about their loved ones anyway, because you never know. We just might choose to write an obit for the dearly departed.

I give them all the guidance I can. I'm on their side. I want them to succeed in their obit quest. I want a good story. It's important to let them know that they have done all that they could to honor their loved ones.

Outing's centerpiece also is under discussion at:
http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=89873

2 comments:

Trudi Hahn said...

Alana, about the Outing piece at Poynter:
What is the reason the first half of your posting, the part with the pungent comments, was left out of the Poynter version of the posting?

Alana Baranick said...

i didn't put the full comment on the poynter site because is was redundant, trudi.

you already said something similar in your poynter comment. and amy and claire added their views on this blog (and maybe poynter, i'm not sure).

i saw no need to go long on poynter, when i could say everything here.

i referred poynter readers to this blog, so outing and other interested parties could read everything we had to say.

but wait. there's more. i'll be filing another blog on this subject in a few minutes.

stay tuned.