Friday, January 13, 2006

The First Rule of Obit Writing

Rule No. 1: Make sure they're dead.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier printed a story on Jan. 4, 2006, about a police report that a local teenager, whose paid obituary had been published in the paper, was seen having a burger at a Happy Chef restaurant a week after his reported demise.

"We have confirmed [the teen] is not deceased," [the police captain] said. "He is alive and well and breathing."

Unfortunately, the people responsible for printing the obit did not confirm that the kid wasn't breathing.

The obit, which had been dropped off at the paper for publication by - depending on which report you read - the teen's father, stepfather or mother's boyfriend, failed to list a funeral home. It gave an incorrect name for the local cemetery where the kid was supposed to have been buried and, shocker of all shockers, directed that memorial donations be made to the family.

The follow-up story on Jan. 5 says that police are investigating the fake memorial donations.

The teen's mom explains that it's all a matter of miscommunication. She says she was joking when she told her husband/boyfriend that her child had died. Her man took it upon himself to place the obit, which conveniently asked for money to be sent to the supposedly grieving mom.

This feels wrong on so many levels. but I'll limit my observations to the placement of the obit.

Because of the false obituary, the Courier will now require that any death notice or obituary submitted directly by a family member or friend to be verified with official documentation or the name of a funeral home or organization responsible for the services, the story says. Neither the death notice nor the obituary will be published until that information has been provided, under the policy.

This proof-of-death policy should be the rule at every newspaper.

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