Thursday, May 31, 2007

Obit for a newsroom colleague

Gayle Ronan Sims had the task and the privilege of writing the obituary for fellow Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Marc Schogol, whose story ran in that newspaper on May 27, 2007.

Gayle wrote what appears to be personal recollections of the longtime Inquirer master word craftsman and role model, who died of leukemia at age 58.

She writes: In a business filled with large and often fragile egos, Mr. Schogol could be counted on to handle the most mundane assignments with the same enthusiasm and craft he brought to the biggest stories. He was a selfless colleague who enjoyed helping other reporters shape their work.

She includes standard obit elements - his work history, his writings and comments from editors, folks he interviewed and his family. She also paints an affectionate portrait that no doubt is recognizable to friends in the newsroom and to the public:

Mr. Schogol never took himself too seriously. He is remembered for his gentle eyes and shock of unruly hair - and for padding around the newsroom in stocking feet.

He confessed to being the bearded middle-age man at the mall who took money for answering consumer surveys while his wife shopped.

I especially like the quote in which Inquirer reporter Elizabeth Duff shares her first impressions of Schogol from 1974:

"I saw this new guy in blue jeans, a work shirt and long hair," she said. "I thought he must be a copy boy. I introduced myself and he said, 'I'm a reporter.' I was drawn to him because of his kindness and talent."

Nicely done, Gayle.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

9th Great Obituary Writers Conference panelists and program

The Numbered Greats are always the highlight of the year for obituary writers and enthusiasts. We make our reservations and pay registration fees often without knowing who will be making presentations or what their topics will be.

The fact is, we love getting together with our fellow grimsters. The Great Obituary Writers confabs are more like class reunions than structured seminars.

Speakers confirmed for the 9th Great Obituary Writers Conference, which will be held June 14-16, 2007, in Alfred, N.Y., include Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News, Adam Bernstein of the Washington Post, Gayle Ronan Sims of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Joan Harvey of the Oregonian, Robert Chaundy of the BBC, Nigerian journalist Betty Abah, author Marilyn Johnson, Andrew Losowsky, a British-by-birth technical writer and obit expert who lives in Spain, and Dave Snyder of the Alfred Sun who is co-hosting the conference with International Association of Obituarists and conference founder Carolyn Gilbert.

I don't know exactly what they'll be talking about, but I don't care. I know all of them, and I'm sure they'll share information that is worthwhile, informative and, most likely, entertaining. More panelists may be added to the program before it takes place.

I welcome the panelists to post some info about their topics, either as a comment to this posting or as a new post. If you cannot or don't want to post it personally, please email me at with the information and I'll post it for you.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Questions About Invisible Colleagues

As the U.S. military death toll rises in Iraq, I know without a doubt that somewhere in America there is a city editor planning to publish a new obit tomorrow. Reporters are making calls to grieving family members and friends, and writing up the final facts of a soldier's war-shortened life.

The number of Iraqi civilian casualties is less certain. The Iraq Body Count Website puts the maximum death toll by military intervention in Iraq at just over 70,000. That number doesn't include the ordinary deaths of every day life (disease, homicide, suicide, accident, etc.)

Which makes me wonder...are there obituary writers working in Iraq? If so, how do they choose which subjects to profile? How do they find sources in a war zone? And can they write unbiased obits and have them published?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Dead End Job

Dead End Job

A rather sweet short movie (with an abrupt ending - you have been warned) about an obituary writer with a hidden source. Well worth watching if you have 20 minutes spare. Should we show this at the conference?