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Writing Obituaries Making a living writing about the dead.

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1 Writing Obituaries Making a living writing about the dead

2 What is an obituary? “You may think obituaries are just a depressing public service that journalists provide for morbid old readers….But these mini-biographies are usually read more closely, and by more people, than any other part of the paper. They tell stories. They touch hearts. They honor and inspire.” Harrower, p. 96

3 Who reads obituaries? Family of the deceased Curious Citizens & Biography Lovers Editors Genealogists, archivists and historians Baranick, “About Writing Obituaries”

4 Basics of Obituary Writing Read these two pages from Harrower’s “Inside Reporting” to learn the basics of obituary writing. Writing Obituaries Harrower, p

5 Research Required You are telling the story of a life, but the expert (the deceased) is not available. The information you need will depend on the type of obituary you are writing.

6 Types of Obituaries (a.k.a. Obits) Death NoticeNews StoryFeature AdvanceAppreciationReporter Written NewsU Course: On the Beat: Writing Obituaries

7 Death Notice An obituary prepared and paid for by the deceased’s relatives or funeral directors. It is handled by the newspaper’s advertising department. Ex: Return to Types of Obituaries NewsU Course: On the Beat: Writing Obituaries

8 News Story This covers a person if your audience would be shocked to learn of his or her death, or the death involved crime or a public health concern. This is news! Death of Greg Halman Return to Types of Obituaries NewsU Course: On the Beat: Writing Obituaries

9 Feature This is an in-depth profile of the dearly departed for which the reporter uses many sources and resources. Read about the death of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s mother.Hillary Rodham Clinton’s mother Return to Types of Obituaries NewsU Course: On the Beat: Writing Obituaries

10 Advance A reporter has already written an obituary for a newsmaker before the newsmaker dies. Senator Edward Kennedy’s anticipated death from a brain tumor allowed NY Times reporters to prepare a lengthy obituary in advance* to run once his death was announced.a lengthy obituary in advance * Note all the related pieces accompanying the obituary. NewsU Course: On the Beat: Writing Obituaries

11 How far in advance are some obits written? Newspapers prepare advance obits for subjects who are: 1.so famous that the paper would be embarrassed not to have an immediate package in the event of an untimely death 2.old or sick 3."at risk"—i.e., a drug addict or a stunt biker. Beam Return to Types of Obituaries

12 Appreciation This type of obituary is also considered a tribute, column, editorial or personal memoir and in most cases is a follow-up or sidebar. Appreciation obituary for Amy Winehouse Return to Types of Obituaries NewsU Course: On the Beat: Writing Obituaries

13 Reporter Written An obituary written by the editorial staff on deadline. Reporter-written obituary Reporter-written obituary (based on information provided by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland) for Rev. Anthony W. Zepp Return to Types of Obituaries NewsU Course: On the Beat: Writing Obituaries

14 Essential information Name Identification Age Day/Place of death Cause of death Birth date/Birthplace Background Survivors Funeral/Burial Information Harrower, p. 96

15 Gathering information – Beyond Basics Last city of residence and other places the deceased had called home Education Military background Work history Volunteer service, memberships, awards and honors, hobbies and interests Surviving relatives grouped by family with maiden names and where they live Deceased relatives and when they died Birth name of spouse Requests for memorial donations, along with mailing addresses Name and phone number of funeral home or cremation society Phone numbers where family can be reached

16 Digging Deeper When you interview family, friends, and colleagues, listen for threads that tie together the personal and the professional. Be sure to ask questions to get at the whole picture. The decedent loved music. Did they play an instrument? How was their passion demonstrated? What was widely known and not-so-widely known?

17 Identifying Themes Is there a common element that runs through all of a person’s interests? Are there poignant stories told that all revolve around the same feature of a person’s life or personality? How do you summarize a life and pin moments to something central?

18 Writing an Advance Obituary Your task is to write an advance obituary by choosing someone famous who fits the criteria for an Advance. Additional information will be provided in class. You will proceed by collecting information in the manner of a Feature – in which you use many sources and resources. First, you’ll need to learn more….

19 Learn More Learn more about obituary writing by taking the News U On the Beat: Writing Obituaries course.On the Beat: Writing Obituaries Please submit a course report to your teacher by xx/xx.

20 Your Job as an Obit Writer 1.Your “subject” approved by your teacher by xx/xx 2.Gather information & select a package piece to accompany the Advance Obit 3.Turn in your list of sources by xx/xx 4.First draft due xx/xx 5.After workshopping with peers and conferencing with your teacher, you will be ready to turn in the final draft by xx/xx

21 References Baranick, A. (n.d.). On the beat: writing obituaries. Poynter News University. Retrieved from Beam, C. (2009, August 27 ). Early Deadlines. Retrieved from: dlines.html dlines.html Clark, R. P. (2011, March 3). Telling the truth in obits. Retrieved from tools/78291/telling-the-truth-in-obits/ tools/78291/telling-the-truth-in-obits/ Harrower, T. (2010). Inside reporting: a practical guide to the craft of journalism. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp ; Outing, S. (2011, March 3) Let’s breath some new life into obituaries. Retrieved from: life-into-obituaries/http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/71465/lets-breathe-some-new- life-into-obituaries/ Reviving obituaries, death notices before it's too late. (2010, April 9). Retrieved from References, p. 1

22 References Scanlon, C. (2003, April 9). Summing up a life: meeting the obituary’s challenge. Retrieved from storytelling/chip-on-your-shoulder/9699/summing-up-a-life-meeting-the- obituarys-challenge/http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering- storytelling/chip-on-your-shoulder/9699/summing-up-a-life-meeting-the- obituarys-challenge/ Society of professional obituary writers. (Accessed 2011 November 8). Retrieved from Starkey, Shawn M. "Obits: A Lasting Tribute / One of the Most Important Things We Do." References, p. 2


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