Writing Obituaries A Timeless Art Is the obituary page the best read page in the newspaper? What is the value of a well-written obituary? What is the main requirement of any obituary? Three types of obituary writing Standard form News story Obit “feature” Standard obituary form Contains the basic elements of any news lead. 5 W’s and H. Second-day lead More basic elements Time and date of services Time and place of burial Time and place of visitation Date and place of birth ACCURACY Occupation Memberships Achievements Survivors More elements Names of parents (optional) Pallbearers Preceded in death Date and place of marriage (optional) Memorials Information to check and double-check Confirm spellings of names Check addresses. Compare what’s given to city directory or phonebook Check birth date, age. Do the math. Verify with funeral home director any obit faxed or called in to the newspaper. Check newspaper library for stories. Language choices Avoid euphemisms, such as loved ones, passed away or dearly beloved. Be careful when listing cause and circumstances of death One dies unexpectedly, not suddenly. One dies apparently of of a heart attack, not of an apparent heart attack One dies following an operation, not as a result of an operation. Injuries are suffered, not received. More word choices Learn the proper religious terms Catholics celebrate Mass Jews worship in synagogues or temples Episcopal priests are known as rectors Use your AP Stylebook Know your newspaper’s policy and style. Stylebook tips Survived by wife, not widow Stepson, half-brother Newspaper Policy Survivors – who gets listed?? Pets Fiances Partners Live-in companions Grandchildren (by name) Brothers, sisters (by name) Newspaper Policy In lieu of flowers Who decides what goes in? Reprints if mistakes? Calling families if mistake is made Charging Divorced spouses Addresses for security/safety Suicide Creating the obituary Information comes from funeral home director on standard form. Information typed in according to newspaper’s policies. Product is “dry biography.” Practice writing an obituary from a standard funeral home form. Writing obituaries When a death occurs in conjunction with a news event. Gathering information Funeral home form Newspaper Other sources Newspaper library Interviews with family, friends From the funeral home Get pictures Resolve conflicting information Ask questions when funeral director calls in or when you confirm that an obit has been received from the funeral home. From the newspaper Check funeral notices for names in the news or for interesting tidbits that might make that person’s story interesting to the readers. From the newspaper library Check past clips that include the deceased. Some clips may include information or activities not on the obit form. Quotes might yield glimpse of person’s personality. Find names of friends or co-workers. From family, friends Don’t be afraid to make the call. Many times family members welcome talking about a loved one. Don’t ask, “How do you feel?” Even with someone you know, good reporting can make a story better. Writing Obituaries Another angle on a feature story An obit “feature” In small communities, an obit feature most likely will be written only about public figures. Who are public figures? Anyone is worth a well-reported, accurate obit “feature.” Purpose A profile Capture the “essence” of the person: how did he/she live his/her life? Bringing the deceased to life one last time. Techniques to use Feature telling techniques Details, senses Anecdotes Set scenes Quotes that show a window into the personality. Ask, “How would he/she like to be remembered?” If public figure Include the cause of death – even if it could be considered controversial. Decide the worth of embarrassing information. How long ago did it happen? What does it add to the story? Be aware of newspaper policy. If not, consider your options Run obit that leaves out embarrassing information and cuase of death. If circumstances merit story, then run story separately from obit. Include embarrassing details and cause in obit. Include embarrassing details and cause only for a public figure. Other options Put a limit on how far back in a person’s life to include derogatory information (convictions). Print everything newsworthy about public figures. Print everything newsworthy about anyone. Trends Online obituaries – popular feature. Sometimes just print short record with names and service times. Why? Final check Correct? Complete? Check sources? Style? Policy?