Writing Obituaries

Writing Obituaries
A Timeless Art
Is the obituary page
the best read page
in the newspaper?
What is the value of
a well-written
What is the main
requirement of any
Three types of obituary
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
Time and
place of
Time and
place of
Date and
place of birth
Memberships Achievements
More elements
Names of
Preceded in
Date and
place of
Information to check and
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
 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
Stylebook tips
Survived by wife, not widow
 Stepson, half-brother
Newspaper Policy
Survivors – who gets listed??
 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
 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.”
A profile
 Capture the “essence” of the
person: how did he/she live his/her
 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
 Ask, “How would he/she like to be
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
 Be aware of newspaper policy.
If not, consider your
Run obit that leaves out
embarrassing information and cuase
of death. If circumstances merit
story, then run story separately from
 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
Online obituaries – popular feature.
Sometimes just print short record
with names and service times.
 Why?
Final check
 Complete?
 Check sources?
 Style?
 Policy?