Abstract Obituaries, as posthumous appraisals of lives, have been fixtures in English-language press for almost four hundred years since the London newsbooks published the first obituary in the early seventeenth century (Starck, 2006). Nowadays, the obituary pages become an important characteristic of any newspaper aspiring to be a publication of record. “In the English-speaking world,” observed David Bowman, the former editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald, “a newspaper of quality hardly seems complete these days without a regular obituary page.” (cited in Starck, 2004). In these pages, the obituary seeks to inform, enlighten, entertain and commemorate, and all in a tidy attractive package. Certainly it contains the most creative writing in journalism (Johnson, 2006, pp. 10). And yet, the ways in which obituaries are composed have not been closely studied. Hence, this paper attempts to look at the discourse organization of newspaper obituaries. Thirty obituaries published in the New York Times in June, 2009 constitute the sample of this study. The analysis of the small corpus of NYT obits found that NYT obituaries, like weight bearing walls, depend on certain structures to hold them together. Major elements that comprise NYT obits include attribution, abstract, and the biography of the departed. Although hard news story and NYT obits are two different types of news genre, the two types share common elements such as attribution and abstract. More tellingly, both genres are told in a cyclical fashion. Key words: Genre, hard news story 1. Introduction The obit page was once called the Siberia of journalism, the pasture where failing hacks get banished before being consigned to even more distant pasture (Conniff, in Smithsonian, 2003). Yet, since the mid-1880s, the “morgue” has gradually developed into the coolest part of a newspaper, opening up windows of the world that are often closed in journalism (Fergusson, in Wall Street Journal, 1996). Indeed, the obituary has been a fixture in English-language press for almost four hundred years since its first incarnation appeared in the London newspapers in early seventeenth century (Starck, 2006). Nowadays, 94 percent of American dailies publish obituaries for all area residents (Itule and Anderson, 1999, pp.164). A quality press is hardly complete without a regular obituary page these days (Bowman, in Starck, 2004). These obits, at its simple, are a source of human interest that offers “a private reality larger than that of front-page stories, of wars and earthquakes, economic booms and changes of government” (Fergusson, in Starck, 2004). At its best, obits are a form of literature that is “anecdotal, discursive, yet elegantly concise; learned, touching, and, in a kindly way, often extraordinarily funny” (The Economist, 1996). Certainly it contains the most creative writing in journalism (Johnson, 2006, pp. 10). And yet, the way in which obituaries are composed have not been closely studied. Thus, the present paper seeks to explore how obituaries, as a genre, are constructed and organized in systematic ways. What follows is an attempt to put down what previous works on relevant genres had informed the present study, how the study is conducted and what was found. In specific, it begins with an overview of theoretical background and the methodology of the study. Then, the results and findings of the study are presented. Last, the paper concluded with the limitations of the study and suggestion for future research. 2. Theoretical background of the study In explaining the knack for writing obituaries, Bill McDonald (2006), the current obituary editor of the New York Times, has observed: The best obit writers are natural storytellers, I think. They have to love making people come alive, as it were, through the use of narrative tension, rich detail and colorful anecdote. The obit page, after all, is a collection of stories, of people's lives, some well known, some obscure”. Storytelling, in other words, is part and parcel of obituary writing. The study of how obituaries are composed, accordingly, is, in a sense, the study of how narratives work. Indeed, narrative is present in a prodigious variety of genres, for people tend to apprehend and tell the world narrativly. As the psychologist Jerome Bruner proposed, it is a human propensity to organize events into memorable stories in order to make sense of the world (cited in Durant and Lambrou, 2009, pp. 34). Genres that have narrative elements include, for example, the lullabies parents sing to their children, causal conversation in day-to-day lives, news stories journalists tell, and the story of lives called obituaries (Berger, 1996, pp. 1). It is not surprising, therefore, that studies of these genres have at their core how narratives work. These include, inter alia, Labov and Waletzky’s personal experience narrative (1967, 1972); Rumelhart’s story grammars (1975); Martin and Rothery’s (1986) research into children’s writing in the school context; van Dijk’s news schemata (1988b); Bell’s model structure for news texts (1991, 1998); and Plum’s work (1993) on types of spoken narratives. Among these discourse theories, Labov and Waletzky’s framework had exerted such influence that it has been widely acknowledged as the paradigm for story analysis. Thus, the research review begins with a brief introduction of this model. 2.1 Labov and Waletzky’s (1967) personal experience narrative (PEN) One influential framework for analyzing how narratives work was developed by the sociolinguists Labov and Waletzky (1967). Initially aimed at the correlation between linguistic variation and the social characteristics of narrators, Labov and Waletzky asked their informants to recall danger of death and fight stories to elicit unconscious and vernacular speech. The analysis of the function served by individual clauses of the speech, however, revealed the common structure of personal story that they had not anticipated. A fully formed personal narrative, they found, includes six common elements and often roughly in the following order: abstract, orientation, complicating action, evaluation, resolution and coda. As the table 1 showed, each element has a particular function in relation to the narrative as a whole. In specific, the abstract summarize the central action and the point of the narrative; the orientation set the scenes by introducing the actors, time and location of the initial situation; the complication covers the unfolding of the event that drive the story and lead up to the climax; the evaluation establish the significance of the story and thus justify the audience’s attention; the resolution tells what finally happened; the coda wrap up the story and return the narrative to the present. Labov and Waletzky’s work on oral narratives had showed that connected talk is orderly and describable in terms of structure and function. Their work had exerted such influence that many works on discourse analysis apply it in their studies of how people produce and understand stories (e.g. Rumelhart’s story grammars, 1975; Mandler and Johnson, 1977; Fillmore, 1982; and de Beaugrande, 1982); or use it as a point of departure to study other narrative type genres (e.g. van Dijk’s news schemata (1988b); Bell’s model structure for news texts, 1991; 1998). Of these two models for news stories, Bell’s framework was drawn as the basis for the current study. An illustration of his model, thus, is given in the following section. Table 1. Labov and Waletzky’s (1967) narrative schema model Schema or stage Function 1 Abstract Signals what the story is about 2 Orientation Provides the who, what, and where of the story 3 Complicating action Provides what happened? The core narrative category 4 Evaluation Establish the significance of the story and thus justify audience’s attention 5 Resolution Provides the result of the events 6 Coda Signals the end of the whole story, and return from the time of the narrative to the present 2.2 Bell’s (1991) model structure for news text As a journalist and sociolinguist, Bell recognized that the news journalist write are, in essence, stories that have structures, viewpoints and directions. As such, journalists are storytellers of our age. This is reflected in the snatches of phrases in which newsroom business is conducted. A good journalist, for example, either “gets good stories” or “knew a good story”. A critical news editor asks “Is this really a story? Or “Where’s the story in this?” (Bell, 1991, pp. 147) However, instead of telling the news story in the chronicle order such as “Once upon a time…”, the news story often begins:”Fifteen people were injured today when a bus plunged…”. Based on the general framework for story analysis (i.e. Labov and Waletzky’s personal narrative, 1967) as well as Van Dijk’s news schemata (1988b), Bell put forward the model structure for news stories, specifying the categories required to describe news discourse. As the figure 2 shows, a hard news story generally consists of an abstract, attribution, and the story proper. In specific, the attribution specifies where the news story came from. It is usually indicated by agency credit and/or journalist’s byline, optionally plus place and time. The abstract is composed of the lead and a headline. The lead is the opening paragraphs of a news story and the news in microcosm. Like an hors d’ oeuvre to whet the readers’ appetite, the function of the lead is to tell the reader what the story is about in a crisp and attractive way. Thus, the lead begins the story from a newsworthy angle, with the remainder of the story also being view through this angle. Normally this is achieved by answering the five W questions (i.e. who, what, when, where, why and so what) in a nutshell. The headline, though appeared to be the ultimate abstract of the news, is in fact a last-minute addition written by subeditor to cut back the lead still further and thus a stand-alone unit. The body of a news story is the story proper. A story is made up of one or more episodes, which in turn consist of one or more events. The event contains major components such as actors, action, setting attribution, as well as additional elements like follow-up, commentary, and background. To recapitulate the events entails giving contextualized information (i.e. actors, action, setting attribution) as well as interpretation of the news (i.e. follow-up, commentary, and background). Follow-up covers reaction or consequence in the wake of the main action of an event. Commentary provides the journalist’s or news actors’ observations on the action. It may be in the form of explicit evaluation or expectation of how the situation could develop. It may present a context to compare the event with others. Background covers events prior to the current action. These previous events are further categorized into “history” and “previous episodes” by recency. 2.2.1 The difference between personal narrative and hard news story After the comparison of hard news stories and personal narratives, Bell pointed out that these two narrative type genres differ in three major aspects. First, unlike personal narrative, a news story normally does not have elements such as resolution or coda. This is because news is more like a serial ends in mid-air without clear-cut results. Besides, if the news does have results, they are much more likely to be in the lead rather than at the end of the story. Second, the function carried out by the abstract, orientation, and evaluation in personal narratives tends to concentrated in the lead. As a result, orientating and evaluative material tends to concentrate in the lead (Bell, 1991, pp. 154). Because the lead not only have to tell what the story is about but also tell it in such a way that foregrounds its significance, and in turn warrants the readers’ attention. Third, the order in which news stories are told is at odds with that of personal narratives. In specific, personal narrative is often told in chronicle order in which events occurred. A hard news story, by contrast, is normally arranged in descending order of importance. Thus, the news story moves backwards and forwards in time, presenting the most important fact or climax of the story, then the second most important information and so on. This structure of hard news story is variously called Inverted pyramid, installment method (Van Dijk, 1988b, p43), orbital structure (White, 1997). Though names differ, the notion at the core is the same: the leadline/lead dominates the news story, providing its focus or angle, and the subsequent satellites act to elaborate on, comment on or contextualize the various trends of information in the opening (i.e. the lead) (pp. 68). NEWS TEXT Attribution Source News agency Attribution Source Place Abstract Time Headline Story Episode 1 Lead Event 1 Journalist byline Actors Action Time Setting Follow-up Place Consequences Event n Commentary Background Previous episodes Reaction Context Episode n Evaluation History Expectations Figure 2. Bell’s (1998) discourse structure for news texts 3. Methodology The present study involves exploring the format of contemporary NYT obituaries. To this end, an analysis of the discourse structure of the NYT obits is carried out by using Bell’s (1991) model structure for new discourse. Thirty obituaries drew from the daily are analyzed to uncover the general discourse pattern of obituaries. The reason for employing Bell’s framework to analyze the structure of NYT obits lies in the allegiance of American obituaries to classic news values. As Slate, the Microsoft Corporation’s online magazine, pointed out, “the New York Times and most American newspapers treat obituaries primarily as news stories.” (cited in Starck, 2004). Therefore, the use of Bell’s framework for hard news stories would help to bring out the distinctive feature of NYT obituaries as well as substantiate the claims of NYT obituaries as a type of news stories in their own right. 3.1 Methodological issues in corpus construction In the course of compiling the corpus, the influence of the research question permeates nearly every phase of the process (McEnery, et al., 2006, pp. 72). To start with, the choice between off-the-peg corpus and bespoke corpus depends mostly upon the research question one intends to address and partly upon the availability of the relevant data. Having making sure that there is no ready-made corpora of contemporary NYT obituaries, the researcher decided to build such a corpus from scratch to analyze the discourse structure of NYT obits. After settling the issue of whether to build the corpus on our own, the next questions the corpus builders encounter are how large the corpus should be and how to make sure the representativeness of the corpus. The answer to these two questions, according to Meyer (2002), rests on the phenomenon one is investigating. For the greater the variation in the corpus text under study, the more samples and the larger the corpus are required to ensure representativeness and the validity of the data (cited in Flowerdew, 2008, pp. 25). Conversely, one could argue that the more common the feature one wish to investigate, the smaller the size of the corpus is required. (Flowerdew, 2008, pp. 25). The discourse structure of a genre or sub-genre, for instance, is one such feature since all texts from a genre or sub-genre tend to share similar pattern of discourse organization (Biber, et al., 2007, pp. 19). Hence, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the size of the corpus may not be such an issue for the current study, especially when consider the formulaic nature of contemporary obituaries (Johnson, 2006, pp. 31). 3.2 Sampling plan and corpus description When collecting the sample for media studies, the most pressing question is always the purpose of the project. The obvious reason is that the specific purpose of the project not only determines the selection of samples but also the size of the sample. Therefore, defining the purpose of the study is usually the first step in data collection that researcher must follow. To define the purpose of the project, decisions are required on three main areas: the specific genre of the media content, the media outlet that carries the content, and the output of the media outlet. The outlet refers to the media organizations carrying the content. The genre concerns the text categories of newspaper content (e.g., feature articles, general news) in which the researcher is interested. The output is here defined as the product of the media outlet and the time period to be covered. For the current study, the outlet at stake is the New York Times. The target genre is the obituary in the defined obituary column of daily newspapers. The output is the news obituaries of the New York Times in June, 2009. Although the daily under study runs news obituaries and death notice at the same page, the current study focused only on news obituaries, for death notice are not newsroom-produced texts. In specific, death notice is the paid advertisement contributed by the family or the funeral home. These ads are the province of classified advertising department, which operated independently of the news department. 4. Results and discussion The structure of the New York Times is illustrated by two tree diagrams. The first one is based on Bell’s framework for news discourse, showing similarities and differences between NYT obituaries and hard news stories. The second one is adapted from White’s structure of hard news stories, demonstrating that NYT obituaries are also orbital organized. Like weight bear walls, NYT obituaries depend on certain structures to hold them together. The analysis performed on the small corpus of New York Times obituaries found that, NYT obits seemed to have a common discourse structure. As the figure 3 showed, major elements comprised the NYT obits included the abstract, attribution of source of news, and the portrait of the subject. Attribution of where the news comes from was usually placed outside the main text of the obit and set in different typeface and size. The source of the news was often indicated by the journalist’s byline or, in the case when the obit is contributed by wire service, the agency’s credit and the place of the news. In a resemblance to hard news stories, an NYT obit always began the reportage with an abstract, telling in a nutshell what the news was about and why it justified readers’ attention. However, whereas the focus of a hard news story was often on the news event, an NYT obit had its angle trained primarily on the character and accomplishment of the departed. Thus, instead of answering what’s happened, an NYT obit seeks to answer in a nutshell what’s the legacy of the subject in its lead. It was also around this kernel of character and contributions that the remainder of the obit revolved. In specific, what followed the lead was always a recount of the subject’s important accomplishments along with anecdotes illustrating the character of the subject. Then, more background information of the subjects was offered and told in a chronology order. Information contained typically include: the upbringing, history of education, military service (for male subject), publications, career, marriage, honor, awards, and office held. Last, the coda, by reiterating the legacy of the departed (i.e. accomplishments and offspring), wrapped up the reportage in a full circle by relating back to the point raised in the lead. As such, at every turn, an NYT obit, akin to a hard news story, was orbital organized, in which the lead, as the kernel, was surrounded by several satellites elaborating and contextualizing the lead, adding details to the lead and flesh them out. Occasionally, an NYT obit also provided information of memorial arrangements set up to remember the subject. NYT Obits Attribution Source News agency Place Abstract Portrait Time Headline Lead Character & Background accomplishment Journalist byline Survivor lists Actors Coda Legacy Setting Attribution Time Place Age Source Legacy Memorial activity Figure 3. The discourse structure of NYT obituaries Figure 4. Orbital structure of NYT obituary 5. Findings and suggestion As a preliminary analysis of the format of contemporary obituaries in the New York Times, the study has revealed possible regularities in the construction of NYT obituaries. It is recognized, however, the present research is subjected to certain limitations. In particular, the research examines only one newspaper publication. The finding of the paper, as a result, may or may not be able to be applied to other quality newspapers in the English-speaking countries. Second, the limited size and time span of the sample also indicates that the finding of the paper is suggestive rather than definitive. 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