I’m willing to bet that you haven’t thought much about obituary writing.  The topic often sounds morbid and off-putting to my journalism students for several reasons.  The obvious one is that it doesn’t sound very fun.  You are writing about a sad event, so people think.  And students are often terrified of having to contact the family of the deceased.  The biggest barrier is that they feel they will be intrusive. But actually, it’s often deeply meaningful for the family to be able to talk about their loved one’s life.

And that’s the key:  The obit writer is writing about life, not death.  And while obits have always focused on what the dead person did while alive, obits are becoming less formulaic and well, more alive, more like other profiles.  In fact, the best obits depict what a valuable, interesting life the person had, whether he or she was famous or not.

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers says its goal for obit writers to regard writing obituaries as “once-in-a-lifetime stories that should be researched, reported and penned with as much care and attention as any other newsroom assignment.”  Sounds right to me.

Here are some other interesting links:
Obit Magazine

Blog of Death–tons of links here to other obit compilations


About Nancy Kaplan-Biegel

I am the journalism program coordinator at Skyline College in San Bruno, CA, as well as the adviser to The Skyline View.

One thought on “

  1. Hmm…I’m a little sad that we’re not using our group site more. I’m not trying to make us do a lot more work (so don’t get grumpy fellow 121 students!) but seeing as how we’re supposed to be all up on Web 2.0, we’re kind of lagging. Also, I do enjoy Nancy’s efforts with her posts (so don’t think we’re not reading them Nancy!) and I want her to keep them up. To that end, I’m making a public vow here in this comment to start commenting more on posts in this blog. 🙂

    Oh, and to stay on topic and be all business-class oriented…writing obits are tough. I don’t think it’s morbid but sifting through a person’s life to figure out what’s “most” important is a hard thing. As hard as it can be doing an interview or feature piece with a living person, at least there is a feedback loop. With the deceased…we kind of only have one shot to do it right.

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