The Obituary Guide - Resources and Links


There are a number of places where one can read well-written obituaries and other sources to assist those writing them on their own. As well, the Internet is always expanding the resources available. 

Obituaries change in their role and style as society changes. I remember my grandmother showing me the obituary of her father, who died in the 19th century in Ireland. She and her sisters were not listed as surviving members of the family – only the boys were listed in obituaries at that time. Of course, obituaries are much more inclusive now. But researchers point out that even in news obituaries today, women are the subject in only one out of four. (Read more.)

Newspapers have always published the obituaries of the rich and famous. A more recent trend is to include the lives of ordinary people as well. Jim Nicholson, a reporter the Philadelphia Daily News, was one of those who popularized the common person obituary. In the 1980s, he started writing feature obituaries of ordinary people chosen at random. Everyday people, it turns out, can be written about in an interesting way. Concluded Nicholson about his style of interviewing: “There aren’t any boring people, there are just boring questions.” 

Other practitioners include Alana Baranick of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News, and Stephen Miller of the New York Sun. Those three have co-written a book for other journalists: Life on the Death Beat.

Lives Lived in The Globe and Mail profiles the obituaries of regular people, written by a friend or relative. Recently Maclean’s began to feature the obituary of an ordinary person in each issue. Appearing on the last page of the magazine, it is appropriately titled The End.  A collection of 42 of Jim Sheeler's obituaries have been published as an interesting book, Obit. (Read the review.)  

Reading these professionally written obituaries can be appreciated in their own right, and can be a learning experience for those looking to write their own.

Obituaries continue to evolve. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Times began to publish Portraits of Grief. These short biographical sketches were a way to remember the event through the individual victims. After the Virginia Tech shootings in April, 2007, the Internet social networking site Facebook came to prominence as the premier way that college students now grieve. (Read the article "Facebook: A New Way to Mourn?")

How about a video obituary? The New York Times is already doing this. The day after humor columnist Art Buchwald died on January 17, 2007, visitors could watch his video obituary on the newspaper’s website. The humorist himself was in the video, and - for once - was not joking when he said, "Hi. I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died!"
          
A similar tribute was done with Canadian journalist June Callwood. She recorded an interview with the CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos just days before she died. This an inspiring look at an extraordinary person. (Watch the interview.)

Newspapers still have the dominant place as the publishers of obituaries. There isn’t (at least not yet) an Obituary section in Craigslist, for example. Journalist Steve Outing, however, after his frustrations with conventional newspaper options following the death of his own father, has suggested a whole “new business model” for newspapers. These new formats  would “combine the strengths of print, the Internet, and ‘citizen journalism.’” (Read the article "Let's Breathe Some New Life Into Obituaries.")

These new models are emerging, and I hope this website can help those who would like to participate. Newspapers are expanding their coverage by linking to online partners such as Legacy.com, Remembering.ca, or Obituaries Today. These are other sources, such as those provided by funeral homes, that offer people the chance to send online condolences, and supplement traditional written obituaries with pictures and videos. Some funeral homes even broadcast services on the Internet to enable those who can't travel to attend to be able to view the event.

The Internet is opening up whole new avenues for families and friends to remember those who have died. Anyone can do their own thing, right now. Free of charge, anyone can set up a blog which could serve as a remembrance website with an invitation for others to add their comments. Observations, pictures and videos of a life can be submitted to social networking sites such as Myspace, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

Resources and Links:

WEBSITES

Blog of Death  This website features the obituaries of the famous, as well as links to many other sites about the subject.

Death Beat   "Many journalists view obituary writing as a dead-end job, even though surveys show obits to be among the most widely read and enduring stories in the newspaper," says Alana Baranick about her work.

Eons  The website for Baby Boomers. In the Obits section, you can read the obituaries of the famous, place an alert to be notified when someone you are interested in dies, create a tribute to a loved one who has died (including a search of archives going back to 1937), and check out other resources.

Obit Page  "The lure of the obituary both as history and as literary art form" is the focus here. Carolyn Gilbert also organizes an association and annual journalists conference on obituary writing.

WRITING SERVICES


The Obituarian  This website offers a professional obituary writing service.

Obituary Writers  Larken Bradley is the obituary writer for a weekly newspaper in California and offers a professional obituary writing service.

Specialty Writer  Christine Moffa offers a specialty writing service for personalized obituaries, life stories, and biographies.

BOOKS

Amazon.com's Obituary Bookshelf  Search results of Amazon.com for obituary.

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries  By Marilyn Johnson. "Fascinating book about the art, history and subculture of obituary writing," says The New York Times. (Read the review.)

Every Stone a Story: Manitoba’s Buried History  By Charles Brawn and Dale Brawn. The Brawns tell the stories of dozens of fascinating Manitobans. Each story features a photo of the person’s headstone. (Read the review.)

Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers  By Alana Baranick, Jim Sheeler, and Stephen Miller. Good examples and advice for working journalists from three experienced in the field.

Obit:  Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives  By Jim Sheeler. "Obit would be a great book for anyone who delights in accounts illuminating the human condition."   (Read the review.)

OTHER SOURCES

Obit Magazine  "Revealing Lives" is the theme of this new website and print magazine.





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