Facts, changes and memory lanes

This is another one of the articles I write for my participation in the contest that Flacara, pranzuldincaserola and PortalHR have launched, and the topic of the second week’s challenge had me stumped for a while.  For any blogger, balancing the incorporation of content that’s not necessarily germane to his subject matter into a niche blog is difficult. You want to rise to the challenge, monetize your blog somehow, take advantage of your thought leadership, if you have any, but you also need to stay true to your point of view.

However, this challenge from Flacara made me realize that perhaps my POW needs softening, it’s too clinical and impersonal. What sparked that thought?

An article in Flacara’s 100 years column about the death of I.L. Caragiale, possibly my favorite of all Romanian writers, has made me remember college, and learning about obituaries as a form of news writing that was essential to a journalist’s career.  I never did embark upon a career as a journalist, as I always leaned more towards opinion than fact, but the lessons of those early courses in journalism, including obit writing, helped me later to compose profiles and bios and try to make all sorts of people come to life on a report page or web screen.

Nowadays, obituaries are no longer as important. The only people that still get them regularly are celebs. 100 years ago, a local merchant would have had his obituary in the paper, chronicling his life, his achievements, memorializing his death, in the same way that Caragiale had an obit in Flacara. In the US, where the obit flourished, it is now almost killed by the globalization of the media, which is stripping it of local relevance.

One writer  says:

Once, obituaries were uniquely the products of newsrooms, summaries of ordinary lives and deaths that tested the accuracy of cub reporters and the patience of news clerks. Destined to be clipped and tucked into family Bibles or sent off to insurance offices to prove that a soul had passed on, they were often a newspaper’s doff of the hat to a departed subscriber. But now the friendly local obit writer is more likely to work in the classified ad department than in the newsroom. And it may be sales clerks, not news clerks, who write up the brief details of a person’s life and death, charging by the line.  Many budget-conscious dailies say they no longer have the staff or space for complimentary obituaries of non-newsworthy folks.

The Death of the Free Obit by Judith Sheppard

Fortunately, newsworthy folks such as Caragiale still get their obits. And nowadays, to prevent issues such as Flacara’s, when the eulogy had to be written in haste because of printing deadlines,  they are written in advance. In 100 years, we have learned that to create a lasting memorial to somebody’s life, you cannot wait until it is ended and you have to report on it. That makes for incomplete jorunalism, and that is my gripe wth Flacara’s article.

Traditionally, an obituary or  even a less formalized announcement of someone’s death follows some basic format guidelines.

It’s written as your basic news story, with the traditional five W’s and the H lead. Therefore, in the first paragraph (35 words, the rules say) it should tell you

  • Who died
  • What happened (essentially, that the person passed away)
  • Where the person died
  • When they died
  • Why or how they died

Normally the who of an obituary’s lead qualifies the person, explaining who they were, what made them important or interesting enough to write about. The what(the fact that they dies) includes the age at which it happened.  The rest of the obituary gives a brief chronological account of the person’s life, again with the emphasis on what made the person interesting, perhaps with quotes about the deceased from those who knew him and witnessed what made him or her extraordinary.

There are of course variations in the format, but on thing it always does is celebrate the person’s life. I am missing that in Flacara’s coverage of this extraordinary person’s passing. I would have wanted to know how his contemporaries viewed his life, captured in that moment, not later, when they’ve had time for reflection and for understanding Caragiale’s impact upon the history of Romanian literature.

Nevertheless, as it was meant to do, the reprise of the hundred year old article nowadays is a walk down memory lane. The collective memory of Romanian journalism, and my personal memories as a young student of writing.

1 Comment

Filed under Communication, Personal

One response to “Facts, changes and memory lanes

  1. CG

    I just ran across the following article by a long term obit writer. An incredible testimony to life’s greatness, and the details that make us people.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41579-2005Jan1.html

    “We wrote the obligatory obituaries of world leaders and celebrities. But mainly we wrote about ordinary people, the rank-and-file bureaucrats and businessmen, doctors, nurses, teachers, letter carriers, plumbers, taxi drivers, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, most of whom had never had their name in a newspaper. They were the people who kept the social machinery running. Without them, there would be no civilization. I liked to call them the real people. They deserved an obituary in The Washington Post. There were gems and treasures among them, and real heroes who survived hell-on-earth experiences, recovered and returned to society, wanting no more than the love of family and friends and the chance to make a quiet contribution.”

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