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Patricia Sullivan

At the end of a phone call this morning, the caller said she had one more question. "Do you have any openings?" she asked. " I've been reading the obits since my mother got sick, knowing that I'd have to write something for an obit, and I'm thinking I'd like to be an obits writer."

Hmmm. Well, we hire obit reporters the same way we hire any other news reporters -- you have to have significant journalism experience to get in the door. Expect a lot of competition; the newspaper industry is not in such great shape these days so a lot of out-of-work reporters are looking for jobs, too.


If you are a college student, you can try for an internship. If you're already a working journalist, break some news or develop a specialty, and write well enough to get noticed. If you're neither, it's going to be awfully hard to break into print.

There are a lot of blogs and web sites about obituaries, but the thing that makes newspaper obits more valuable is mass distribution in a particular region, and the paper's commitment to actually research what families say -- and don't say -- when they send information to us. It's amazing how often families pretend there weren't divorces, criminal charges or public criticisms of a person's work during his/her lifetime.

By Patricia Sullivan |  November 19, 2007; 4:37 PM ET  | Category:  Patricia Sullivan
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I paid for my university education, in part, through writing obituaries for the local papers here in Alberta. I worked freelance, though, and many of my friends thought my choice of topic was unusually morbid. Of course, I was also working at the time as a diener (autopsy assistant) at the local hospital, so maybe their worries weren't too exaggerated.

Fortunately, my two jobs never coincided; all I have remaining from the second job is an unwarranted sense of outrage when an obituary writer gets a cause of death wrong. Someday I'm hoping to get someone at the Herald to understand that colon cancer doesn't magically become lung cancer just because it spreads to the lungs, and that it is a factual error to call it so. But no...

Posted by: Charlene | November 25, 2007 5:41 PM

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