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Brits' Bad Behavior

Patricia Sullivan

My old colleague, Jim Ledbetter, did a nice little piece for Slate on how he sees obits after two years in London. He thinks the English versions are just "too frank, too judgmental, too, well ... mean" for American newspapers. (He's right.)

Timothy Noah also opined a few years ago on the infuriating trend of replacing obits with paid death notices. I can't say why Lakeland,Fla. did it, but I vividly remember when it happened at a small paper where I worked years ago -- it was simple, out-and-out greed by a publisher, who asked why a newsroom would write something for free when he could get money from someone who wanted it printed. And suddenly, the funny, quirky, fascinating obits (written by a clerk with no journalism training and the lowest-paid person on staff, btw) vanished.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  June 6, 2008; 11:11 AM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  
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Comments

I'm always amazed, and amused, that only saints pass on. Surely every one of the people who turn their toes up can't be charming and as pure as the driven snow. Obits are written with the help of family members who think their kinfolk led spotless lives. I once worked with a cantankerous old poop who eventually gave me ulcers. When he died (finally) they had a memorial service for him in a high school auditorium, regaling attendees with his quirks, habits, and philanthropic contributions to society. Needless to say, I didn't attend.

There's a quip that goes something like: You should say nothing but good about the dead and he's dead. Good.

Posted by: Why not warts and all?... | June 6, 2008 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Sadly, not long after the storm the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which had pulled down all kinds of Pulitzers and other journalism kudos, decided that the days of staff written obits were gone. It was, truly, a bad day for the city and it's history, especially considering the amount of time-delayed tragedy that we had (and still have) around this unique and perplexing city. The old style was pretty straightforward-no matter what a person had done in his life and no matter how long he had lived, his entire life was summed up thusly, "Bob Jones, a retired railroad engineer, died on Jan. 3, 1998." While that may seem pretty basic, it was always kind of wonderful to read that, and then discover that Bob had, among other things, been in the First Wave at Normandy, was a championship bridge player, was home taught engineer who invented something and started a business that had grown into a large employer. Now? The obits are not only not interesting, they are poorly written and even more poorly edited (I suppose that you have to pay more to get the Newhouse boys to give it the once over). Damn shame, that. Damn shame.

Posted by: N.O. Rising | June 13, 2008 9:18 PM | Report abuse

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