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We Happy Few

A question has arisen in some comments about why all of us are smiling in that row of mug shots atop this column. Aside from the fact that they promised us extra money for doing this blog (not), and we envision fame as well as fortune from it (ha!), the truth is that we like our jobs.

We take our cue from a treatise written by the Post's first obit editor, the late J.Y. Smith, whose remarkably candid obit I commend to you. J.Y.'s own essay on obits remains enshrined in the newspaper's style guide, which governs not just the rules of grammar, punctuation, capitalization and usage but the overall tone or approach of journalism in the Washington Post. "The occasion for obituaries is death, which is sad," he wrote. "But the subject of obituaries is life itself, which is wonderful."

The style guide goes on to spell out how we report cause of death, how we confirm deaths, how we list survivors, whether to use titles or honorifics, required information and timing of articles. What it does not overtly describe are the pleasures of this job, and the delight we often experience in learning about the quirks, accomplishments and predilections of people who come to our attention.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  March 19, 2009; 6:03 PM ET
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