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Just in Case

Joe Holley

Alas the secret is out. Christopher Beam, writing for Slate in the wake of Sen. Edward Kennedy's death, notes that most of the major papers prepare obits in advance for certain people. That includes The Washington Post, although we don't have nearly as many prepared as we'd like to have. The New York Times claims to have 1,200 advancers ready; we have maybe 150. We'd love to have more, but it's hard to carve out the time to do them.

As Beam points out, we try to prepare advancers for people in three categories: someone so famous that we would be embarrassed not to be ready in the event of an untimely death; someone who is old or in bad health; someone who is "at risk."

He uses Michael Jackson as someone "at risk" because of his spotty health record, although Jackson's death caught us by surprise. We were ready, of course, for Kennedy,and I'm grateful for that. Given the dramatic events of his life and his long, influential career, it would have been impossible to write a comprehensive, thorough obituary at the last moment.

Beam also notes that we occasionally pre-interview someone for their own obit. That can be a bit delicate. I remember calling up Liz Carpenter a few years back; she's the lively and loquacious former press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson. I told her I wanted to talk to her about her life and career. "Oh, Joe, I know what you're doin'," she drawled. "You're writin' one of them eulogy things."

She was happy to talk. I'm happy that her obit is ready, just in case.

By Joe Holley |  August 30, 2009; 4:41 PM ET  | Category:  Joe Holley
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Time Magazine clearly had a lot of material ready about Ted as they inserted a few pages in the middle of the magazine. It was a job well-done.

Posted by: LaurieMann1 | August 30, 2009 5:40 PM

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