Canned obits: Why bother anymore?

By Steve Outing

Steve Yelvington blog-mused: “Are obituaries obsolete?” He argues that newspapers should have “living documents” cataloging and documenting people’s lives on an ongoing basis, rather than an obituary published just at the person’s death.

I want to take a slightly different angle. Many newspapers pre-write obituaries of notable people in their communities. Some staff journalist or perhaps a librarian is charged with writing or updating a canned obituary when a local big-wig goes into the hospital, for instance, so it can be pulled out when the time comes.

But why bother with that task at all? An argument can be made that when Mr/Ms Whomever checks out of the planet, the information about his/her life is but a Google- or Wikipedia-search away. Instead of writing an original obit, a link obit just may be a better way to present a notable life.

The modern obit writer may serve the subject better by amassing a collection of suitable links: to a biography, video interviews, best writings, most famous quotes, etc. Yelvington may be right: The traditional obituary is already in the grave.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

One Response to "Canned obits: Why bother anymore?"

  1. Working Reporter
    Working Reporter 9 years ago .Reply

    Why have canned obits? Because, frankly, the obits newspapers write tend to be enormously more interesting, accurate, complete and enjoyable to read than is any other source of information about the person’s life. Read any Washington Post appreciation and compare it with the Wikipedia entry on that person’s life and I’m sure you’ll see the difference.

    This isn’t about providing basic facts. This is about trying to sum up a significant life in a thoughtful, informative, interesting way — yet having that reflection available within a day or a few hours of a person’s death.

    If your argument is valid — that producing a news obit is unnecessary because the information is but a click away — than by extension, all news and even most written work of any kind is obsolete, since at this point nearly all information is but a click away.

    I think a world where there are skilled writers helping to find, organize and share that information in a way that is insightful, enjoyable and emotional is a more interesting world than one composed entirely of links to the basic data.

    You, of course, may disagree. But if you do, please don’t write anything thoughtful to that effect. A link will suffice.

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