Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Death Sells (fiction from the attic--sort of)
As the editor-in-chief of Nemesis, the leading source of obituaries in the Washington/Baltimore area, I would like to share one of the secrets of my success: death sells. Almost every day death is reported in newspapers worldwide in one form or another. While most expected in the obituary section, it can be reported in the crime, local, entertainment or in almost any section from the front page to the last. The media coverage a death receives and the placement of the notice depend on the way a person lives or dies. Your actions in life literally affect your place in history. In your newspaper, those whose lives or deaths touch the most people appear to get the largest coverage, while others receive minimal space in which their lives are condensed.
4th, 2005 the online version of the Baltimore Sun
announced the death of activist, actor Ossie Davis in an article published by
Associated Press writer Hillel Italie. On that day they also announced the
death of Elizabeth T. Braden, homemaker and secretary. Both notices reported the information people
expect the obituary to include: the person’s name, age and cause of death,
major accomplishments and information about the survivors. The differences were in the presentation and
amount of information in the piece and the placement of the articles. ’
death was a memorial; Braden’s a death notice. Each life deserves to be
celebrated, memorialized, each death treated as a loss to the community. Davis
Ossie Davis’ obituary appeared on the main page of the Baltimore Sun website. In an emotional, informative article, Hillel Italie memorialized Ossie Davis’ life and death. According to the three-page obituary, at the age of 87
was a writer, actor, director, producer, activist, husband, father and
grandfather. He and his wife of over 50
years had received honors and awards for their work together in the media
industry. His obituary was personalized
with quotes from a former cast member, a photo gallery and in-depth information
about his role as activist and actor.
This tribute included a poll for readers to vote for their favorite
Ossie Davis movie. Davis
Elizabeth T. Braden’s life was no more and no less significant than that of Ossie Davis’. According to her obituary, by the age of 91 Braden had been a daughter, wife, mother, secretary, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend and neighbor. Her obituary says she was married for 68 years and had six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. According to the Sun, the
area resident died of a brain tumor in the assisted-living home where she
lived. Braden’s Baltimore Sun
obituary has reduced her 91 years of life, relationships, obstacles, joys and
sorrows into 20 lines. Baltimore
Both Baltimore Sun articles painted sketches of the lives of the deceased; as obituaries they fulfilled their roles as assigned by the media. The attention given to both Braden and Davis may be what is expected for someone with their varying degrees of contribution to society. If that is so, there is something wrong with the way we measure contribution. This problem does not merely exist in the
Fred Barbash and Wil Haygood wrote Ossie Davis’ obituary for the
Post. Describing him as “still handsome and
elegant” it was a colorful tribute to his life. Their four-page article was filled with
information about Washington ’
personal achievements; statements from his family, friends and colleagues and
commentary on his activism efforts. While there were no pictures or polls, his
obituary painted a picture of a vibrant man, someone you would be honored to
have known personally. Davis
Elizabeth Braden’s death was not reported in the
At Nemesis we pride ourselves on our ability to make news happen and to report it objectively. Each Nemesis obituary is a memorial and we take an active role in each obituary we report. Unlike other reporters, we take the time to investigate each aspect of the subject’s life before we kill them. In this way, we report the facts, photos and the person’s last words, thus painting a vivid picture of them in life and in death.
Yvonne Battle-Felton, Editor-in-chief, Nemesis
P.S. Pick up the next issue of Nemesis; you never know which edition will feature you.
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