Colloquy Downeast Blue Hill Maine

Colloquy Downeast

Spirited Conversations in Great Company

FacilitatorDavid Porter and Michael Taylor
Date & Time Wednesdays: January 17, 24, 31, Feb 7, 2024
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
LocationHoward Room, Blue Hill Public Library or by Zoom
Available Spaces13

If people read nothing else in a newspaper, they will still read obituaries. Sometimes, it’s the first page a reader will turn to after glancing at Page One. Even today, when we get much of our news from a cellphone or a laptop computer, obits have their solidly entrenched place on the news schedule.

In this colloquy, we’ll take a deep dive into how obits are produced, talking first about the difference between paid obits and news obituaries. Paid obits are usually personal histories of the deceased, written by family members and not subject to any editing at the newspaper as long as the obits stay loosely within the bounds of propriety. The family pays to have these obits run in the paper. News obituaries are the same as news stories and have the same qualifications for publication as stories that run elsewhere in the paper. They are usually produced by a paper’s staff; and they adhere to the paper’s news standards, which means warts and all if the obit warrants it.

How does an obit get in the paper? Editors look at the life of the person who just died to see what they did during their 80 or 90 years on earth. Was it interesting? Did they do something newsworthy? (This, of course, ranges from being President of the United States to being the country’s most notorious serial killer or a movie star who died in an airplane crash.) Many of those particular in-depth obituaries are done months, even years before the person dies. Writers of these “hold for release” articles will often spend weeks researching and writing an extensive piece about a well-known senator or entrepreneur, sometimes even interviewing the potential subject years before he’s dead. (And sometimes, the obit writer will die before the subject of her work.) But not all obits are about famous people. For many others, editors will look for something offbeat or unique about people’s lives, something that would pique a reader’s interest, expand his knowledge, even if the person who died was no better known than the guy next door. The documentary “Obit” is a great introduction to the activities of the NY Times obituary staff.

To understand the basics of obituary writing participants in the colloquy should read many obituaries of your choice – both news obits and paid obits – and be ready to share and discuss what appeals to you as a news reader.  The suggested references have some noteworthy examples.

We can also look at how we would like our own obits to be written. How do we see ourselves? What are the defining moments or contributions that we have made? You can take a whack at writing your own obituary and, if you like, share it with the group. Start with a compelling lede.

Or alternatively, write or rewrite an obituary for someone you know or admire using what you have gained from our readings and discussions.

Recommended readings and film will also include:

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, by Marilyn Johnson, 2007
Book of Obituaries: a Celebration of Eccentric Lives, by Hugh Massingberd, 1995
Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving, by Mo Rocca, 2019,
Obit, a 2016 documentary film about the obituary writers at The New York Times.

David Porter has, until recently, shunned obituaries, thinking them creepy.  His wife, Jennifer, with a lifelong fascination and appreciation of obituaries, piqued his interest and led to this colloquy.  He is not a writer but appreciates that talent in others. and like many octogenarians recognizes his mortality.

Michael Taylor is a retired reporter and editor who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle for 36 years. While at The Chronicle, he covered crime, courts, breaking news, wrote features and obituaries and did investigations.

  ▼ Syllabus/Reading


▲ Hide...

  ▼ Registration


Sign me up!

You can register for Obituaries. A detailed look at how these final send-offs are selected and written. here.

To do so, please log in or create an account so we know who's who.

I'm already registered on the Colloquy Downeast web site.
Create AccountThis is the first time I'm registering online for a colloquy. Create a new account so the facilitator knows how to contact me.

▲ Hide...