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

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


Obit for the Obits – The New York Times

Full Obit of Peter Schickele – NYT   PDF Text of Schickele Obit: PDF Peter Schickele Obit The New York Times – Shared By Lisa Welch and also by Bob Mitchell.

Tibi Bredin Obituary – 2006. Shared By Judy McGeorge

LeVine ObitRuth Bunt 107 Ruth Bunt 107 w:photo Shared by Jennifer Riefler

NYT article – On The Boston Cane tradition – from Jennifer Riefler (see the Ruth Bunt obituary)

Roger Greene obituary-10-12-23  Shared by Marshall Kaiser

Cordell Jackson Obituary – Shared by Sue Snider

Moondog obituary 1999 – Shared by Michael Percy

Dave Mitchell, dies at 79 – Point Reyes Light – Shared by Michael Percy

Hugh Massingberd Obit by Margalit Fox  – Shared by David Porter

Ada Blackjack Obituary – Shared by Jennifer Mitchell-Nevin

MaJo Keleshian Obituary – Shared by Jane Crosen

John Norman Crock Obituary – Shared by Jane Crosen

David Mansfield Lutyens Obituary – Shared by Michael Taylor. Example of a good paid obituary.

Shirley Povich Obit  – Shared by Michael Taylor

Sue Casey.   Val PattersonMarie Bogus-ApichellMichael Blanchard    – Shared by Susan Finsen

Mike Sadler obit  – shared by Bob Mitchell

Joan Dietmann Obit – shared by Jennifer Mitchell-Nevin

MERL REAGLE, crossword puzzle constructer  – Shared by Jennifer Mitchell-Nevin

Bernice Gordon, Cruciverbalist  – Shared by Jennifer Mitchell- Nevin

Obituary_ Brian David Dafni  – Example of an unedited obituary – Shared by Norm Olsen


Session 4 Obituaries

Jack McLendon News Obit – by Lisa Welch

Patty Brill News Obit Lede – by Judy McGeorge

Suzanne Taylor OBIT 8JAN2004 – by Michael Taylor

Susie Riefler Obituary  – by Jennifer Riefler

Ethelbert Nevin II EA obituary  – By Michael Taylor and Berto Nevin

Robert Glenn Crosen Tribute – by Jane Crosen Washburn  Note from Jane

Herbert J Finkelstein Obituary  – by Susan Finsen

George Percy 1895-1970  – by Michael Percy  Brand of Iwo Jima   and  Extras about George Percy from Michael Percy

Olela Self Barner Obituary – By Susan Snider Olela Photo  and Note from Sue Snider


Other Resources and Information about Obituaries:

ObitWriter from – from Michael Taylor

He Died in a Tragic Accident. Why Did the Internet Say He Was Murdered? – NYT – from Norm Olsen

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