Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘Obituaries’

Is Tom Petty dead?

In journalism on October 5, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Tom Petty died this week. Then he came back to life, for a while.

CBS News, among others, reported that he was dead about mid-day on Monday. Shortly thereafter, one of the most respected names in news reported that he hadn’t, in fact, died. There are a lot of misdemeanors committed in journalism, but to be wrong about a death is pure felony. It’s extraordinarily hurtful to family and friends. It puts a cannonball-sized hole in your credibility. And it will make you the butt of jokes for years to come. (“The report of my death is an exaggeration,” Mark Twain told a newspaperman after another periodical actually printed his obit. That was 1897. The fact that you’ve heard that story before is all the proof you need that these stories stick around…)

The initial erroneous reporting on Petty’s death came from something someone at the Los Angeles Police Department said, apparently in an off-the-cuff discussion with a reporter. My guess is LAPD was on the scene when the famed musician was taken to the hospital, but did not file an official report as it wasn’t really the department’s case. Cops are people too and sometimes they gossip.

So, here’s the challenge: If you can’t believe the police, who can you believe?

Good question. Ordinarily, I would say if you get a news tip from a man or woman in blue, you are golden. For one thing, they tend to be tight-lipped. If they are telling you something, it’s probably true. Most likely. Almost always. … But not always. … Read the rest of this entry »

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An uncomfortable call

In Writing techniques on December 15, 2016 at 1:46 pm
Photo courtesy John Green

Photo courtesy John Green

Last week, The Half Moon Bay Review’s Carina Woudenberg found herself on an uncomfortable phone call.

It followed the death of a 77-year-old woman who was killed by a car as she attempted to walk across the street at dusk. Carina drew the assignment and called one of the woman’s many friends in the area. Unfortunately, the woman on the other end of the phone hadn’t heard the tragic news.

Did Carina do anything wrong?

Before you answer, let’s consider how these stories play out in communities like ours. There is a crash followed by police sirens. Maybe you hear it on the scanner or get a press release about a fatality. The initial story is likely to be sketchy. Maybe you don’t know the identity of the deceased. You likely share the news online as fast as you can.

Then, maybe the next day, the coroner or the sheriff gives you a name. You poke around to find whether the deceased is prominent, whether you’ve written about her before. Perhaps you simply update the old story with the name.

Carina did the right thing by trying to make the victim a flesh-and-blood human being. We got a break when someone we knew said on Facebook he knew the victim. Carina talked to him to learn she was a devoted mother and grandmother. A Google search revealed she once worked as a nurse at a local hospital.

That was when Carina called the hospital and inadvertently broke the news to an old friend. … Read the rest of this entry »

The life of Shelagh Gordon

In Innovation on August 3, 2012 at 7:23 am

Sometimes, even after all this time, a newspaper’s work simply takes my breath away. Such was the case with The Shelagh Gordon Project.

Last winter, the Toronto Star sought to describe the impact of one “ordinary” person on the lives of those around her. From its own obituaries, editors pulled the name of Shelagh Gordon, who died on Feb. 13. “When Gordon’s obituary appeared in the Star, with its description of her as ‘our rock, our good deed doer, our tradition keeper, our moral compass,’ we knew we’d found the perfect subject,” editors wrote.

The Star’s response was likely unprecedented in the annals of journalism. It sent 20 staffers to the woman’s funeral. Another half-dozen editors, designers and online experts also took part. The result is beyond spectacular.

Catherine Porter’s column serves as a sort of mainbar to the project. It begins with the words, “I met Shelagh Gordon at her funeral.” Porter ends it like this:

Wandering around her house one recent afternoon, I fished one of her mud-caked Blundstones from the closet and slipped it on, wondering “What is a life worth?”

In the past, I have often answered this question with achievements — campaigns, masterpieces, spiritual or literal changes to humankind and the world. The measure, I’ve thought, is Sophie Scholl or Charles Darwin or Nelson Mandela.

Shelagh’s life offers another lens. She didn’t change the world forcibly, but she changed many people in it. She lightened them. She inspired them, though she likely didn’t realize it. She touched them in simple ways most of us don’t because we are too caught-up and lazy. … Read the rest of this entry »