"Why throw it away just because the author has died?”
September 23, 2017 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Well, it happened again. When Lillian Ross died earlier this week, the New York Times ran an obituary written by someone who was also dead. It's not a secret that celebrities -- especially long-lived ones -- have "advance" obituaries, but the NYT (thanks partially to its rigorous byline practices) is often noted as having obits that seem to be "ghost"-written. Via Kottke. Open NYT links in Incognito or Private mode.
posted by Etrigan (26 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
spins around in chair, flailing arms madly up and down

DOES NOT COMPUTE! CAUSALITY FAILURE! DOES NOT COMPUTE! CAUSALITY FAILURE!

stops spinning as head explodes
posted by Samizdata at 9:34 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


““You can’t write the comprehensive life story of a president or a pope or a movie star in an hour or even a day.””
Challenge accepted.

“She was the best of times, she was the blurst of times...”
posted by Fizz at 9:38 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the alleged kerfuffle. Do we throw out books after authors have died? Words and facts exist outside human lives, and persist after an author's death.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 9:57 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


Hah, makes sense the way they describe it working out, but for a while me and Mrs. Esdebah were imagining that they just give these jobs to older writers who refuse to retire.

Jeez Mable, it's a slow news day. You're not too good with twitter and we can't send you out into the field till you get that new hip. Hey! I bet you know a lot of people who will probably die soon. Maybe even before you! You know, other people for whom the important business of life is firmly in the rear-view mirror.
posted by es_de_bah at 9:58 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]


Do we throw out books after authors have died?

When I worked at a large bookstore after college, I informed a customer who wanted to special order a book that it was out of print. "Oh no," she said. "It can't be. The author is still alive!"
posted by thelonius at 9:59 AM on September 23 [5 favorites]


I don't understand the alleged kerfuffle.
I guess maybe it seems morbid to have obituaries on file of people who aren't dead. I think that's silly, but people are weird about such things.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:10 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


The Times has about 1,900 advances on hand

On the one hand, this seems like an extravagantly huge number--are there 1900 people currently living of enough cultural impact to have an advance obituary written? On the other, it seems like a missed opportunity: Would that we all could have advances, someone who thought enough about us to write about our lives, storing it away before the inevitable. One pictures a Bureau Of Obituaries, staffed by hundreds, thousands of stooped clerks tapping out lists of all our achievements, our struggles and our survivors.
posted by mittens at 10:20 AM on September 23 [5 favorites]


That is the juiciest obituary I have ever read.
posted by craniac at 10:22 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


One pictures a Bureau Of Obituaries, staffed by hundreds, thousands of stooped clerks tapping out lists of all our achievements, our struggles and our survivors.

We don't need a Bureau of Obituaries to do this, we do this our selves. It's called Twitter. Every day we write our achievements, struggles, etc.
posted by Fizz at 10:26 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]




I'm pretty sure the NYT obituaries desk is the Bureau of Obituaries (of Record). It earned a documentary, even.
posted by fedward at 10:35 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


This is standard practice, though. I can't speak for all newspapers, but the Daily Telegraph's obit people are called the graveyard, and they regularly get journalists to go through the not-yet-used obits on file to freshen them up.

It sometimes happens, depending on the person, that you call them up to check something in their file. How you approach this is up to you...
posted by Devonian at 11:06 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


If anything, having these on file and readily available is a good thing. Instead of getting some hastily written obituary, you're getting something that has more significance and attention to detail.
posted by Fizz at 11:11 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter sure could use an Obit Desk to pre-file all the upcoming obituary posts and then the mods could just roll them out as needed. They could even come pre-populated with all the . comments so no one would feel obligated.
posted by briank at 11:16 AM on September 23 [6 favorites]


MetaFilter sure could use an Obit Desk to pre-file all the upcoming obituary posts and then the mods could just roll them out as needed.

We could write our own and post them in our profiles.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 11:24 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


You'd think the author of the obituary just accidentally died a week ago and they still printed it, but no, he's been dead for 7 years.
posted by Laotic at 11:27 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


I mean, Lillian Ross was 99. I assume that not too much about her obituary changed in the past 7 years.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:33 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


We could write our own and post them in our profiles.

He was obsessed with video games. Forever on a knife edge between passion and obsession. Towards the end, we're not sure he could differentiate between reality and game. They had blurred together.
posted by Fizz at 11:34 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


We could write our own and post them in our profiles

He was a person who existed for a period of time on this planet.
posted by nubs at 11:40 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


Once upon a time, I accidentally turned in a paper with the placeholder title I'd written in about 30 seconds without noticing: "Someone who did Something." I suppose that's as good an epitaph as any.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:00 PM on September 23 [3 favorites]


Don't think there's any kerfuffle here -- just an interesting quirk of the news business that not everyone knew about. Seems like it would make a fine toast: "May your obituary be written by a dead person!"
posted by neroli at 12:10 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


briank: "MetaFilter sure could use an Obit Desk to pre-file all the upcoming obituary posts and then the mods could just roll them out as needed."

Ya, I tried that. It, .... didn't go well.
posted by Mitheral at 1:18 PM on September 23


God, we're glad he gon...erm...In a better place. If there was a thread with a chance for a barely-sensical driveby snarking, he was your man. This is where I type about how we will miss him, right? But we don't! The threads will be cleaner and more on topic now he has moved on.
posted by Samizdata at 3:12 PM on September 23


I have written a few pre-pub obituaries. I was taught to always try to get in touch with the eventual deceased to find out their perspective. Usually the figures I'm writing about are so fancy I have no hope of contacting them. But recently I managed to dig up the contact info for the woman I was writing about (a truly rad figure in science) and so I called her at her nursing home. I thought it would be SUUPPPEERRR awkward to be like "Hi, I'm writing your obituary for you will soon die," but she was extremely gracious and shot the shit with me about all the ways she was discouraged from pursuing science as a girl and how she rocked her life anyway.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:24 PM on September 23 [6 favorites]


> I mean, Lillian Ross was 99. I assume that not too much about her obituary changed in the past 7 years.

ArbitraryandCapricious, are you suggesting old people just waste their time doing nothing and should be euthanized at a certain age? : )
posted by Laotic at 10:50 PM on September 23


Another point of information for the meeting - someone who's obit I worked on became famous in the 1960s and died well into the 2010s; I went through their file in the mid 1990s, and the initial obit had been written thirty year ago then and had been updated regularly since. It was quite a file.

(This is an expensive business, far too much so for the current state of journalism. Wikipedia will be the best option in future, I fear, so get your entries squared away...)
posted by Devonian at 4:06 AM on September 24


« Older Santa's dead   |   They are glowing with affection Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments