Documenting Death: A Celebration of Life

May 15, 2020

For journalists during times of pandemics, writing about death can sometimes turn into an opportunity to focus on life.

Most reporters know how to write a news story on people dying from an accident or a crime – what went wrong, why the unexpected has happened – but writing obituaries is different as these are more about life, Bruce Shapiro, Executive Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, and Ari Goldman, who teaches the course “The Journalism of Death and Dying,” said mid-May during the heartfelt webinar “Documenting Death: Obituaries During the Time of Coronavirus.”

The obituaries help to put a human touch to the larger overall story of Covid-19, which can be difficult to grasp given the large number of deaths reported daily.

“We have to do this work with lots of compassion,” Goldman said. “The biggest mistake [the obituary reporter makes] is telling how the death happened. Death is incidental; this is about life worth memorializing… Unknown celebrities among us get recognized this way.”

Goldman and his research team are reviewing how Coronavirus deaths are being reported in news organizations throughout the world, with a focus on how the reports reflect local cultures, customs and religions. To contribute, observations can be sent to the team at the email [email protected].