Friday, October 28, 2005

Death, Grief and Bereavement homework.

Yes, I am back in school again. My Death, Grief and Bereavement module starts October 31st. Here's my first essay for the class.


Obituary Content Comparisons


When I started this assignment, I had the preconceived notion that the likelihood of an obituary being death denying would be less for a larger metropolis than it would for smaller urban areas. I was quite surprised to find out I was wrong. I was also wrong in my assumption that staff-written obituaries would be more death accepting than those written by someone who knew the deceased person personally. I compared six different newspaper sites and it is my suspicion that the degree of death accepting language depends more on regional culture than anything else.

The first two newspapers I compared were the NY and LA Times. The NY Times obituaries (http://www.nytimes.com/pages/obituaries/) were obviously staff written. The short obituaries were focused on the factual statistic information in death accepting language with a title giving identifying phrase (either occupation or a defining achievement) of deceased linked to a longer, more detailed summary of their achievements while alive. They were the type of obituaries I expected see from an internationally read newspaper. The LA Times obituaries (http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/) were probably staff written and while factual about death and time of it, they were somewhat death denying in that they avoided using the words death and died in titles, which were often preceded by the euphemism “passings“. The longer description were shorter than the NY Times full obituaries. Exceptions were made for military deaths, where the word “killed” and “dies” did make it into the obituary titles. Apparently military deaths are supposed to be accepted bluntly, while civilian deaths are to be handled carefully.

The next two newspapers I compared were The Oklahoman and The Dallas Morning News. The Oklahoman obituaries (http://www.newsok.com/news/obituaries/) were usually written by someone who personally knew the deceased and sent to the paper. Most of these obituaries gave vital statistics, genealogical (parents, surviving family) and memorial service information. Occassionally some personal information of the decease was printed. Almost all of them were death accepting in their language, perhaps due to their brevity. In stark contrast, the staff written obituaries of The Dallas Morning News (http://www.dallasnews.com/obituaries/) were definitely death denying in that they focused more on the human interest element. Readers were presented with the wonderful qualities of the deceased person, with the information about the actual death worked into either the middle or the end.

The last two newspapers I compared were from smaller cities: Norman, Oklahoma, and San Marcos, Texas. Both papers used non-staff written obituaries and unlike the obituaries in the Oklahoman, there did not appear to be a size limit to the obituaries submitted. The information presented varied by individual obituary. Some were just the date and time of death and city of residence of the decease. Others were short life histories. However, the obituaries of The Norman Transcript (http://www.normantranscript.com/obituaries) were more death accepting than those of The San Marcos Daily Record (http://sanmarcosrecord.com/obituaries/), which were mostly death denying or acceptance soften with soothing adjectives.

The content of the staff written obituaries were probably dictated by either the newspaper's or editor's philosophies philosophies. Whether or not they accurately depict the general cultural approach to death is not clear. However, the submitted obituaries, especially those that were not limited in length showed more of a cultural angle in how the information was presented.

1 comment:

Peggy said...

That's fascinating. The question of being death-accepting or death-denying applied to individual isn't unusual, but I never considered how it might apply to newspapers. I would be curious to know if there is any difference between what might be considered liberal or conservative papers or if the differences would appear regionally or a combination of both.