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06/23/2010

Wanted: curious obit writers

June 23, 2010 |  3:06 pm

In a recent column Jim George, managing editor of the Honolulu-based Pacific Business Journal, tells readers about how he tried to train a young reporter on the obit beat while working at an afternoon newspaper in the 1970s.

Obituaries were a vital part of our afternoon paper. Funeral directors would phone the obit writer and dictate information — this was before faxes and e-mail — which the reporter would turn into a story. Our afternoon newspaper would often get up to 20 obits during a morning shift.

Obit writing required speed and a passion for detail and accuracy. It also was the most boring beat imaginable.

Paul hated it. He had come to town to expose wrongdoing, not to be a glorified clerk. I told him to complete one week of error-free obit writing and I would move him to more exciting work.

He couldn’t do it. Errors continued and his tenure on the obit beat lengthened. He blamed me.

One day, about mid-morning, Paul turned in an obit about the death of a 30-year-old man.

"What did he die of?" I asked.

"I don’t know," Paul replied.

"Thirty-year-olds don’t die for no reason," I answered. "Find out the cause of death."

To find out what happened next, read the rest of Jim George's column. And let me say I don't think this beat is at all boring. But I do agree that speed, accuracy and an eye for detail are pluses.

-- Claire Noland

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