How Obituaries Got a Jolt of New Life in the Internet Era
Paul Farhi 保罗·法尔希
Once a sleepy corner of journalism， obituaries have found new life in the Internet era. A well-crafted obit for a prominent figure — blending history and biography， triggering nostalgia or perhaps even the reader's own feelings of mortality — can attract enormous readership online. And now there's a need for speed: The obit that comes out first， or at least fast，can win the day.
The New York Times has 1，850 such obits idling in its computer system， according to William McDonald， the newspaper's obituaries editor; The Washington Post has about 900 on hand，said its obituaries editor， Adam Bernstein.
Baby boomer nostalgia has stoked some of the interest in the lives and deaths of the famous， said Hillel Italie， an Associated Press reporter who has written obituaries of leading cultural figures. Older readers have “a growing awareness of their mortality and sensitivity to the passing of those who helped define their lives，” he said， citing the hunger for news about the August death of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts at 80.
But the untimely deaths of younger celebrities are a proven draw as well: One of the most-read obits in The Washington Post's history was that of actress Brittany Murphy， who died suddenly in 2009 at the age of 32. The September obituary for actor Michael K. Williams，54， racked up 2.8 million views for the New York Times.
The Post's first obituaries editor， J.Y. Smith， wrote so many advance obits that his name continued to appear in the newspaper more than a dozen years after his death in 2006，including on the obituaries of former president Gerald Ford and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. As Smith himself lay dying in a hospice，he made one request of Bernstein: “Don't let them screw with my [Fidel] Castro obituary！”（Written more than two decades before Castro's death， it was periodically updated and published a decade after Smith's.） The Post's obituary for Colin Powell， which published upon the former secretary of state's death last month， was written 12 years ago by former staff writer Bradley Graham， shortly before he left The Post in 2009.