AP to Improve Obits of the Famous and Newsworthy

The Associated Press began an initiative this week to give more attention to obituaries, an area of content that is “enormously popular” with readers, said AP Senior Managing Editor Mike Oreskes.

As part of the upgrade, the AP has assigned Deputy National Editor Paula Froke to oversee its obit coverage of famous and noteworthy individuals. Up until now, the responsibility had been shared among different editors.

The AP will also step up efforts to create “obituary packages,” which include a written obit accompanied by multimedia — a video, audio slide show or photos.

“We have video obits fairly often, but we’d love to see video as a component of most obituaries, if possible,” Oreskes said by phone. “We do a lot of training on how to integrate video into our journalism, so that will come into play here.”

Froke will work with various departments throughout the AP to figure out how to best package the material, particularly when it comes to obituaries that need to be planned in advance.

She will identify which reporters and editors are best-suited to cover planned obituaries and those that need to be produced on the spot. She’ll also look through the AP’s hundreds of pre-written obituaries to determine which ones lack an interactive component and whether or not they need it.

The process of figuring this out is the same one that Froke said she’d go through for any story: Determine how the story of that particular person’s life and death can best be told. 

“There hasn’t been anyone really looking at what extra dimensions we might need and how the various formats can inform each other,” Froke said in a phone interview. “I’m going to put a lot of effort into looking at how we approach obits across the board.”

The move to improve obits has helped start a conversation about obituaries within the AP and has spurred journalists to think about how they can collaborate across departments, Froke said. She noted that several staffers have already approached her with ideas about how the AP can expand its obit coverage.

One of the goals of the initiative is not just to expand the AP’s obituary coverage, but also to encourage new ways of thinking about obits. “We want to elevate the way our staff approaches all obituaries,” Froke said. “We don’t want to go too far out of the park, but we want to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.”

Video and multimedia obits aren’t necessarily new, but they’ve become more common in recent years, particularly at larger media outlets. The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times, for instance, started doing them a few years ago.

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Such efforts reflect news organizations’ need to keep advancing the storytelling process. It’s possible that the obit packages will be appealing to news orgs that rely on the AP for obituaries and want the option of publishing a multimedia obit.

“People want to read about the lives of others, and I think understanding the lives that people lead is a really terrific window into the world we live in,” Oreskes said. “We see this as an opportunity to take something we already do, broaden it to include all forms of journalism, and make it better.”

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