The Death of a Newsman (or woman)

Posted May 6th, 2015 in Random by Emily Varner

I always find it funny—perhaps ironic is the more appropriate word—when I see and hear news reports relating the death of reporters or other media-related folks. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that people are mourning the death of this person, and I don’t take delight in that. On the other hand, lots of people die every day over whom a relative few people take notice.

Whoever happens to be the newly deceased media professional, I would be willing to bet that the average person on the street has never heard of this person. Sure, they may have been influential in the careers of our most well-known journalists; sure, they may have had a long enough tenure at a certain media outlet to be a legend there; sure, they may have been such a likable person that the industry is stunned by their young death; sure, perhaps this person was so on top of their game that no industry professional could ignore them. But none of these things really makes the death of that person newsworthy, do you know?

In fact, this kind of coverage seems to me like a desperate grasping by media powers-that-be to legitimate their life of sacrifice for their hard-earned journalistic careers. Perhaps this coverage has less to do with the death of a colleague and more to do with what each writer and reporter hopes others will write and report when his or her time comes. It’s obituary one-upmanship. Woe betide the newsmaker who never makes the news!

As a society, are we haunted by the fear that when we pass into eternity, no one will have anything nice to say about us? That no one will notice? That we will be replaceable in our homes, our jobs, our fields of expertise? And ultimately, are we afraid that as all this comes to pass, our life will then have been meaningless? Pitiful? Fleeting?

There’s an entire sermon here of course, but as I am not a preacher, I’ll leave that to someone else.

And yet as a publicist, I’ve realized that there is at least one other reason that the death of media folks makes the news: It’s really super annoying to get mail addressed to people who have been dead for years. Maybe, just maybe, the message will reach those publicists who have a hard time keeping track of these things!

So as the cynical yet hopeful, philosophizing yet practical publicist that I am, here’s my resolution upon encountering news stories about the deaths of media folks: give myself that little “who really cares” moment before saying a prayer for the deceased’s family and friends; reflect on the brevity of life—and make sure my database is up-to-date.