Marcus Williamson: Writing Obituaries – The final word

On 26th April, Marcus Williamson, an obituary write for the Independent fully informed BA Journalism students about what obituary writing is and how to write one.

Williamson told the students that when he writes obituaries, he creates it like a mini biography, he said: “You might want to take a relatively unknown figure like your favourite poet or artist and champion them, to make them better known and better understood.”

Williamson started by telling budding journalism students what an obituary is, “The word obituary comes Latin and basically means the departure from this world to another” said Williamson.

“Styles of obituaries depend on the newspaper,” said Williamson. He brought examples of the obituary of Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009 from The New York Times, The Independent and The Telegraph to show us the variation of styles between them. He explained how the obituary editor and write chose to put across the details of that person’s life and death. Williamson pointed out how The New York Times and The Independent included a byline but The Daily Telegraph did not. He also added that they were all similar in that they included introduction paragraphs whereas The New York Times also included the age and cause of death.

Williamson gave the students advice if they want to be an obituary writer, he said: “Each of the outlets that you might be writing for have a particular house style and it’s important to be aware of that before you start on the piece and put it together.”

Williamson on Do’s and Don’ts of obituary writing gave helpful tips. He told students not to contact the family, the person’s manager or agent and not to rely on Wikipedia and the Do’s included writing clearly and accurately, paying attention to the particular house style, make sure to check your facts carefully, use reliable and verifiable sources and to suggest a suitable image to accompany the piece, via the obituaries editor.

Finishing off his lecture, Williamson gave the opportunity to the students to write an obituary of a subject who has been significant in any way in their life and send it to them to get feedback.

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