Let’s say you’re an editor, and someone has prepared an obituary to run when a celebrity passes on. It sounds ghoulish, but it’s standard practice, and it gives the subject a more thorough remembrance than you’d get if the news desk tried to turn something around on the spot.
Now let’s say the writer of that obituary passes away himself. Six years later, the subject finally dies.
A. Give the byline to someone who updated the obituary with the particulars of the person’s death and anything about her final years?
B. Run a shared byline?
C. Keep the byline with the person who wrote the bulk of the obit six years ago and run a disclaimer and “contributing” line at the bottom?
The New York Times opted for C.
Not an easy call. The negative side is that you’re drawing attention to the fact that this was canned, and you’re suggesting that the person in question didn’t have a life worth updating over the last six years. But the fact is that the bulk of her life’s work was done years ago, and someone devoted a considerable amount of time to capturing memories of her career and putting them together in a proper tribute.
At first glance, it seems crazy. But I think the Times got it right.