Jan. 1, 2013  


We’re going to fake three deaths…

…and we want you to cover them.

On Saturday afternoon, Jan. 19, SPJ South Floridawill teach you how to write obituaries by showing you – up close and personal.

We’re going to hold a mock memorial service for three dead chain-smokers – in a real funeral home. You’ll get a press pass and full access to their friends and family. We’ll ply you with free food and drink, and you’ll have an hour to write the best damn obit ever.

The winner (as judged by the dead) will receive a trophy: An engraved funeral urn filled with ashes – of pages from The Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, and Palm Beach Post. (Click image to embiggen.)

Never written an obituary before? Don’t fret. Before the service, a professional obit writer will give you a crash course on covering corpses. Elinor Brecher specializes in obituary writing at The Miami Herald and is one of the last such beat reporters in the nation.

By the time the SPJ Death Race is over, you’ll have this stuff dead to rights.

Why are we doing this? Because it can be argued that few stories are more important than those summing up a life just concluded. Yet few journalists are taught how to write obituaries. So while we’re obviously having some fun with the process, we’re quite serious about the topic. You will learn something by the end of the day.

          THE SCHEDULE: Saturday afternoon, Jan. 19

Here’s what happens when…

1:30-2 p.m. – Reporters are welcome to show up and tour Broward Burial and Cremation, 1801 East Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, a little west of Federal Highway on the north side (954-731-4321). This gives everyone a chance to arrive at a leisurely pace and meet each other.

2-2:30 p.m. – Reporters meet in the small chapel with Herald obit writer Elinor Brecher, who will talk about her job and offer advice for writing obituaries. Pizza served.

2:30-3:45 p.m. – The memorial service starts in the large chapel. (Yes, there are two.) Reporters interview arrivals about the deceased. Dessert served.

3:45-4 p.m. – The inevitable milling about. Reporters can interview more friends and family.

4:30-5:30 p.m. – Reporters head to the nearby newsroom of South Florida Gay News, the state’s largest gay publication. There they’ll write their obituaries, and Elinor and the dead people will judge the results.

Afterward to whenever – SPJ South Florida will bestow the urn upon the winner at a nearby bar, where we’ll offer free food and drink specials.

The next day – The best obits get posted here and shared with SPJ’s 8,000 members.

                             Other important details

• Bring your own: You’ll need pen and pad to take notes at the service, and a laptop or tablet to write your obit on.
• Hey photographers: If you’ve never shot a memorial service, here’s a safe way to start. The best photos will be sent to SPJ’s bimonthly magazine, Quill, and the editor will choose which ones to run with coverage of the first-ever SPJ Death Race.
• Hey voyeurs: If you just want to show up and witness the proceedings, we welcome you. Learning by doing is best, but learning by watching works, too. Bring a friend. Bring a date.

                          Reservations & questions

If you’re interested or just intrigued, click the box to the left and reserve your spot. It’s totally FREE.

You don’t have to register in advance if you don’t want to – you can indeed just show up and participate – but it helps us plan for enough food and drink if you tell us you’re coming.

Also ask any questions and make any suggestions – because we plan to make this an annual event. In other words, we’re not going to let it die.

Michael Koretzky

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