Celebrating Occupational History and Its Witnesses: Obituaries

This section considers 151 obituaries of deceased journalists in national news outlets, mostly dailies.5 In US newspapers, they are usually published in the obituaries section, unless the deceased is a former chief editor of the paper or a famous journalist, like Walter Cronkite, which warrants A1 coverage. In German newspapers, the typical location for obituaries of journalists is the Feuilleton or culture section. Der Spiegel has a separate obituary section (one-paragraph-length), where some of the analyzed articles appeared, and places more high-profile obituaries in the culture or media sections. When its founder Rudolf Augstein died, the magazine devoted 168 pages to numerous obituaries written by leading figures in media, politics, and literature.

The structure of obituaries was much more standardized in the USA than in Germany. An obituary in the USA usually started with a paragraph on the deceased’s major achievements, his or her societal impact and sometimes major awards. The following paragraphs focused on detailing professional achievements, interspersed with journalistic ethics and values the person embodied. This section often included stories of conflicts with politicians, ideally heads of states, historical events they were part of and stories they became famous for. The following paragraphs sketched the deceased’s biography, including educational credentials and career trajectory. This was frequently accompanied by anecdotes told by contemporaries. Obituaries in US papers usually closed with mentioning bereaved family members.

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