Obits and the deaths of Gaddafi and Jobs

Posted on October 22, 2011


I made a throwaway comment this past week about obituaries in the press, given the demise of Gaddafi (I’ll go with that spelling – someone told me there are 18 in roman script which is, frankly, hard to believe.)

Saw some bad feeling on Twitter of pre-written obits for Steve Jobs. Not so Gaddafi. A good guy – bad guy thing?


Lots of general news publications had their obituaries up within hours, if not minutes, of his confirmed death. There was a chance he’d be captured and kept alive. But there was probably an equal chance he’d be killed. Having an obit lined up made sense. I don’t think anyone would have considered it in poor taste or unprofessional, however much some of us would rather have seen him put on trial and talk.

Compare that to the death of Steve Jobs. Here’s a man who – though not universally loved – was considered a positive impact on the world, through his companies Apple and Pixar and all the things they produced (to simplify massively).

For him, general news services and the technology press, including titles I’m very close to, were preparing obituaries for some time. Unfortunately terminal cancer meant people knew his death was coming, if not exactly when.

My point isn’t that the media shouldn’t cover deaths – that would be a ridiculous call by anyone when it comes to figures of stature – or not be prepared for those they can see coming. But when it’s someone we like we are often more sensitive around how this is represented on media of all types and around the processes that go on behind the scenes.

Perhaps my only controversial point, one for another post or hundred, is that being happy about the death of anyone is wrong.


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