One of the unique things the Columbia Missourian does is publish life stories about people who have died. A life story is an expanded obituary. The reporter will call family members and talk to them about the person who has died – what their interests were and what some of their memories about them are. The Missourian then includes that information in the information from the obituary.
When I was on general assignment yesterday, I was assigned my first life story. I knew I would eventually have to do a life story, but to be honest, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea. I felt a little bit like I would be intruding by calling the family while they were grieving, not knowing whether or not they would be willing or in a place to talk to me. My assistant editor explained to me that we were giving them a chance to tell the story of their family member or friend.
When I called the family of the person whose life story I was writing, I found out that that was exactly the case. They were very willing to talk to me about their father and share a little bit about what made him who he was. I believe it helped that they were familiar with the J-School and the Missourian, and that led them to understand what we were trying to do. I think that they were actually glad of the chance to talk about their father and share why he was special to them. That experience made me more comfortable with the idea of calling people even when they’re grieving.