Anyone interested in morbid news will appreciate The New York Times pulling back the curtain on its obituaries desk.
According to Margalit Fox, the Times currently has about 1,700 obits for “pre-dead” people on file, ranging from a few hundred words (if you were boring) to more than 10 thousand (if you were rich).
Unsurprisingly, Fox writes that one of the most uncomfortable aspects of preparing obits is interviewing people who the Times deems close to death:
One of the most stressful aspects of reporting an advance entails, when feasible, telephoning its pre-dead subject for an interview. This is one of the stranger social predicaments in human experience and, trust me, there is nothing in Emily Post to cover it. The midcentury Timesman Alden Whitman, an obituary writer famous for sitting down with his subjects in advance, favored tender circumlocutions on the order of, “We’re updating your biographical file” and “This is for possible future use.” I have used both with a fair margin of success.
Another approach we’d suggest: “Hi, this is Margalit Fox with the New York Times. You’re probably about to croak. Any comment?”