Are obituaries obsolete?

Bloomberg's accidental premature publication of Steve Jobs' obituary makes me wonder: Are obituaries obsolete? Journalistic writing is basically episodic. We write about what happened, what is happening, what might happen, but always centered around the moment, and always structured as a disposable item.In the print world, with rare exceptions a person's death was the only occasion that would justify the publication of that person's life story.But the Internet has changed the way we deal with time, just as it has collapsed space. Everything is available now ... and that isn't limited to reports of recent events.Journalists today need to learn to not only report and write episodically, but also in the encyclopedic form. Steve Jobs' life story should be an living document.This isn't just an issue of obituaries, of course. Every local newspaper should become an evolving resource online. In addition to covering incremental stories, on the Internet we can and should build presentations that place the latest developments in the context of the longterm story arc.I'll have more to say on that subject in a future episode.


I like this. I think it is a great idea, something every newspaper should do - create a local wiki via their web portal. Bios of local persons of note, brief histories of important buildings, organizations, etc.

Are you saying, Steve, that weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual publications should also be obsolete? All of these type of non-daily publications deliver "eventful" encyclopedia-style news stories that are not ongoing or incremental.

I don't do much thinking about long-cycle "publications," but I think the "new now" of the Internet undermines the very concept of periodicity. The force holding us in the world of "periodicals" is one of print technology. I don't think print is going away in the near term, not at all, but in the longer term it's hard to argue on behalf of killing trees and hauling physical objects around to distribute information. I watched a video tonight showing a mini-laptop with wifi, color screen, and a Web browser for $99 ... and it's way, way better than MIT's "OLPC" device. When these things start showing up in blister packs at the Kroger store, and wifi/wimax/etc is everywhere, why do we need periodicals? Technology is moving faster than human nature.