"Jim Hillibish died on Friday." Well, maybe not. The media has a dead problem in this world of rampant fake obituaries.
I knew it. Plant the seeds and they shall grow.
One of the first assignments for sprightly journalism students was to write their own obituaries. Obit writing was the calamity facing all once they hit the media market.
That first obit in J-school was a fun fake. Nobody’s that clairvoyant. Well, guess what? A big media problem right now is fake obits. They taught us well.
Gordon Lightfoot recently was killed off, only to reincarnate a few days later on TV. Entertainment murder is precious. He worked it for all he could.
“I haven’t got that much airplay in weeks,” he said.
Other top victims include Lindsay Lohan, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Will Farrow, and the two Toms, Hanks and Cruise.
These things don’t die easily. People magazine killed Abe Vigoda in 1982. Newspapers keep repeating the gaffe. He says it’s costing him jobs.
Emimem holds the record, dying in January 2000, September 2008 and December 2009. Drugs.
A 94-year-old guy in Long Island this summer read his obit in the local newspaper. He was happy at the attention, including CBS News. The paper then had a good time making fun of itself. They did a long feature on the guy. Hey, he was lonely.
The Internet makes it a lot easier to kill off people. You can write anything on a blog, forum or tweetie site. The problem comes when reporters treat these as news tips. If you’re that lazy, you’re probably not going to do any checking. That’s how Gordo passed away.
Then there are the fake obits submitted by the deceased. There are various reasons for killing yourself in print. Perhaps you have a lot of criminal warrants outstanding or want to get out from under debts or child support. Death is the ultimate bankruptcy.
A lot of obits are generated for fake names. The “spam” names that people use on e-mail and social sites have a life of their own. When the names expire, a nice obit is in order. These things get passed around.
Enter the obit of Wreaks Q. Blurt. You could tell it was kid-generated, although the writer obviously has a future in journalism. Blurt got hit by a Yak on his skateboard and did his “first 360 ever. It would have been an unheard of 720 if he hadn’t hit the flagpole.”
A couple in New Jersey kept sending their “we use everything” newspaper the stories and “reader-submitted photos” about their seriously ill son. Fundraisers, you know. Then they submitted his obit to get ultimate donations. The body was later seen eating a double cheese at McDonald’s.
A guy in Iowa really didn’t feel like going to work, so he wrote his wife’s obit, and the paper used it. He got three days for bereavement and time off permanently when his wife found out she was dead.
Incidentally, there are state laws making it illegal to knowingly report a falsehood to a newspaper. Most of the perps above got arrested.
The problem has reached Editor & Publisher magazine. I Googled “fake newspaper obituaries” and got 595,000 hits. Something’s going on here.
We’re rapidly moving into an era when, if you want your obit in the paper, you’d darn better come down here and prove it’s you already.
Contact Jim Hillibish at firstname.lastname@example.org.