Reporter-written obits are part of newspaper’s role

The Beachcomber seeks to tell the stories of people’s lives and explain why we should all care.

  • Wednesday, October 9, 2019 12:06pm
  • Opinion

Barbara Drinkwater, the founder of Vashon Island Pet Protectors, was the latest notable islander whose death seemed to create huge waves within the community.

“Waves” not for anything controversial over the course of her career — just an outpouring of kind words and supportive messages in response to the news of her passing.

“We are so sorry to hear we lost an island treasure,” wrote Sheila Eckman on VIPP’s Facebook page.

Another Facebook user, Sharonlee Nicholson, on the same comments thread called Drinkwater, “one of Vashon’s humanitarian pillars.”

These comments exemplify how generously a community can respond when someone on our island passes away. The days that follow for an occasion like this are usually marked by tributes, and newspapers, including The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, have a unique role to play in that regard.

Sure, newspapers can run obituaries, but they can also include stories about the person’s life written by reporters. In the Oct. 10 edition of The Beachcomber, you’ll find Drinkwater’s obituary and a byline story, though not on the same page.

The idea that a person’s death qualifies as news, not just space for an obituary, is nothing new. In fact, there’s an organization devoted to the craft. Since 2007, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers has trained professionals with their writing and interviewing skills to hone the perfect obit piece. The organization even gives out awards every year for the best ones.

Many newspapers include obituary-type pieces written by reporters for several reasons. It may be because the person did something in their community, or the world, that was extraordinary. It may be because the person’s life was marked by controversy, or anything in between. Whatever the reason, it’s important for newspapers, including The Beachcomber, to write these types of pieces so that the community can understand who that person was, their contributions and how those contributions might transcend their lives.

The Beachcomber is no stranger to these types of obituaries. Just one year ago, for example, the newspaper published an obituary penned by arts editor Elizabeth Shepherd on the passing of Erin Kenny, the founder of Cedarsong Forest Kindergarten on Vashon.

The school Kenny founded, which had no formal lesson plans, taught students valuable skills through interaction with nature. Cedarsong gained attention for its outside-the-box approach and was covered by a variety of national and international news outlets. All the while, Kenny traveled around the world sharing “the Cedarsong Way,” Shepherd wrote in the piece. At the time of Kenny’s passing, due to ovarian cancer, a friend called her, “a force of nature and a force for nature.”

It’s articles like Shepherd’s that remind us why it’s so important for newspapers to write about notable people in our community. The Beachcomber seeks to tell the stories of people’s lives and explain why we should all care. Keep reading, and you’ll see more examples like this in the editions to come.

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