Friday, August 28, 2009

Newspapers as actuaries

The vast majority of obituaries are written after someone dies, not before. But news organizations prepare so-called "advancers" in one of three situations: The subject is so famous that the paper would be embarrassed not to have an immediate package in the event of an untimely death; the subject is old or sick; or the subject is "at risk"—i.e., he's a drug addict or a stunt biker. ...

Into the third category fall stars like Michael Jackson and Britney Spears. When Jackson died at 50, the Los Angeles Times already had an obituary ready because he had a spotty health record. In 2008, when Spears' antics were regularly featured in the tabloids, the Associated Press prepared her obituary despite the fact that she was only 26 years old.
--Christopher Beam, Slate, on the Britney Spears deathwatch

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