Like many news outlets today, Dec. 19, 2011, The Washington Post has an obituary of Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president and playwright who died over this past weekend.
What makes the Post’s obituary somewhat odd is that it is written by a Post staff writer who passed away himself six years ago this coming January.
This happened because the Post, like many major newspapers, often pre-writes the obituary of prominent people, be they celebrities, politicians, artists, or whatever line of work they happen to be in.
The news outlet keeps these pre-written obituaries on file, and then publishes them when the luminary dies, freshening up the story with details of the person’s death and whatever else might have happened to the person since the obituary was first written.
In the case of The Post and its obituary about Havel, the story carried they byline of J.Y. Smith. At the end of the obituary The Post ran the following two lines: "J.Y. Smith, the former obituaries editor of The Washington Post, died in 2006. Staff writer Matt Schudel contributed to this report."
We first learned of it from an item by media commentator Jim Romenesko..
Having obituaries "in the can," so to speak, can lead to some other odd bylines. If we recall correctly, our good friend and former colleague Tom Gilbert (who now works at News Corp.’s "Daily") wrote the obituary for Lucille Ball for arch-rivals Weekly Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. That’s because Gilbert worked at both of those publications in his career, and one of the obituaries for Ball had been held "in the can" by one of those publications when he moved to the other one.