Steady there, please

Dear President Trump,

Because the odds that you read any newspaper, let alone the WP, are slim to none, you almost certainly don’t know that their new online format leaves out obituaries. I first noticed this on Sunday or Monday (days are kind of a blur lately) and found it disturbing, but then the next day the old set up was back and the little stack of notices about notable people who died recently was holding up the lower right-hand corner per usual. Well, that lasted all of two days and last night we are back to the obituary-less format.

What’s up with this? Sure, maybe it was time to shake up the way the front page is structured and that’s fine (I think the old structure was far easier to navigate and get a handle on, but that could just be because it was so familiar), but why get rid of, or bury, the formal obituary section? I tried to find it deeper in the site, but couldn’t find any links to the section, which I know was quite robust two weeks ago because I used it to protest the lack of equal gender representation.

It’s not as though the WP is suddenly not reporting on deaths. Uhm, except now that I think about it, the grim litany of bizarre murders that was usually posted in the upper right corner next to the main headlines has been replaced with the Editorial section. That clickbait section also doesn’t appear anywhere else; maybe it’s lurking somewhere in the WP shadows with the formal obituaries….

So really, what’s up with this? In the midst of a pandemic was it a conscious decision on the paper’s part to pull back on the usual reports of death, whether of noteworthy persons who died of old age or of anonymous people made temporarily famous by stomach churning familial crime? Are we now supposed to focus only on covid-19 and pretend that all the other deaths and causes of death (like old age, gun violence, suicide, opiate overdoses, traffic fatalities, domestic violence, cancer, etc.) are just so much unimportant noise? Whatever is going on with this, it sure feels Big Brother-ish and manipulative.


Well, for Pete’s sake, the old set-up is back. The obituaries have been resurrected and are once again in their go-to spot in the lower right hand corner of the online edition. What the heck? I’m guessing there was a hue and cry over the new format being introduced during one of the most stressful times we’ve faced in nearly 20 years. It’s weird, though, that despite the nation’s need for things that are familiar and predictable, the WP had this shiny new thing they wanted to push out and so they did. And then they didn’t. And then they did. And then they didn’t. Who knows what they’ll do tomorrow?

Personally, I think the format deal is a small thing, but I feel strongly about the importance of the obituary section and don’t want it to disappear again. Most of us are so bad at dealing with death that we need exposure to every bit of healthy coverage of death (as in that which is not clickbait, sensationalized gruesomeness) that we can get. Plus, I’m extra-positively disposed towards the WP obituary section tonight because, as it should be, they are honoring two women and two men.

May our practices of honoring the dead be safe.
May our major institutions get that we need some things to hold steady for now.
May we stay strong, healthy, and able to flex as needed.
May we make peace with what we need to make peace with.

Tracy Simpson

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