By: Joe Strupp
It’s not every newspaper writing contest that posts entries online and asks Web users to judge them. But then again, exceptionally written obituaries are hardly your usual newspaper items.
The recently created Society of Professional Obituary Writers, which is conducting its inaugural competition, is not only posting all 70 entries in nine categories on the Web. The writers compete, in most cases, anonymously.
The idea, said Alana Baranick of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer and a SPOW board member, “is to have blind judging. We don’t want people voting on things because they like the people who wrote them.”
The contest includes entries in categories such as best short-form obituary, best long-form obituary, best tribute or memoir column, multimedia presentation, and even a lifetime achievement award. Some of the categories are also split between celebrity obits and those of “Average Joes.”
All of the entries, except those for lifetime achievement and a “body-of-work” category, are posted and judged anonymously.
“They only know what is online there,” Baranick said about the 30 or so SPOW members who will judge the awards.
Among the celebrity obits up for an award are those of Lady Bird Johnson and former Cleveland Cavaliers Owner Theodore “Ted” Stepien.
Lifetime Achievement Award entries include Kay Powell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Jim Nicholson of the Philadelphia Daily News; and Gerry Hostetler of The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.
There are also 16 “body-of-work” entries that include a group of five obituaries each.
Baranick said online readers will vote for a “people’s choice” winner, with those results revealed at the same time as the regular prize winners: “It gives people a chance to look at the stuff and see it is good. We are different, we are obit writers. I think this brings in interest and people will also know who won the popularity contest and that the public likes them.”
All entries can be seen at: