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Obituary Analysis

The Associated Press coverage of Studs Terkel’s death follows the standard obituary guidelines discussed in class. The lead is classic, opening with his name, a brief synopsis of his achievements “the ageless master of listening and speaking, a broadcaster, activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author…,? and when, “Friday.? It also closes the lead paragraph with the standard statement “He was 96.?

The Washington Post’s coverage of Terkel’s death is similarly formatted in the lead paragraph. “Studs Terkel, the preeminent oral historian of the 20th-century America who described the major events of his time through the experiences and observations of the ordinary men and women who lived them, died Friday at his home in Chicago after a fall. He was 96.?

In both instances the lead used a standard approach, however, the Post's coverage does allude to a cause of death, referencing “after a fall,? in its lead. The AP story did not include a cause of death.

The AP story used the family and many of Terkel’s writings as source information within the story. The Washington Post story refers on his own recordings for quotes and his best-selling books to offer insight into his life.

The straight obituary lead works in both instances, because it identifies immediately what contributions Terkel made in his life and how people would remember him.

While the obituaries detail the scope of his life’s work, it is more personably told than a resume listing his accomplishments. For instance, the Washington Post remembers his statement “’who built the pyramids?’ he once asked in his inimitable sweet growl. It wasn’t the goddamn pharaohs who built the pyramids. It was the anonymous slaves.’? The quote supports the assertion that Terkel was interested in the common man.

When the Washington Post outlines his accomplishments, it does read a bit like a resume, because it is a simple listing of his work, but the works are embedded in more information about Terkel and his life in the AP article.