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Funeral Etiquette

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by dragonfly, Jan 18, 2008.

  1. dragonfly

    dragonfly Member

    So I covered a funeral today and felt like I was kind of making it up as I went along. Do I sign the guest list? Do I announce myself as a reporter from the beginning? Can I tape someone's eulogy? Is it disrespectful to be scribbling notes down as the priest speaks? Where should I interview the family, friends, famous colleagues? Outside the church?

    This was a funeral of some public interest, but I was only one of two reporters there, so it's not like there was a press section.

    Whenever I've drawn this assignment, I usually dress in black, sit in the back and try to discreetly take notes on the eulogies. I interview people outside the church, or wherever feels appropriate, and just try to be as respectful and sensitive as I can.

    But still, there's a part of me that wonders if I should announce myself from the start, wear my badge loudly and keep more distance from the church on interviews. I don't know.

    Are there rules?
  2. Cadet

    Cadet Guest

    Very good questions, and I'm curious to hear from those who have covered funerals. I've been lucky that I've never had this assignment.
  3. rascalface

    rascalface Member

    Back in a previous life as a cops reporter, a very popular police chief died in the main city in my paper's coverage area. It was a tough assignment because of the issues you raised, but also because it was a guy I had worked with very closely for a few years on a myriad of issues/problems between the paper and the PD.

    I did most of my interviews the night before at the wake with cops, politicians, community leaders, etc., on top of the mountain of phone calls I made in the days previous. I pulled them aside and talked to them in the hallways, not in the sanctuary of the church. And I waited for them to pay their respects, not tugging on their sleeves when the got two steps away from the casket.

    During the funeral the next day, I kept a low profile, sat in the very back and tried to be as absolutely quiet as possible. I taped the eulogy with my recorder in my pocket.
  4. I've covered several funerals. There is no hard and fast rule - every funeral is different, every family is different. Some want you there, some don't. You just have to act accordingly.

    The best piece of advice I can give is to work out details ahead of time with a family liasion to find out the family's wishes - cameras or no cameras? Do you want us in a certain spot?

    Once you're there, I don't see any reason why you would have to announce your presence - at least not until you're interviewing someone. Just describe the hell out of the services, quote the eulogies and talk to a couple of guests/family members afterward.

    Signing the guestbook is something I would play by ear.
  5. STLIrish

    STLIrish Active Member

    I've covered a few, and basically did what you did, Dragon. Dress appropriately. Sit in the back (or the choir loft if possible). Take notes discreetly. Talk to folks outside afterward. Never had any problem.
    Yeah, I think it's fine to record or take notes from a eulogy, though I wouldn't put a tape recorder on the pulpit beforehand or anything. And, while I'd probably let a family member know I was coming, there's no need to announce your presence beyond that.
  6. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    Dress appropriately, suit and tie or at least a sportcoat.

    If you can tape record the eulogy that's good, but also take notes if the acoustics suck. If the person is important enough for you to be there the family should understand your presence.

    The advice of meeting with a family member or liaison is good, so they won't be caught off guard by you jotting down notes or a camera going off. Good photographers know how to keep a respectable distance and get the photo.

    Hit some highlights from the priest, minister, family members or friends. They may relate a few touching or funny tales. Notice the details. Are the pallbearers old sports teammates? Co-workers? Grandchildren he-she doted on? Are there specific flowers in the arrangements the person loved more than others? Did the person want to be cremated and have the ashes spread over a specific area? Why that area?

    You may be able to snag a family member or friend outside the service for an additional comment. Apologize for the intrusion but ask for a good memory or two.

    I've covered a few funerals and prefer to do whatever work is needed at the church rather than the graveside service. That, to me, is more personal and a finality I need to avoid if possible.

    I don't sign the book.
  7. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Funerals should not be hard. Most people like talking about the deceased at the funeral/wake/visitation.

    Dress appropriately, keep your eyes open. See a couple folks who look like they are telling stories and jump in.

    If someone seems like they know most folks and isn't too distraught, try to use him/her as a guide to introduce you to different folks who may want to talk.

    You don't want to cover the funeral per se, you want to cover the reactions to the person's death.

    But you should check with the funeral home beforehand to let them know you plan to come and see whether photos/video/recording inside is OK.
  8. huntsie

    huntsie Active Member

    I know it's done -- believe me. The accident involving the high school kids last week was a circus. But I wonder about the need for the media to intrude on people's grief and turn it into a news event. We don't cover every funeral. Why cover any?
    Anyone who genuinely cared about the deceased is there paying his respects.
  9. wickedwritah

    wickedwritah Guest

    I can't remember what I wore to the funeral I covered, but it wasn't a suit, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't a shirt and tie.

    It was for a Marine killed in Iraq. The church was overflowing. I tried my best to discreetly stand at the back of the church in the doorway, at a spot where I could hear. It was tough; the acoustics weren't ideal. I didn't talk to anyone afterward; the family had been more than open with us leading up to the funeral, and we had written a number of stories about the Marine's death. I tried as much as possible to set the scene.
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    If it's a prominent member of the community, why not?
  11. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    I went toe-to-toe for a week in college with my professor about this because we were assigned to cover a funeral for a class project.

    It was a funeral, nobody famous or well-know. I felt like shit in the church and left. He and I argued pretty strongly about the "privacy" vs. an editor assigning it.

    He said sometimes you just have to do it, and he was right. Suck it up, be a journalist, do your best.

    Funerals aren't the only thing that suck. How about a kid who has been hit by a car and is in the hospital? That's a tough time. You going to ignore the story? What about the soldier shot in Iraq? That's a tough time for his-her family. Ignore the story?

    No. You learn to be discreet, respectful, professional and you do a job.
  12. silentbob

    silentbob Member

    Once lived in an area that was hit by a pretty high-profile natural disaster. Had to cover funerals, the whole bit. These weren't newsmakers, just regular folks who had some really, really bad luck. I didn't know what to expect going into it. But I decided that I wasn't going to try and fit in or hide my notebook or recorder. I didnt want to try to fool anyone into thinking that I wasn't who I was. I stood in the back and took notes, then waited for everyone to leave before approaching relatives. They knew I was going to be there. Not gonna lie. It was awkward, and I could tell not everyone approved of my presence. But if you're respectful, everything usually works out.
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