Last month, the news of veteran New York Times sports media reporter Richard Sandomir leaving that beat to write for the paper’s obituary section came out, and now Sandomir himself has addressed the switch and thrown in some fascinating details. He wrote a piece for the Times‘ Insider section with his thoughts on the move, his obituary experience, how he might update some previously-written advance obits, and most notably, the reactions this switch has gotten from his contacts:
The news of my departure for the Dead Zone generated three distinct reactions from friends, colleagues and people I write about. The first was congratulations. The second involved fond memories of the obits I have written. And the third was something a lot like “don’t call me for a while.”
That’s right: people who recently lobbied me to write about them, now hoped I would lose their phone numbers. Until they die.
A well-known local sportscaster summed things up nicely when he said, in an email, “I always looked forward to you writing a long feature on me in the paper of record. Now I can wait. A loooong time. In fact, let’s skip it completely.”
As Sandomir goes on to write, though, he got a very different reaction from one subject:
The most unusual reaction came from a famous and sophisticated former sports commissioner.
“Will you interview me for my advance obit?” he asked teeming with apparent awareness that his years as a successful commissioner entitled him to an advance obit and that, at age 70-something, he was overdue for one.
Bill McDonald, the obituaries editor, believes that this is the first offer by a big newsmaker to volunteer to talk to us for an article that he will never read. “We more frequently hear from second-string types,” he told me, “looking for posthumous glory.”
That’s fascinating, and it raises questions of who that might be. It’s not Bud Selig, who’s 82, but it could be either David Stern (74) or Paul Tagliabue (75). There are probably some other candidates out there, but those two would seem to top the list. And really, if you can get past the somewhat-weird nature of the request, it makes some sense for both parties; having quotes unpublished elsewhere could help an obituary stand out, and the subject’s probably interested in putting their own stamp on a piece remembering them. It shows how different the obituary beat is, though, and the “don’t call me for a while” reaction is probably much more standard.