Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Last Word: VideObit

Though it may seem macabre, the New York Times interviews prominent people in anticipation of writing their eventual obituaries. Some subjects are aghast when invited; others appreciate the opportunity to offer their own life summation and career perspective.

The newspaper has carried over this tradition online, conducting video interviews intended to be viewed posthumously in a series called The Last Word. It started last year with humorist Art Buchwald, who cheerfully introduced himself on camera: "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died!" It continued with philanthropist Stewart R. Mott and photojournalist (and Cambodian killing fields survivor) Dith Pran. The final video, as it were, incorporates images and footage of the subject's life and career.

And now the mini-bio series focuses on singer Odetta, who died this week at 77. She was a cornerstone of 1950s folk music, and her voice helped form the soundtrack of the 1960s civil rights movement. And that's what makes her Last Word tribute special -- we not only get to hear from her, but we also get to hear her, both in archival footage of concert performances, and improvisationally singing a capella for the interviewer. Her voice, and her memories, are strong.

We don't know who is next in line for their Last Word, or even who the Times has recruited to participate in this exercise, but we'd like to coin a new word for this promising new form of videojournalism: VideObituary.

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