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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Life stories and family obituaries can be found in one place

By Tom Warhover
January 20, 2012 | 6:48 p.m. CST

 Dear Reader,

There’s a merger afoot, and the evidence can be found in the Missourian’s obituaries.

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If you look at the online list of obituaries, you’ll see a few with links to two versions: Missourian life story and family obituary.

The family obituary version is the one that comes from a funeral home. Sometimes a family will fill out a form from the funeral home with just the basic biographical facts – dates of birth and death, survivors, that sort of thing. Other times, family members will write a longer narrative.

For more than a year, these obituaries have been published on MyMissourian.com, the Missourian’s site for readers to share material directly. The obituaries there are largely unedited; Missourian staff will fix misspelled words but won’t make the obituaries conform to standard newspaper conventions.

Life stories, on the other hand, use the material from the funeral home as a starting place for reporters. Additional interviews are done to try to capture more about what made this person special to those who knew them best. The best ones are features that celebrate life.

Now you’ll see links to both kinds, side by side, on ColumbiaMissourian.com. You can choose to read either or both.

A third type, “Missourian obituary,” represents an obituary that has been written to conform to newspaper style, but one in which a reporter either couldn’t reach family or friends, or they didn’t want to be interviewed.

Family obituaries are the first of MyMissourian.com content to move into Missourian proper. The rest of the content will migrate over during the next few weeks as MyMissourian becomes a section, not a separate site. “From readers” content will be as accessible on the main site as any staff-produced content.

It’s a move, I believe, whose time has come. MyMissourian.com, which in the newspaper trade world would have been dubbed a “citizen journalism” site, was the second of its kind in the nation and built a small but loyal list of followers and contributors. Web readers are much more comfortable now identifying and enjoying all kinds of content within a single site than they were in 2003.

Content from you, dear reader, has been part of newspapers since the first letter to the editor was published. The fabric of our community is built on passing along information, experience and ideas from one person to the next.

Let me explain a bit more about this first step in the MyMissourian migration:

Life stories have been a staple of the Columbia Missourian for decades. I wrote them as a student reporter almost 30 years ago. In fall 2010, I asked you whether they were still of value, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The few who didn’t like them really didn’t like them. Funeral directors told me that complaints would usually start at their door. The most common: Why couldn’t the Missourian have published the obituary the way we submitted it?

That’s when family obituaries started running on MyMissourian.com.

I’m fascinated with the differences between family obituaries and life stories. I feel like I learn something from both.

Lisbeth Kay Yasuda, a young woman whom many people downtown knew from her constant smile and kind words, died this week. (A friend told me: “She always – always – was nice.” I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful epithet.)

The life story began this way:

"A lifelong musician, Lisbeth Kay Yasuda was as dedicated to teaching young music-lovers as she was to perfecting her own weekly performances for Sunday services at First Baptist Church in Columbia.

"'When Lisbeth played violin, her whole heart was in it, not just the body and mechanics of the music,' her father, Hirotsugu Koge Yasuda, said. 'That is what people liked about her playing. Lisbeth delivered to the heart of the audience.'"

The family obituary, on the other hand, said:

“Lisbeth Kay Yasuda passed away January 16, 2012, at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis after a courageous battle against the most difficult case of lymphoma, closing her brilliant life with grace and peace with GOD.

“A celebration of her life will be held at First Baptist Church, Columbia, at 11am, Saturday, January 21, with a reception to follow.”

Missourian reporters are taught not to write “passed away” or any other colloquialism. From the family, though, the phrase is completely natural. The life story lead emphasizes her relationship with her church; the family obituary, on her relationship with God.

I’ll say more about the content migration of MyMissourian.com as it rolls along. As always, your input is most welcome.

Tom