- What's with this "notability" stuff, anyway?
- When the first year's contest (1978) was being planned (fall of
1977) it was decided that the entrants should select individuals
that had accomplished something of note during their
lifetime (or at least died in a sufficiently ridiculous manner).
It was determined that the news media (print and electronic)
& later their Internet counterparts would be the final arbiters
- How do the media decide about a person's "notability"?
- Basically the same way we do, but for a broader audience. Their
ultimate interest is to attract eyeballs to pages/screens with
advertising. They don't do that by filling pages/screens with
"who cares" obits.
- So, if the Backwoods Times-Picayune Monthly Gazette &
Neighborhood Newsletter sez one of my guys kicked the bucket,
I score points?
- No. We'd still be inundated with "who cares" regional obits ... the
mayor of a town of 350 in the Florida panhandle may be a big deal in
that town, but people in Wyoming couldn't care less — they never
heard of him, don't care that he filled the local potholes, are
unimpresssed with his Jetson's peanut butter jar collection ... etc.
From the start we decided that we had to employ "authoritative"
obituary sources that would pre-screen that mass of daily deaths
& only report the truely "noteworthy."
- Another weasel word — "noteworthy." Sounds like a damn Federal
bureaucracy to me!
- Not quite that bad, but it does contain an element of
bureaucracy to it. The contest's founding fathers decided that a
good way to screen the obits was to require that a person's death be
reported in sources from a diverse pool of media. The contest started
with three media categories and has grown to the current six: Wire
Services, Major National Newspapers, Broadcast Network News Reports,
"Popular Media," News Magazines and Internet Resources. If someone
has their death reported by at least one of the sources in a category
for a majority of the categories it is reasonable to assume that they
had a broad appeal (beyond mere regional, cultural, industrial, social
interest). Currently we require the obituary to be reported by at
least one source in three of the six categories (50%). In the past
the bar was set higher ... 67% (or more) of the categories.
- So who are the geniuses that came up with these categories?
- The "geniuses" were the members of past Audit
Committees. In August and September of the year preceeding the
upcoming contest the Audit Committee
decides what the validating source categories will be, and what sources
will be accepted in each category.
- Who do I have to sleep with to get onto the
- The Fishes? Just kidding. With the exception of the permanent member
of the Committee, annual Members of the Audit
Committee are nominated by the entrants of an upcoming year's
contest (in late December, with their entries). The nominees must
agree to monitor a certain portion of the media list so that we can
determine that the "notability" criteria have been met. This means,
for example, that one of them must have a subscription or reliable
access to the National Enquirer. As they record the deaths
they think will be of note they pass them along to the central
clearing house. When three (or more) category sources have been met
the death scores for the entrant selectors. We maintain a fairly large set of
files containing newspaper clippings and wire service copy of obits
in the event that we need to check back on something.
- What if they're lazy & don't pay attention to the passing
parade of caskets?
- Then we fall back on the contestants themselves ... after you've
entered you don't just sit back and cruise through the year. You should
be keeping your own stack of obituary clippings. It sometimes takes us
as much as two weeks to obtain confirmation of a death & the
three citations necessary to score ... if one of your
and we don't post it after three weeks you need to contact us &
send along a copy of your own clippings (via fax or snail mail).
- Jeez, I don't want to work that hard. So, as long as one
of my guys is reported in a major newspaper he gets credit for that
resource category, right?
- No. The media resources listed in each category are not "examples"
of the types of resources — they are the specific resources that
will be checked. If your guy's death is reported in the Detroit
Free Press but in none of the newspapers listed in the
"Major National Newspapers" category, you're out of luck for that
- Sheesh, you guys sure are picky. How do I convince the
Audit Committee to include my local
newspaper in one of the resource categories?
- Well, the easiest way is to send an E-mail
to the Audit Committee before August
(remember, we hash those things out well before the coming year's
contest rules are posted). When you nominate a media resource for
inclusion in a category be sure to send along a brief explanation of
why they address the primary criteria for inclusion.
- That "primary criteria" being ....?
- Universality of coverage of some kind of topic area. In the case of
the "Major National Newspapers" all of them have illusions
of being a "publication of record". The New York Times will
print two page obits on some obscure poet who just happened to win
a Pulitzer Prize in 1935 for writing "There once was a man from
Nantucket..." For The Times, the geographic region that the person
inhabited is irrelevant; they'll report on every obscure poet from
around the world. And they'll report on a huge number of subject areas.
Likewise, the other papers listed will cover a very broad scope of
deaths just because all of the other papers in the category have
reported them (they may actually all run the same wire copy, but that's
ok). As another plus, when they do run wire copy (as noted in the
story's dateline) they are in effect registering the obit in two
different validating categories.
The "Popular Media" category exists to give a boost to the
so-called "junk" obits ... obituaries for people The Times used to
distain but everyone else loved (like the guy who invented the
Puff Daddy). Starting
with the 2000 contest we added the current sixth category,
"Internet Resources". The media resources that are listed there
have been used as defacto legitimate resources by many other Dead
Pool-type contests for several years. It also helps that the people who
maintain the websites in that list take their sites seriously —
they strive for accuracy, reasonable timeliness and inclusion of obits
from a broad spectrum of life. Obviously, we can't list our own database
as a resource for scoring in our own contest.
Also, we shy away from obituary sources from people/groups/organizations
that have an "ax to grind" (pro or con) about a group or an issue. We
could have included the Nonaganerians & Centenarians website
as an internet resource but they are a little too gaga over geezers —
by including them we would be elevating a class of potential
other classes ... we would then need to start adding more resources
in more categories to achieve some kind of mythical "balance."
Whether it is Amnesty International, the ACLU, the National Association
of Manufacturers or the WWE, they all have an agenda to push which
ultimately taints their status as "news media."
- What happens if one of the guys on my list dies and six Network
newscasts broadcast his obituary? Six obits; six categories; he scores?!
- You're S.O.L. Those six reports occurred in one category ...
for your guy to score you'll need to track down obits in media sources
from two other categories.
- Aw, come on ...
Diane Sawyer AND
Bill O'Reilly can't all be wrong about
- True, to them, the guy was notable. But we need for their counterparts
over at The Times and at the Associated Press and maybe
Newsweek to concur before we award the points.
- Man, this is getting to be too much work
- No more for you than for the Audit Committee.
Besides, you get to list 75 big-name people on your contest entry
that should make the "notability" cut; why, there must be that many
druggie sports "stars" alone that are flirting with death. Not to
mention old geezers, big-name politicians (someone is always
taking potshots at the White House), greedy corporate executives,
super-ego movie stars/executives ... man, if you can't come up with a
list of 75 probable notables, you just ain't tryin'. Plus, you
get to look at the list of Targets of Opportunity
from the website's databases and the list of the most recent year's
Victims and their selectors. Again, if those resources can't
provide you with 75 names for your list, you probably shouldn't be
allowed to handle sharp objects.
- O.k., O.k., I give up ... show me the list of categories and their
- Associated Press
- United Press International
- Chicago Sun-Times
- Los Angeles Times
- New Orleans Times-Picayune
- New York Times
- Times of London
- USA Today
- Wall Street Journal
- Washington Post
- International Hearld Tribune
- Access Hollywood
- Entertainment Tonight
- Inside Edition
- The National Enquirer
- People Magazine
- Rolling Stone Magazine
- Paris MATCH
- Sports Illustrated
- Stern (Germany)
- US News & World Report
- the alt.obituaries newsgroup
- the Official Darwin Awards website
- the Dead People Server website
- the Who's Alive and Who's Dead website
- the uk.people.dead newsgroup
by Unanimous Nomination of the Audit Committee
Owing to the abysmal educational state of the public media, re:
social, cultural, historical awareness, we've decided that we
needed another mechanism to qualify individual
would have easily received three qualifying obituaries in decades
past. Please don't lobby for a favored
victim ... it
only pisses-off the Committee members.|
- Whoa, dude, where did that stuff at the bottom come from?
- You mean the "Unanimous Nomination of the Audit
Committee"? That was added for the 2001 Contest. Over the last two
decades we've had a very limited number of obits that only
showed up in one or two categories but were of such a compelling
nature that everyone on the Audit Committee
felt that they should have been scoreable; we blame the snooty
New York Times for the necessity of this rule — Twinkies are
cultural icons — the man
who invented them is a pop-culture saint. Who really cares about
award-winning poets "...from Nantucket?" 2010 was the 10th contest
year for this method of inclusion; from 2001 through the current contest
we've seen only a single necessity for invocation of this rule (in
- Man, you guys have more rules & interpretations than Publisher's
- Probably, but just like their contest, you can't win if you don't
enter. At least the Michigan Attorney General hasn't threatened to
sue us ... yet! Maybe he's been too busy ... prosecuting corporate
criminals ... busting up cartels ... boinking his mistress ...
- So, if I can "pack" the Audit Committee
with my stooges I can make up the rules as I go along and get just
about anyone on my list to be scoreable!
- Not really ... did we fail to mention, there is one impediment.
C.O.P. is a benign dictatorship. The permanent member of the
Audit Committee has veto power over
everything (the ubiquitous RR).
So far that veto has been used judiciously, most noticably in two
areas. A while back a group wanted to load the categories with media
that would assure that even soap opera extras would be considered
"notable"; that was nixed. Likewise, in years following a big upsurge
in scoreable executions there is a movement to ban death row inmates as
scoreable "noteables". Other contests do exclude them (as well as
excluding other types of deaths). RR
has resisted all attempts to exclude DRIs — what with appeals,
reversals, DNA evidence and other capricious factors a DRI is never a
"sure thing" (even for the likes of Timothy
McVeigh). As with "supergeezers,"
you never know when the media will lose their interest in reporting on a
particular class of deaths, so we leave it to the contestants themselves
to decide if the media will come through and regularly report the desmise
of all of the supergeezers
(or DRIs) as they happen (history says that this is cyclical ... one year
they report them all; the next year they ignore virtually all). And, let
us not forget that this year's successful strategy breeds copycats. A
defunct DRI without the full 2.5 uniqueness points is often not as
attractive simply because of the loss of opportunity to blow away the
competition in the Solo
Kills scoring category.
So, will there ever be changes to the rules, Audit
Committee composition, scorablity of various classes? Sure. Its
just that after three decades of doing this contest the arguments for
or against a particular rule or inclusion/exclusion have been pretty
well laid out ... you'll just have to make a compeling argument for
your proposal, an argument that doesn't undermine other rules or
elevate one class of Victim
- You guys just won't give up ... how about this — I only list
people from the
of Opportunity database ... if they die they're guaranteed to
meet the notability test, right?
- Wrong again, formaldehyde breath. That list exists for a number of reasons (we try to stay ahead of
the Reaper by
collecting biographical information before someone croaks).
If the editorial powers that be decide not to broadcast/publish the
obit of, say, Refram
Refrignuq, Refram's selectors are screwed
(not to mention the unsettling possibility that they do
publish his obit).
- I'm exhausted ... isn't there any way for me to enter the
contest without doing any work?
- Yep ... submit a list with only one name on it (yours)! Seriously, the
ultimate philosophy of Caskets on Parade is research,
research, research. In all the years that the contest has run the
best performance that any contestant
team has been able to muster is a meager 27
from a list of 75 (36%). Over the years we've seen a variety of
list selection strategies ... Death
Row Inmates, Geezers,
Druggies, the Terminally Stupid,
bimbos ... all
have had their moments of success; all have had their moments of failure.
Do your homework and diversify your mortfolio
of potential victims.
- This isn't fair ... (whimper)
- Hey, boobie, who said life is fair? Sit down now, read that
newspaper, renew your subscription to the
volunteer at the Motion
Picture Home ... you get the idea. If at first you don't succeed,
keep on suckin'
'till ya do succeed!
- Can I go now?
- Yes ... class dismissed.
We hope that this little dialog has answered your questions about "notability."
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