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RICK MACLEAN: ‘Just…nobody died’ will live on

Journal Pioneer reporter's tweet about a day with no obituaries in the print edition went viral.
Journal Pioneer reporter's tweet about a day with no obituaries in the print edition went viral. - SaltWire Network

Eager to keep his readers informed, he offered an explanation for an oddity they had noticed in the paper

The webpage of CTV News. CTV Winnipeg’s Twitter page. The Winnipeg Sun. The Toronto Sun. CBC Radio’s national evening show As It Happens.

The Devon Dispatch.

Yeah, I had to Google that one too. It’s on Saskatchewan Avenue in Devon, Alberta – population 6,578 in 2016. It’s a hop and a skip from Edmonton, and home to the Key West Inn, an “unassuming hotel with a game room,” says Google Maps.

The Casket newspaper in Antigonish. “The name Casket originally referred to a woman's jewellery box,” said Wikipedia.

The Facebook page of ABC’s TV station WCVB in Boston.

And that’s only the first page of a search using “just…nobody died.”

The phrase set off a viral storm in August when one of my graduates faced a problem. Colin MacLean works as a reporter for the Journal Pioneer in Summerside and following publication of the Aug. 9 edition, people started calling. Well, two people called.

Eager to keep his readers informed, he offered an explanation for an oddity they had noticed in the paper, no obituaries.

“There were no obituaries in today's paper. People are calling, wondering what happened to them. Just ... nobody died,” he explained on his Twitter account at the 153-year-old paper.

“Just ... nobody died.”

That is great writing - quick, to the point, easy to remember, makes a perfect headline. I’ll let the paper explain what happened next.

“In 24 hours, the tweet garnered more than 17,000 likes, more than 2,600 retweets, more than 156 comments and by Friday afternoon had reached approximately 1.3 million people.”

Including those in Boston, Antigonish, and Devon, Alberta, apparently.

I offered a prediction during the middle of that media frenzy in a note on Facebook: “Years from now - hopefully many, many years from now - some HC j-grad will be assigned to write the obituary of the lovely old man who used to work in journalism in Summerside.”

And that reporter will go looking for a first sentence likely to attract the most readers.

It’s called an obituary moment, the moment in someone’s life that will be the opening line of their obituary. Such moments are entirely random, often outside the control of the person involved, and sometimes utterly unfair.

Google ‘Bill Buckner.’

Skip past the first entry - his Wikipedia page, and the second – his lifetime statistics. Next up is the YouTube video “Bill Buckner 1986 World Series Game 6 ‘Between the Legs.’”

“Little roller up along first. BEHIND THE BAG. It gets through Bucker,” the announcer says. It takes all of nine seconds from the time the pitcher winds up to throw the pitch in the tenth inning until the first baseman for the Boston Red Sox lives his obituary moment.

Somehow, the man who had been a major league baseball starter since 1971 allowed the ball to slide past his glove. The New York Mets player on third dashed home to win game six of the 1986 World Series. The Mets won the series in game seven, where Buckner had two hits and scored a run.

The video had attracted 801,101 views between March, 2013 and this week.

And the first sentence of the obituary about Colin MacLean? I predict this: "The man who wrote perhaps the three most famous words in Island journalism - 'Just...nobody died' - has, well, died."

Ah the irony.

- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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