A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

South Florida program teaches obit writing with contest

By Quill

On Jan. 19, the South Florida chapter taught obituary writing in a Fort Lauderdale funeral home. Nearly 20 student and professional journalists from around the state participated in the inaugural SPJ Death Race.

Attendees first received a crash course in the craft from Miami Herald obit writer Elinor Brecher. Then they covered a memorial service featuring three fake-dead SPJ South Florida board members.

Reporters interviewed actual co-workers, friends and parents and had one hour to write a 500-word obit, which Brecher and the fake-dead participants read and judged. The winner, Kristine Gill from the Naples News, received an engraved funeral urn filled with the ashes of The Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post, South Florida’s largest newspapers.

Gill’s winning lead: “Kathleen Ross hated Cassie Morien the moment she laid eyes on her.” (The full winning obit is below.)

Second place went to the Sun Sentinel’s Heather Carney, while freelancer Brandon Ballenger came in third. For more on the SPJ Death Race or to find out how to host one, email Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky at michael@koretzky.com.

The winning SPJ Death Race obituary:

Cassie Morien: “Spastic and Squiggly”

By Kristine Gill

Kathleen Ross hated Cassie Morien the moment she laid eyes on her.

Tall, impeccably dressed and bubbly, Morien seemed a threat to the Boca Raton Magazine staff on her very first day on the job. One such staffer was Kathleen. But a month later, Morien’s charm, wit and awkward mannerisms had won her over.

“You can’t not like her,” Ross, 25, said.

The two ate lunch together each day for two years, taking turns swapping stories in a rush against the clock.

“The hour was never long enough to share everything,” Ross said.

That’s why friends and family of Cassandra Morien said her death has left them with a baffling void.

“She just has a different kind of presence,’” her mother Julia Morien said at a memorial service Saturday in Fort Lauderdale. “She finds joy in everything.”

Morien, died Jan. 17 of the lung disease emphysema, despite having smoked a cigarette just once in her short life. The 26-year-old fashion and Web editor at Boca Raton Magazine lived in Boynton Beach and is survived by her parents Julia and Dennis, her younger siblings Gillian and Trevor, and her boyfriend Angel Melendez.

A writer since the second grade, Morien loved journalism, Julia Morien said. In fact, Cassie Morien tweeted April 15 that, “The notion that I will be spending the next 10 hours writing is both exciting and overwhelming. #ondeadline #lovemylife.”

Becoming an expert on something and sharing that knowledge thrilled her, Julia Morien said. And Melendez added that it was same way with music, especially indie and electronic. Her Twitter feed is riddled with the names of obscure bands, The Bloody Beetroots, Avicii and her favorite M83.

If you haven’t heard of those artists, don’t worry — that’s the way Morien would have liked it, Melendez said at the service. And she loved to dance, even though, at 6-feet-1, Melendez said Morien was “spastic and squiggly.”

The couple dated for a year, during which Melendez enjoyed Morien’s baking, the love notes she left tucked in the pages of his books and her willingness to participate in sporting events with him despite her own lack of enthusiasm for the pastime.

At 6-foot-2, Melendez said he will miss his partner who stood with him at nearly eye level on most things.

“She said once our relationship was easy,” he recalled. “She was a constant. A constant good thing in my life. It’s going to be incredibly different without her.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.