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Translator: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta
My name is Amy Padnani,
and I'm an editor on the obituaries desk at the "New York Times."
Or, as some friends call me, the angel of death.
In fact, people will ask me,
"Isn't it depressing, working on obituaries
and thinking about death all the time?"
But you know what I tell them?
Obits aren't about death, they're about life,
they're interesting, they're relatable.
Often about something you never knew.
Recently, for example,
we had the obit for the inventor of the sock puppet.
Everyone knows what a sock puppet is,
but have you ever thought about who created it,
or what their life was like?
Obits are a signature form of journalism.
An art form, if you will.
It's an opportunity for a writer to weave the tale of a person's life
into a beautiful narrative.
Since 1851,
the "New York Times" has published thousands of obituaries.
For heads of state, famous celebrities,
even the person who came up with the name on the Slinky.
There's just one problem.
Only a small percentage of them
chronicle the lives of women and people of color.
That's the impetus behind a project I created
called "Overlooked,"
which tells the stories of marginalized groups of people
who never got an obit.
It's a chance for the newspaper to revisit its 168-year existence
and fill in the gaps
for people who were, for whatever reason, left out.
It's a chance to right the wrongs of the past,
and to refocus society's lens on who is considered important.
I came up with the idea when I first joined Obituaries in 2017.
The Black Lives Matter movement was at a rolling boil,
and the conversation on gender inequality had just started bubbling up again.
And at the same time, I wondered, as a journalist and as a woman of color,
what could I do to help advance this conversation.
People were coming out of the shadows
to tell stories of injustices that they had faced,
and I could feel their pain.
So I noticed we would get these emails, sometimes, from readers,
saying, "Hey, why don't you have more women and people of color
in your obituaries?"
And I thought, "Yeah, why don't we?"
Since I was new to the team, I asked my colleagues,
and they said, "Well, the people who are dying today
are from a generation when women and people of color
weren't invited to the table to make a difference.
Perhaps in a generation or two,
we'll start to see more women and people of color in our obituaries."
That answer just wasn't satisfying at all.
I wanted to know: Where are all the dead women?
So I started thinking about how we hear about people who have died, right?
Number one way is through reader submissions.
And so I thought,
"Well, what if we were to look at international newspapers
or scour social media?"
It was around this time when ...
Everything was swirling in my mind,
and I came across a website about Mary Outerbridge.
She was credited with introducing tennis to America in 1874.
And I thought, wow, one of the biggest sports in America
was introduced by a woman?
Does anyone even know that?
And did she get a New York Times obituary?
Spoiler alert -- she did not.
So then I wondered who else we missed.
And it sent me on this deep dive through the archives.
There were some surprises.
The pioneering journalist Ida B. Wells,
who started the campaign against lynching.
The brilliant poet Sylvia Plath.
Ada Lovelace, a mathematician
now recognized as the first computer programmer.
So I went back to my team and I said,
"What if we were to tell their stories now?"
It took a while to get buy-in.
There was this concern that, you know,
the newspaper might look bad
because it didn't get it right the first time.
It was also a little weird to sort of look back at the past,
rather than cover news stories of our day.
But I said, "Guys, I really think this is worthwhile."
And once my team saw the value in it,
they were all in.
And so, with the help of a dozen writers and editors,
we launched on March 8, 2018,
with the stories of 15 remarkable women.
And while I knew that the work my team was doing was powerful,
I didn't expect the response to be equally powerful.
I had hundreds of emails.
They were from people who said,
"Thank you for finally giving these women a voice."
They were from readers who said,
"I cried on my way to work, reading these stories,
because I felt seen for the first time."
And they were from colleagues of mine, who said,
"I never thought a woman of color
would be allowed to achieve something like this
at the 'New York Times.'"
I also got about 4,000 reader submissions
suggesting who else we might have overlooked.
And some of those are my favorite stories in the project.
My all-time favorite is Grandma Gatewood.
She survived 30 years of domestic violence at the hands of her husband.
One day, he beat her so badly, beyond recognition,
he even broke a broomstick over her head,
and she threw flour in his face in response.
But when the police arrived, they arrested her, not him.
The mayor saw her in jail and took her into his own home
until she could get back on her feet.
Then, one day, she read this article in "National Geographic"
about how no woman had ever hiked
the Appalachian Trail in its entirety alone.
And she said, "You know what? I'm going to do it."
Reporters caught wind of the old grandma who is hiking through the woods.
And at the finish, they asked her,
"How did you survive so rough a place?"
But they had no idea what she had survived before that.
So, "Overlooked" has become wildly successful.
It's becoming a TV show now, on Netflix.
I cannot wait to see this thing come to life.
Something like 25 different publishers have reached out to me
with interest in turning "Overlooked" into a book.
All of this clearly shows how timely and necessary this project is.
It's also a reminder of how newspapers
document what's happening in our world every single day,
and we have to make sure not to leave out key people.
That's why, even though it's been so meaningful to look back in the past,
I'm plagued with the lingering question:
"What about the future of obituaries --
how do I diversify those?"
That was my original problem, right?
So to start answering this question, I wanted to gather some information.
I went down to the sub-sub-basement level of the New York Times Building,
to the archives.
We call it the morgue.
And I asked for some guidance from our archivist there.
He pointed me to a book called "New York Times Obituaries Index."
So we handed it to the New York Genealogical Society,
and they digitized it for us.
And then a programmer wrote up a program that scanned all those headlines
for "Mr.," Mrs.," "Lady," "Sir," all the sort of gender-defining terms.
And what we found was that from 1851 to 2017,
only about 15 to 20 percent of our obits were on women.
So next, I worked with a programmer to build this tool,
called the diversity analysis tool.
It's a very dry name, but bear with me, it's super helpful.
It breaks down the percentage of our obits month to month, women to men.
OK, if that doesn't sound like much to you,
this is how I used to calculate it before.
So I asked this programmer to program in a goal,
and that goal was 30 percent.
From the year of "Overlooked's" launch, March of 2018,
to March of 2019,
I was hoping we could get to 30 percent of our obits on women.
It was a number we hadn't achieved in a 168 years,
and I'm happy to say we did it -- we got to 31 percent.
It's awesome, but it's not enough.
Next we're hoping to get to 35 percent,
and then 40 percent, until we achieve parity.
And then I'm hoping to partner with this programmer again,
to build a similar tool to measure people of color in our obits.
That was something I wanted to do with "Overlooked" too,
to include men of color,
and I finally got to do it with a special section
for Black History Month,
where we told the stories of about a dozen black men and women.
Again, it was a really powerful experience.
Many of these people had been slaves
or were a generation removed from slavery.
A lot of them had to make up stories about their past
just to get ahead in life.
And there were these patterns of their struggles
that came up again and again.
Elizabeth Jennings, for instance,
had to fight for her right to ride
on segregated street cars in New York City --
a hundred years before Rosa Parks did the exact same thing with buses.
It was just a reminder of how far we've come,
and how much more we still have left to do.
"Overlooked" is including other marginalized people as well.
Recently, we had the obit for the computer programmer Alan Turing.
Believe it or not, this brilliant man never got an obituary,
even though his work
decoding German messages during World War II
helps end the war.
Instead, he died a criminal for his sexual orientation,
and he was forced to endure chemical castration.
Great things, like this obits project, do not come easily.
There were a lot of fits and starts
as I worked hard to convince people it was worth getting it off the ground.
There were moments when I faced great self-doubt.
I wondered if I was crazy or if I was all alone,
and if I should just give up.
When I've seen the reaction to this project,
I know I'm not at all alone.
There's so many people who feel the way I do.
And so yeah, not many people think about obituaries.
But when you do, you realize they're a testament to a human life.
They're the last chance to talk about somebody's contribution on the world.
They were also an example of who society deemed important.
A hundred years from now,
somebody could be looking into the past to see what our time was like.
I'm lucky, as a journalist,
to have been able to have used this form of storytelling
to help shift a narrative.
I was also able to get an established institution
to question its own status quo.
Little by little, I'm hoping I can keep doing this work,
and continue refocusing society's lens
so that nobody else gets overlooked.
Thank you.


【TED】艾咪•帕納尼: 如何對被歷史忽略的人致敬 (How we're honoring people overlooked by history | Amy Padnani)

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林宜悉 發佈於 2019 年 8 月 20 日
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