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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.

  • (Laughter)

  • 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • I wanted to know: Where are all the dead women?

  • (Laughter)

  • 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • 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.

  • (Applause)

  • 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.

  • (Applause)

Translator: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

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【TED】How we're honoring people overlooked by history | Amy Padnani

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    林宜悉   に公開 2019 年 08 月 20 日
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