There Are Good People in Washington—But to Read About Them You Have to Turn to the Death Notices

Journalism in the last 15 years has become ever more dominated by its digital side, which increasingly tends negative—it’s been proven that bad emotions have more impact than good emotions. Bad news thus tends to be much more effective clickbait than good news.

And at the Washington Post, under the ownership of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the paper has become more national and less local—the Post is now driven by getting more national and international web traffic at the expense of covering local news. So it’s harder now to find Post stories—except in the sports section—about local people leading interesting lives. This is especially true in the paper’s obit section—almost all the obits now are about national and international figures. They’re interesting people but not someone a Washingtonian ever has encountered or connected with.

The exceptions—people with interesting lives you might have had some connection with—can be found in the Post’s death notices. A family can buy a death notice for $200 to $1,000 or more and a picture will be several hundred dollars more. The notices are actually classified ads with the type very small. The plus side is that along with the obligatory funeral and family information, you can read about interesting lives close to home.

You’ll find people who have led remarkable lives in the world of science. Donald Orth, in yesterday’s paper, studied anthropology, cartography, and geography in college, then joined the Navy and was part of D-day landing at Omaha Beach in World War Two. He became chief of the Geological Survey’s surveying programs in the western United State and received awards for his contributions to cartography through his work in toponymy. He also had a special interest in mountain climbing having climbed 46 mountains. What a life.

There almost always are stories of immigrant families who came here, often after harrowing lives elsewhere, and made good. Manuel Martin ‘Mike” Brito, known to his family as “Sonny” was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania a month before the stock market crash of 1929 to a Portuguese immigrant father and a Polish-Lithuanian immigrant mother. “A child of the depression, he was forced to become the man of the house at 15 due to the death of his coal miner father from black lung. The second oldest child (and only boy), with help from his four sisters and mother, kept their family together through hard work and strong catholic faith. . . .He enlisted in the Army after finishing high school in 1947 and found himself in the Korean War as an infantry soldier. Later in life, he would recall his unit’s harrowing retreat from North Korea and the loss of his best friend. He was awarded the Bronze Star medal for his time in Korea but he was more proud of his Combat Infantryman Badge.” The rest of Sonny’s death notice tells the story of a remarkable, inspiring life of an immigrant.

The death notices are full of the lives of African-Americans who succeeded—often in education, the clergy, medicine, and government—and raised good families and made the city better. A nice contrast to stories in the Post’s Metro section, which, like the Post’s A section, is heavy on on bad news and bad behavior.

The life stories of people like Donald Orth and Sonny Brito probably do get told in smaller communities where newspapers are more focused on real life. But they’re rarely told in Washington unless you read the death notices.

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