Curation is the new obituary: 8 ways media outlets marked Bowie’s life and death [now 16]

The media’s reaction to David Bowie‘s death from cancer early this morning demonstrates just how widely curation has become in journalism practice – and specifically, how it has become the web native version of the obituary. Below I’ve done a bit of curation of my own: 8 13 16 ways that different publications used curation to mark the death of a legend. If you have seen others, please let me know.

1. Liveblogging curation

The Telegraph’s live reporting of Bowie’s death is an example of curation itself, incorporating just some of the following elements:

  • The Facebook update of the statement confirming Bowie’s death
  • Embedded tweets from key figures reacting to the death
  • A video playlist
  • A single video of his last single, along with other videos to illustrate reactions
  • A posting from Bowie’s official Instagram account

2. Reaction and tributes

Tributes have always been reported following a significant figure’s death. Time was that reporters would seek out family members, former colleagues, biographers and subject experts. Now social media expands that to politicians, musicians, comedians and celebrities both major and minor who never knew the man and may just be jumping on the bandwagon.

It’s superficial, but it’s quick and easy.

Sky‘s report includes visual and video tributes. The Independent’s tributes report is “live”.

David Bowie dies of cancer at 69

TIME magazine curated internet reaction to Bowie’s death, again focusing on key figures from music, politics and entertainment.

And The Express have created a video and slideshow collecting various social media tributes together.

3. The gallery

This is one of the most common types of curation. They include:

4. The video playlist

Video David Bowie dies watch some of his biggest hits Telegraph

The Telegraph chose to use short clips of songs

The Telegraph’s video team lead on a call to action to “watch some of his greatest hits” as they re-use much of the content from the live reporting below a video playlist which runs in their own video player.

Because it’s their own branded video there are rights issues, which the team have addressed by using short clips rather than full songs. Of course they could have embedded a YouTube playlist but that isn’t normal practice.

No such concerns at The Express, where Bowie’s music videos and film clips have been ripped and placed in their own media player – along with pre-roll advertising. It’s not clear if they’ve cleared the rights.

5. Facts and myths

The Mirror come up with another approach to the story: 54 facts and myths about the star, taken from an article of 65 facts written four years ago to mark the artist’s 65th birthday.

6. The ‘best of’/’most significant’ list

Many of these articles are forms of the listicle, of course. But NME have a straightforward one in David Bowie’s 40 greatest songs. Again, it wasn’t created today, but to mark his new album.

Also in this category: David Bowie: five essential films from the BFI (via @Sil_ontwit)

7. The GIFs


It’s Buzzfeed of course, but ’34 Perfect David Bowie GIFs For Every Occasion’ was written in 2014. Still, as with the Mirror, that’s no reason not to re-share it.

8. A single GIF or image

The Huffington Post, Daily Mail and Sky (via Pupul Chatterjee) all devote an article to a single GIF being widely shared to mark Bowie’s death. Again, the GIF isn’t new – it was created by illustrator Helen Green to mark Bowie’s 68th birthday and written about last year – but it’s given new life and context.

Mashable similarly covered Everyone is sharing a ridiculously cool 1970s mugshot of David Bowie

9. Curating lack of reaction

Some people will be surprised at the fact that not everyone in the world knows who a particular famous person is/was. For those, i100 can report the ‘People on Twitter don’t know who David Bowie is‘ story (via Diana Gangan).


From the International Business TimesDavid Bowie death: Ziggy Stardust’s best quotes on life, music and fame and on a more specific angle from the Mirror (again): What were David Bowie’s political views? How pop legend kept many opinions a mystery until his death

11. Archive material

bowie archives times

Adam Tinworth notes:

“a lack of good plundering of archive interviews, stories and reviews as yet – but perhaps that will come later.”

That has started to change:

12. Timelines

Timeline David Bowie touring Birmingham Birmingham Eastside

One of my MA Online Journalism students Anna Noble created this timeline pulling together Bowie’s local performances.

13. Favourite… books?

Trawling through old updates from Bowie’s Facebook page (or perhaps more likely, just googling ‘Bowie’s favourite books’), Electric Lit pulled together a list. Why they didn’t format it, or just embed the original linked posting (shown below) I don’t know…

14. The front pages

The morning after the day before, according to Mashable among others. The key difference in an internet era is that these are from around the world, and the images come, again, from social media before the copies hit the newsstands.

15. Socially-native curation

Twitter’s ‘Moments’ feature also curated the front pages but this deserves a category all of its own because of the way it could be shared on social media (see embedded example above).

Sam Shepherd also pointed out that Snapchat had their own version:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

16. Curated ‘evidence’

I think this one takes some topping…

17. A whole song made up of tweet tributes

…but this from PA has to be the best (via Chris Marritt).Bowie Space Oddity out of tweetsBowie space oddity tweets

Have you seen any other examples of curation? Please let me know in the comments on @paulbradshaw

UPDATE [October 2017]: Listicles and the obituary

Two obituaries by Ian Youngs show how the listicle format is influencing the obituary too. Tom Petty: How he influenced Sam Smith, Foo Fighters… and Spinal Tap, and 11 great authors who wrote for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy are two examples of the format being used to mark the deaths of public figures.


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