Twitter death watch might have amused Nora Ephron
RICHARD ROEP E R firstname.lastname@example.org June 27, 2012 4:20PM
Nora Ephron during TechCrunch Disrupt New York May 2011 at Pier 94 on May 23, 2011 in New York City.
Updated: July 29, 2012 5:05PM
We all want to be first on Twitter. Reporters, anchors, columnists, bloggers, celebrities, news junkies — the moment we get wind or even a breeze of breaking news, we race to tweet it.
When John Edwards was found not guilty, within five minutes there were hundreds of tweets all saying the same thing: “Edwards not guilty.” When Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts, same thing happened: “Sandusky guilty.”
And so it goes with celebrity deaths — sometimes even before the public figure has passed on.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Twitter and much of the entertainment section of the Internet were abuzz with developments about the health of famed writer Nora Ephron, who among other accomplishments was the creative force behind a certain kind of old-fashioned, character-driven, romantic comedy that relied on sparkling dialogue over stock characters and gross-out gags: “When Harry Met Sally ...” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail.”
Around 3 p.m. CST, we saw the first ripples in the Twitterverse, with a number of people wondering why legendary showbiz columnist Liz Smith had posted a glowing tribute to her dear friend Nora Ephron when there were no news reports of Ephron’s death.
Under the headline, “Liz Smith on Nora Ephron,” Smith quoted a letter she’d received from Ephron in which Ephron talked of her own funeral: “I want a big deal, and I want everyone to be basket cases.” While never coming right out and saying Ephron had died, Smith referred to her friend in the past tense.
The column, which has since been edited, apparently sparked a number of reporters to make inquiries.
Julie Bosman, who covers book publishing for the New York Times, tweeted, “Nora Ephron’s publisher, Knopf, tells the New York Times that she is still alive.”
Kevin Rose of New York magazine said of Smith’s piece, “If it’s true [Ephron has died], that is the most buried lede in journalism history.”
Tony Ortega, editor-in-chief of the Village Voice, tweeted, “Did Liz Smith just announce a funeral for Nora Ephron before she died?”
Kate Aurthur of the Daily Beast/Newsweek said she, too, had heard Ephron died. Advice columnist Margo Howard tweeted, “Well, to those of you who can’t find the news of Nora Ephron’s death, the funeral is Thursday — and maybe that’s the way she wanted it.”
Read that a few times and let me know what you think Howard was trying to say.
Celebrity death watch
Gawker told us, “Nora Ephron may have died, according to the Internet.” A number of news outlets posted stories saying Ephron was “gravely ill.” A member of Ephron’s family told TMZ the writer was very sick but had not passed away.
Ephron had a wicked sense of perspective, and perhaps she would have found some humor in the whole unseemly death watch playing out online. Certainly Smith didn’t intend to kick the hornet’s nest and create the macabre tweetfest about Ephron’s condition.
When Ms. Ephron passed away a few hours later, the cringe-inducing dead-or-alive speculation gave way to lovely, heartfelt tributes, from quick tweets to the traditional, long-form obits from the mainstream media powerhouses. Ephron’s legacy won’t be about the social media circus that spun in circles during her last few hours; it will be about all the sharp observations, all the revealing insights, all the sardonic truths she shared with us.
Meanwhile, we should all take a breath. What was true in the days of “stop the presses” remains true in the days of the one-second gap between the moment a thought is formed and the moment that thought can be shared with the world.
It’s always better to be right than it is to be first.