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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, April 21, 2014

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People created a memorial when actress Elizabeth Taylor died in 2011. Taylor, was part of the dead pool file at many different newsrooms.
People created a memorial when actress Elizabeth Taylor died in 2011. Taylor, was part of the dead pool file at many different newsrooms. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

Dead pools a fixture in newsrooms for decades

When I saw that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died, it was a post on social media that alerted me. Which – as I’d call myself a pretty traditional media consumer – was something a little out of the normal routine.

But it was not a huge deal.

What was a huge deal, for my OnMilwaukee.com colleague, were the posts he saw surrounding the character actor’s passing. Jim Owczarski blogged about the dead pool.

Now, in my world, dead pool could be two things.

First, it is a character in Marvel comic books, usually involved in mutant and X-Men comic story lines. Actor Ryan Reynolds played the character in the 2009 film "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."

The other dead pool is much more dark, and some people take it to an extreme. Owczarski mentioned the way in which people may gamble on who may die. The person gains more points for the younger famous person that may be on the list.

When I worked in a traditional newsroom, for daily newspapers, television and radio news, we had a dead pool, too.

It wasn’t meant for betting, but it was for taking the time to be organized, gathering the assets needed to cover the passing of someone important or notable in the community. When I was on the copy desk or the sports staff at a couple of newspapers earlier in my career – mind you, this was before the internet – I had to keep records, photos and other items to run with the obituary story. The area in one of the multiple filing cabinets was called the dead pool.

In the media business, as a reporter or editor or producer, you often cover people at their worst. It is in some small way the same way in which police deal with people – they are usually the furthest from their personal best.

Because of that, a sense of humor comes in handy to push the dark reality off. Hence the dead pools in area newsrooms are very common.

My colleagues and myself would have to decide which actors, politicians, singers and athletes needed to have a file. My major files were Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Liz Taylor and my wild card was Robert Downey Jr.

I’m now out of the dead pool filing business and I’m glad at least the Downey file is still active in some storage area of a newspaper basement to this day. I hope my pictures and notes there won’t have to be used for many more years to come.

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