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    “Every time he got sick, editors absolutely freaked out. They would charge around like, Where’s the obit? We had different content systems over the years. We’d have to find it and there’d be five different versions. Which is the right version? Which one did you update? It was always this panic and would always subside and be fine. I can’t count the amount of times they were like, ‘Quick, get in and make sure the obit’s updated.’ They really wanted to make this the Courier’s story and really do an amazing job with this. He always turned out to be OK. It was nothing serious.

    “I remember running into someone from Good Morning America outside the (boyhood) house. They’d just renovated the home. She was like, ‘Well, they sent me down here just in case.’ We had heard that this was really bad, that he may die. Then we heard a rumor that he had died. Boxcar (public relations) gave us this sort of off-the-record statement and said they were going to officially announce it at a certain time — I think they said 11 p.m. But they didn’t. Time was ticking by. I was trying to make the story sound as dire as I could.

    “I think it was at 12:18, we got the confirmation and everybody’s like, Oh, my God! Put a new top on this and switch out that story and put the obit in. I’m picturing the photo in my mind — the newsroom, late at night, looking over proofs. It was literally a newspaper movie. We’ve gotta hit the presses at 12:30. Quickly! Quickly! — this crazy, last-minute scramble. Everybody was there. Every editor. It was kind of like election night. Not every reporter was there, but probably half. All the digital people had to be there. I was terrified that, one, I would make a mistake. Imagine making a mistake in his obit. Or, worse yet, run a story that says he’s sick and then at 1:30 in the morning they say that he dies.

    “The obit was something I tended over the years. I would have to look at it and look at our archive and search around to see what had happened since the last time we updated it. ‘OK, maybe the home has been bought, let’s put that in there,’ or ‘He last appeared at this charity event two years back.’ But it was mostly C. Ray Hall, who had written it years ago. Must have been weird for him to have done all this work. And really a lot of people did. When you saw the special section we published, it was a lot of names of people that aren’t there anymore.

    “By 10 o’clock, probably every major news outlet knew, but nobody reported it. How many journalists knew that he died? I don’t know if it was respect for Ali — obviously a ton of people knew when he died, but nobody said anything. Which I think is powerful in and of itself.”

    Kenning was the Courier-Journal's Obituary Reporter for Ali's death.


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    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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