[em]New York Times[/em] Video: Tomb Raider

Death is now platform agnostic: A memo today from the New York Times obituary department announces plans to interview illustrious, not-yet-dead subjects on camera, creating a video archive to supplement the paper’s stockpile of pre-written obituaries. The aim, obituaries editor Bill McDonald writes, will be to “build a ‘great lives’ archive without parallel.”

The full memo comes after the jump.

May 2, 2006

Colleagues,

Sometimes a great notion just needs someone to give it a push to make it a reality ­ someone with the enthusiasm and energy of Tim Weiner.

The idea had been kicked around before at the Times’s Web site and in the television department, but it was Tim, winding up a book leave this spring, who seized on it and didn’t let it go.

The idea was to give an old Times tradition– writing comprehensive obituaries of prominent people in advance of their deaths–a 21st-century punch. What if we not only wrote the obits in advance but interviewed the subjects on camera? What if we built on our impressive file of advances and created a video archive as well?

Ask the most significant, celebrated, influential people of our time to agree to a videotaped interview. Get them to talk candidly about their lives and their times, in the tradition of Studs Terkel. Then, beginning the day the paper publishes the obit, stream the video, excerpted, onto the Web; make it available for documentaries and to scholars; create oral history in audio and print. In some cases the audio portion might overlay a slide show on the Web using archival photos. Over time, The Times could build a “great lives” archive without parallel.

Tim, who is back again on 43rd Street, is taking on the challenge of making all this happen, reporting, researching and writing authoritative advance obits while spearheading the video effort in partnership with the newsroom’s television department and the Web site.

Tim came to The Times in 1993 from The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for national reporting. (That was his second; he shared a Pulitzer for local coverage in 1982 at The Kansas City Times.) At the Washington bureau, he covered national security and intelligence for six years, then went to Mexico for the foreign desk. The Times has sent him to 18 countries ­ Afghanistan before and after 9/11, Sudan and Liberia, Cuba and Haiti among them. He covered the military-industrial complex for BizDay in 2005 before taking an eight-month leave to write a book on the history of the C.I.A.

Tim is a fast, fluid and lyrical writer, a tireless reporter and researcher, and a journalist with vast interests and a voracious curiosity. He joins a gifted band of writers who, day in and day out, are producing some of the finest obituaries to be found in any paper in America ­and being increasingly recognized for it: see Marilyn Johnson’s new book “The Dead Beat,” with its tips of the hat to Doug Martin and Margalit Fox.

With Tim’s arrival, the staff just got even stronger.

Bill McDonald