You may write many memorable pieces for the New York Times, create buzz for one of their sections and create good will for the paper everywhere. But don’t get too secure. The fact is, if you die too young, the paper of record will simply ignore you.
This is the case for the brilliantly funny and beloved Monique Yazigi, who lost a terrible battle with breast cancer last week at age 45. Despite having composed many memorable stories, mostly for the Styles section, the Times decided her death was simply not worth mentioning.
This is how the decision came down from one William McDonald, who sent this snippy rejection to Monique’s appointed trustee, banker Jamie Markarian.
But McDonald is not the only heavy in the saga. Insiders point directly to Styles of the Times editor Trip Gabriel, who, they say, didn’t care much for Monique's brash and brainy style. If anyone put the kibosh on Monique’s mention, they say, it was Trip.
William McDonald [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, July 28, 2008 2:12 PM
To: Markarian, James (SC US)
Subject: RE: Obituary for Monique Yazigi
Let me first express my condolences to you and other members of Monique's family. I knew her and worked with her a bit when I was an editor in the Arts & Leisure section years ago. She was immensely likable and a bright, energetic writer, and I was quite saddened to hear about her passing.
Several people here also asked whether we'd write an obit about Monique. We gave it careful consideration and spoke to some who had worked with her but ultimately came to the decision that we would not. Senior editors concurred in that decision.
We have to weigh every candidate for an obit on a common scale, with complete impartiality, and make a judgment based on a person's impact and significance -- his or her newsworthiness -- for a paper with a national readership. We also have limited resources -- a small staff of writers. We receive hundreds of requests for obits each week, regarding very accomplished people, but can publish only a dozen so. For all Monique's talents and contributions to the Times, I and others did not feel that her story quite met our highly selective standard for a news obituary. Reasonable people may disagree and want to debate those merits. But that was my decision and it will have to stand. Last week, we also decided not to write about a medical school dean, a respected conservationist, an author and expert on African geography, to name a few. All accomplished people who made a mark. But again, we have to be very selective, given our space and resources.
This doesn’t mean that Monqiue didn’t get better coverage within the Times. The in-house newsletter ran this obit with the following comments:
Monique Yazigi Dies
Monique Yazigi, who put her lasting imprint on the City Weekly and Sunday Styles sections in the '90s, died Tuesday in New York. She was 45. Trip Gabriel recalls her years in the Style department.
[Also note that we've changed the address where donations can be sent on her behalf]
Monique, who died of breast cancer, joined Sunday Styles in 1998 from City Weekly, where she began as a clerk and matured into a writer of delightful stories about high society. She expanded and deepened that franchise for Styles in its early years, helping to forge the section's identity. Readers who don't remember her byline or specific articles still identify the section with the irreverent attitude toward the affectations and foibles of the rich that was Monique's specialty.
Last week, before I knew her illness had taken a turn for the worse, I happened to be talking to Guy Trebay about Marjorie Gubelmann, an heiress whom he had interviewed. I regaled Guy with an anecdote about Gubelman that Monique once included in a story: the heiress had been shocked to learn she only got one week off during the summer at her first job, in a bank, whereas Gubelman fully intended to join her family for its traditional three-month vacation in France. Guy laughed and said, "I miss Monique.''
A lot of us have in the years since she left the paper in 2000. I cite her stories to each wave of Styles writers. If someone suggests a piece about private schools, I invariably recount Monique's fearless story about private-school parents who engage in social climbing through the contacts they make because of their children. When the Hilton sisters come up, I remember that Monique all but discovered Nicky Hilton as a 15-year-old in a story about outlandish Sweet 16 parties. She put the nightclub Moomba on the map when Leo DiCaprio visited nightly. The same piece put Lizzie Grubman on the map. (We'll forgive her for that.)
Monique had the ability to charm her way into the inner circles of the rich and social. She was so disarming in person, and so expertly filleted her subjects in print that most never realized how naked she left them. They always invited her back to their parties.
Monique was the life of the Sunday Styles party, with her bubbly laugh, bright yellow hair and giddy energy. After leaving the paper, she could be found many days at the Society Library on the Upper East Side, reading about the beau monde and working on writing projects.
She was in her mid-40s.
At her request, there will be no funeral. Contributions can be sent to the Society Library (53 East 79th St. (not 29th Street as originally written), NYC, 10075), where friends plan to have a memorial plaque installed.
[Trip invites those who knew Monique to also leave comments here.]
Posted by Don Hecker at July 23, 2008 2:16 PM
I was saddened to see this news about Monique. She was one of those relatively rare people who are both talented and, well, just really pleasant to be around.
Posted by: Lon Teter at July 28, 2008 3:33 PM
Monique was one of the most cheerful, kind and generous people I ever met at the paper, where we clerked together in the early 1990s. She was constantly organizing the celebrations when someone got promoted or married, always looked for ways to help the reporters and editors who were in a bind — even if that meant staying late, and of course, knowing Monique, without filing for overtime — and was always the one to find the bright side of a less-than-uplifting day of sorting faxes and taking calls from our loyal readers. Hers is a heartbreaking loss.
Posted by: Jennifer Steinhauer at July 24, 2008 5:18 PM
Having a desk in the vicinity of Monique's when she was reporting a gossipy story was a delightful extra perk for Style editors. That voice, that laugh, that breathless banter and excitement. This news is deeply saddening.
Posted by: William Niederkorn at July 24, 2008 5:10 PM
What a shock. I lost track of Monique years ago, but I figured she was still here, somewhere.
She really left an impression on me. She was talented, and funny and nice — all at the same time.
Posted by: Ellie Voldstad at July 24, 2008 3:42 PM
I was terribly saddened to hear of Monique's death. She and I worked together as news assistants on the foreign desk in 1990 and 1991, and she was one of my first friends at The Times. It was a momentous time to be there — the collapse of the Soviet Union, the gulf war — and the days were never slow. But she had this remarkable ability to keep smiling even as everything was going haywire around us. Foreign correspondents, needless to say, loved her. Sometimes it seemed as if they would call in from who knows where just to chat with her. It was this charisma that would later help make her such a fine reporter.
Posted by: Cliff Levy at July 24, 2008 12:12 PM
I was fortunate to have been in the clerk program in the early 1990's alongside Monique, working the phones on the national desk while she did the same on foreign. She was so much fun to spend time with, and the highlight of my shift was invariably the chance I got to amble over to foreign to visit with her and her partner on the desk, Cliff Levy. I was always struck by how tremendously modest she was regarding something that was obvious, even then, to the rest of us: the well-tuned ears and sharp eyes that made her reporting and writing so memorable. I will really miss her.
Posted by: Jacques Steinberg at July 24, 2008 10:45 AM
May her soul be received by heaven and may her memory be a blessing to all who knew her.
Posted by: Rahadyan Sastrowardoyo at July 24, 2008 9:05 AM
There are few things that foreign correspondents dislike more than a 3 a.m. call from the desk about copy that was filed hours earlier. Monique, in her days of clerking on Foreign, made that call, if not welcome, then bearable, almost to the point of pleasant.
She was always — underline, capitalize and italicize "always" — just so damn nice. Her good cheer was bountiful and her laugh infectious.
It is for her razor-sharp, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may writing in this paper that she is best known. Quite so. But for some of us, Monique will also always be that friendly, understanding, cloud-dispelling voice from afar.
Her death is a terrible blow.
Posted by: Clyde Haberman at July 23, 2008 3:58 PM
Update: eventually Markarian wrote the check and paid for a $5,000 private obit that ran on Wednesday. It does nothing to mitigate the paper’s weasely response to the dilemma.
Now it’s up to Monique’s friends to organize a great memorial service right after Labor Day — and disinvite the paper of record.