Stories Behind Dallas Morning News’ ‘At the Edge of Life’ Project

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

When I interned at The Dallas Morning News last summer, I heard a lot about “the death project.” Editors talked about in the stairway and the other interns would ask with interest if I’d heard anything about it.

I never met Lee Hancock, the reporter on the project, but I met photographer Sonya Hebert briefly while learning how to edit video one day. She was sitting through hours of footage, trying to cut it down and edit it for one of the many videos that ended up in the project.

The videos made me teary-eyed, especially the one that included the story of a girl who struggled with an eating disorder as a way of coping with her mom’s pending death.

This is just one of several stories Hebert captured with her camera for the five-part series, “At the Edge of Life.” The series addresses some difficult questions that look at the way we experience death, and how it changes the way we, and our family members, live. Given all the emotions and trauma associated with death, it’s the type of story that lends itself to powerful images and storytelling.

In timing with Hebert’s nomination as a 2009 Pulitzer finalist, Poynter’s Kenny Irby has put together a Q&A with Hebert. It’s worth a read to find out more about the project and the lessons Hebert learned from it.