After working at Legacy.com for a year I ran into a former writing teacher of mine at an alumni reading event. He was still teaching, still writing and his latest book was forthcoming on a small university press. When he inquired what I had been up to, I tried to explain the nature of my job as a content screener with Legacy.com in a more personal manner that went beyond the basic job description.
“You’re a censor!” he shouted, and shook his head looking me dead in the eyes with a feigned disgust that slowly softened into a smile as he saw the shock at his remark in my own face. “How’s that going for you?” he laughed. He knew me and knew he had just pushed a button of mine.
In that writing program we were really pushed by our teachers to break boundaries, expand the envelope, and burst the bubble like all “great writers” are supposed to. There was even a class in the program specifically about censorship. It encouraged us to tell the true story in a true voice, regardless. We studied writers that time and time again got shot down and really had to work to be heard. I loved that class.
Being labeled a censor, like being identified the lone heathen in a room full of saints, didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t sound right. It was like calling a Democrat a Republican, or vice versa or worse. It fell way short in describing the actual day to day activities of a content screener for Legacy.com.
To those that have had a guest book entry denied it might seem that way—that we are mechanized censors who are more rigid than an over-starched shirt—and I apologize if that is how you feel. But it is truly something different. Most entries pass after their initial read. Others are flagged for further review, and some of these flagged entries may even get escalated for more intensive investigation.
It is at this point the job becomes more like being a detective. You sleuth through the information at hand—the obituary, past guest book entries, pictures. You explore every suspicious claim made in an entry. In doing this, you begin to bring this person you’ve never met to life through the stories of others. They take shape—assume form, a personality—and you become acquainted in a very secondhand manner. Of course the writer of the entry will always know this person better than you could ever hope to, and that is why they are almost always given the benefit of the doubt.
It becomes your job to understand this memorialized individual. Uncover clues to their relationships with family, friends, co-workers and the world at large. You need to understand what the writer is truly saying in order to make that call to post the entry or not. It is rarely ever a snap decision. This is where it’s apparent you definitely aren’t a censor bot. Your emotions, experiences, relationships, and family life help put you in the author’s shoes. You truly empathize with them and what is being said.
A pastor, a policeman, a teacher, a tattooist, a soldier, an activist, a biker or a business person are all going to receive quite different entries from those that knew them best. And it is in those differences where the entries get personal—for the authors, the readers and us, the screeners. But it is in the commonality of the entries—the love, respect, misery, remorse and gratefulness—where you realize there really are no big differences between all of us, only subtle ones.