Cancer Can’t Kill What She Did for Modern Media

Five years
ago, a young San Francisco Chronicle editor built a bridge from old mainstream
media to the then new and largely untested digital frontier. She didn’t know
that she was doing it at the time – all she knew was that she had cancer, and
rather than cry in silence, she decided that if she was going to die, she was
going to die out loud.

Story, a front-page Chronicle series that I first wrote about here,
was (and I quote myself) “An unusually
naked view inside life with cancer, not to mention life inside a major
metropolitan daily. It’s also bold for this kind of series to run on the front
page, allowing for maximum exposure. And let’s face it: Who knew that a copy
editor could actually, well you know, write

But as I also noted, Alicia's Story was something else, too — a link between traditional and modern journalism. The series read like a long blog post or e-mail to her closest friends, making it hard to see where AP style ended and the freestyle writing of a blogger began. 

Alicia's Story was personal and conversational, but it never lost its grip on the need to report and to educate the reader. Alicia Parlette was a "mainstream" journalist practicing citizen journalism, channeling an authentic style that we now take for granted.

this was 2005, and Alicia’s Story was groundbreaking stuff. Not everyone
understood why this “news” belonged on the front page. But the Chronicle didn’t’
care, nor did Alicia, and for that we are grateful.

Which brings
us to 2010, and a hospital bed in California.

cancer is back – and this time, it’s going to win. Her friends have set up a
web site,, to keep
track of her condition, though even the doctors say it’s a only a matter of
weeks before this young, brave, unintentional scion succumbs to the disease.

I’ve written
innumerable stories and blog posts in my career; I’ve covered major disasters,
interviewed U.S. Presidents and earned awards for articles about people I can’t
recall. But Alicia’s story stuck – five years later it’s still the most read
post on my blog, and it’s a chapter in my book, The
Last Newspaper

I’ve never
spoken to Alicia, but she still speaks to me. She is dying out loud again,
sharing her ordeal with friends and with perfect strangers.
She helped
change journalism and didn’t know it; she gave people hope and asked for
nothing in return.

What Alicia
did was an unintentional act, which made it all the more powerful. Unintentional
acts, after all, change the world. Rosa Parks didn’t mean to start the civil
rights movement, but she did with the simple act of sitting on a bus.

Parlette got cancer. And then she changed journalism – not in a big way and not
even in a well-known way, but in a lasting way of deep emotion and

Die out
loud, Alicia, so loud that your voice and your impact remains here on Earth, while
you go to a better place and find lasting peace.


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