By Steve Outing
Well, it seems I’m not the only one to think that paid newspaper obituaries are a lame and greedy idea. Columbia Journalism Review executive editor Mike Hoyt went through the death-of-a-parent thing recently (as did I last year) and wrote about his experience in writing an obituary for his mother — then being socked with a large bill by the local newspaper that published it.
As I explained in an article written for Poynter Online last fall, in an age where anyone can publish on the Internet for all the world to see — at no to little cost — the idea of newspapers charging for death notices is an anachronism. When someone in a newspaper’s community dies, that’s news, not an ad opportunity. It’s also an opportunity to allow everyone connected to the deceased individual to share their thoughts. Many newspapers miss so much of what they could be doing with obituaries.
I liked Hoyt’s closing line, in response to the person (whoever it was) who devised the idea of paid obituaries:
I would say, Your idea, sir, may mark the precise moment on the timeline when newspapers began a slow drift away from their readers. You forgot what newspapers are for. How about that on your gravestone?