A journalist observes life in the far north.
The 100-something-year-old newspaper where I work will be charging for obituaries soon. The news came at a staff meeting not long ago. The decision-makers seem to think people will like paying better than free because we’ll now accept an obit regardless if the poor soul had lived here. There’s also a bigger word limit, although it comes with a price. Obits will start at $75.
No one asked me, so I want to say here that I think it’s a bad idea. We do a public service by reporting on the town’s dead. I know people who turn to the obituary pages first when reading the paper. Now we may only hear about the deaths of members of prosperous families. Also, losing a loved one is such a sad time and funeral expenses are enormous. I always thought that it was a nice, caring touch for my newspaper to offer free obituaries. I mean, we put people’s snapshots and poems in the paper for free, so why not report on the town’s dead for free?
To be fair, mine certainly isn’t the first publication to charge for obituaries. Most do it, as far as I know. I remember when my mom died, we had to pay a few hundred bucks for a crappy one-paragraph—and no picture—that ran in the newspaper in the region where she had lived. I was generally disgusted by all of the expenses involved with laying my mom to rest. Plus some of the jewelry that she wore for the wake came up missing, something we didn’t notice until days later after she had been cremated.
I blame this decision to charge for obituaries on the declining newspaper industry. Ad revenue isn’t what it used to be and papers everywhere are trying to think of new ways to stay afloat. I don’t know anything about my paper’s bottom line, but I wish we were continuing to stand outside of the pack by offering free obituaries.