Murphy Dome Diaries

A journalist observes life in the far north.

Ain’t nothin’ free no more

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.

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3 comments on “Ain’t nothin’ free no more

  1. Donna
    June 13, 2008

    $75 is cheap!! My dad’s obit was over $100 and that was only because we shortened it!!

  2. Robinson
    June 14, 2008

    I’m curious…was there any sort of discussion during the staff meeting? What sense did you get from others in the newsroom about how they feel about the change? I think it will be interesting to see how the obits change. Marti seems to think that we will now have tons of death notices (short, FREE, one-paragraph deals giving just the fact that the person has died) and see far fewer full-fledged obits. I don’t know…

  3. aknewsgirl
    June 14, 2008

    No discussions happened at the reporter level, as far as I know. I think that everyone was quickly resigned to it after Kelly mentioned it. I wonder if these new reporters are just happy to have a job, considering the state of the industry. I heard that we received resumes from New York Times reporters when the features writer position was open.

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This entry was posted on June 12, 2008 by .
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