Paid obituariesAug 13, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher
Beginning this week, they will be our newspaper's standard procedure
Over the past year or two, a couple of things have become apparent in the way our newspaper handles obituaries.
The first is that we now receive more obituaries, prepared in a wider variety of styles and formats, than we can handle comfortably as a news staff.
The second is that most people submitting obituaries really -- really -- don't like it when we change what has been submitted. Many resist our editing so much, in fact, that they ask if they can pay to have the obit printed exactly as they have written it.
Perfectly understandable. This is their loved one. It is their send-off in the local newspaper. It is a one-time deal, and they want it how they want it.
So, starting this week, all our obituaries are going to become paid transactions, not news stories.
Until now, we generally have considered the death of a Fremont County resident to be newsworthy, no matter who it is. So, when we have printed their obituaries, we have treated them as news items, meaning we edit them as we would any other news story. This has become more and more difficult as the number and style of submitted obituaries has grown. They come via e-mail from far and wide, in formats that require more and more editing just to render them into our standard news model.
Obits often are far longer now than they used to be. People sitting at home with a laptop can write as much as they want, include as many survivors, pets, hobbies, Bible verses, loving family quotations, political statements, travel histories and other information as they want, then click "send" as zap it to the newspaper.
Increasingly, they expect the obituary of their loved one to be printed exactly as they have written it, on the day they choose, in the size they choose, with a border around it of their choosing, and with as many pictures as they like, even color photos.
Sometimes the family simply wants an obit printed more than once. Sometimes they think of something later than they didn't include the first time, and we are asked to reprint the obit.
And, often, we receive an obituary well after our normal deadline and are asked to find a way to make room for it, even if our typical obituary page has been completed.
Writing and editing obituaries as news takes time, and our news staff is smaller than it used to be. It no longer is time- or cost-effective for us to pay journalists to prepare obituaries when many of the families involved don't even want us to do it - and, in fact, would rather we didn't.
These factors - increasing demand that obituaries not be edited or shortened, the increasing quantity of obits, the personalized language, the photo desires, the date-and-day demands, and requests for placement and presentation outside the normal news format - all of these elements are changing the way we view obituaries.
So, we are changing the way we handle them as well. Beginning this week, all obituaries will be paid.
They will be scheduled for publication through our advertising department, and they will be produced more in the nature of ads, less in the nature of news.
They will be priced according to their size. The prices will be a substantial discount from normal retail ads, but they will be priced to account for the work of preparing them as families desire, and for the space they consume.
We also will post them online at no extra charge, exactly as they appeared in print. Our intent is to leave them there permanently.
Families will get 12 copies of the edition in which the obituary was published, also at no added cost. We won't get rich on this. We hope to cover costs and satisfy customers, while making obituaries more predictable and manageable for us.
This does not mean local deaths will be ignored as news. We will continue to publish detailed "death notes" in our regular editions, including the name and date of death, the age of the deceased, the place of local residence or local connection, and information about a funeral or memorial. We will publish these notices at least a full day ahead of the scheduled service, free of charge.
Anything more than that will become a paid proposition. Most families and outside funeral homes now expect it and ask for it. They are willing to pay for it, and they deserve to have their loved one's obituary printed the way they want it.
But doing it that way isn't news. We now will acknowledge the difference and ask readers to do the same.
Deaths of prominent citizens still will be treated as news items, as will those who die in accidents or criminal cases.
The readers have spoken. Most now say they want obituaries done their way, not ours. So be it. In other areas of the paper, that's a privilege reserved for paid advertisers. As of this week it will become the privilege of paying obituary customers as well.