Monday, December 6, 2010

Obituaries a victim of newspaper contraction?

As newspapers shrink newsroom staffs, consolidate operations and move obituary collection to third-party online sites, the issue certainly can be raised that perhaps the art of obituary writing is yet a dying sub-section of journalism.

When I first entered the field at the age of 22, the Obituary page was there for older folks. I'm older folk now. I get it.

Flashback 10 years ago: Funeral home director calls local newspaper to report a prominent death in the community. Local news person responds that he/she is certain newspaper files have plenty of information of decedent and will compose a worthy obituary. Family is relieved and proud, community is informed and funeral director is happy.

Today: Funeral home calls local newspaper, but gets obit desk in out-of-town city.

"Who?" replies obit desk person. "Who?"

There are many aspects of the business that newspapers really had no control over. How do you fight free online classified ads on craigslist? Or the move to shopping for real estate, automobiles and even groceries online? And how do you sell a TV book that people under the age of 60 don't need anymore?

People still turn to newspapers for obituaries. But in their effort to save money (make money?), newspapers seem to be relinquishing that role as well.

I defer now to James Naughton, an outstanding journalist who served as a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and later as editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote a piece for that underscores the issue -- A Death Notice for Obituaries.

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Two of my sources for this blog are Harry Liggett's BJ Alums blog and the PD Alumni News blog. Harry cut his teeth at the old Evening Chronicle in Uhrichsville and moved on to the Akron Beacon Journal, where he spent the rest of his career.

With a nod to both of those blogs, we've created a T-R Alums blog. We suspect that there are lot of T-R alums who don't know the blog exists. If you or someone you know worked at The T-R at some point, please accept our invitation to participate or pass the word along. Thanks.

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The flu bug, starting with the twins, infected their father and both grandfathers, but somehow avoided bothering the girls.

How do you figure that?

Anyway, it was ugly and kept me from caring about this blog until today.

And by the way, did you notice there are no LeBron links?

In case you forgot, here's what LeBron said during the post-game interview:

"Seven great years loved every part, loved every moment, from the growth when I was an 18-year old kid to a 25-year old man. We tried our best as a team to bring a championship to this city and just try to play hard every night. I got the up most respect for this franchise, the up most respect for these fans and you know just continue the greatness for myself here in Miami and try to get better every day."


Good grief. Cure cancer, LeBron. At least win something. Then we'll talk about your greatness. Dip.


Anonymous said...

Glad you feel better, Keep on Bloggin'

kyle@sift said...

I sure wish you would shut up about LeBron.
Sorry you had the flu.

Brian Hanner said...

Great post about obituaries Dick. I've tried twice to meet with your succesor regarding efforts to retain the quality that Anna Lee, Stephanie and all of those local warriors who made it their business to do the right thing for the community when it comes to obituaries.
No give.
New early deadlines mean families have to put services off an extra day because an afternoon arrangement conference with a family may not allow us time to confirm times with venues (church, cemeteries, etc.) or participants (ministers, musicians etc.) before drafting obituaries for families to review.

I still have a feeling that the staffers in the trenches here in New Phila want the best for everyone here, but so far, the decision by TR/Repository leadership to add personal anniversary memorials that formerly were part of classified advertising to "obituary" posts online (yes even through Legacy) and in holiday papers seems to cheapen the forum.
It seems a bit late now, but thank you for what you did, when you did it. - Brian