Obituary Guide

Obituaries and the Changing Media

February 25, 2013

David McConkey

Obituaries are part of the changes now revolutionizing the media.

For years, obituaries were a staple of newspapers. A staple in two important ways. First, obits were an important source of classified advertising revenue. Second, obits were a source of content: both the "news" obituaries of famous people, and also the paid "classified" obituaries of more ordinary folk.

There is an old joke:
    Q:  "What's the first thing you do every day?"  
    A:  "I get up in the morning and look in the classifieds in the newspaper. If I am not listed in the obits, then I know I am still alive, so I can carry on with the rest of my day."

But all that is changing in today's media environment. People don't get their news as much from newspapers, so they are more likely to learn of a death through social media or other places on the Internet. In addition, people can use the Internet not only to inform others of a death, but also to post a tribute to someone who has died.

These shifts are assisting in the death of newspapers. For if newspapers are losing both their revenues and their readers, how long can they continue to survive?

(Perhaps the answer in the joke in the future will go, "I get up in the morning and look in Facebook . . .")

These issues were recently illuminated on Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Dish, a favorite of mine. A reader of the blog reported his recent experience in submitting an obituary of his father to a local newspaper and being greatly surprised at the high cost. (Read more - note: strong language warning.) This kind of frustration will convince more people to bypass newspapers altogether.

Twitter is emerging as a way for people to record the on-going moments that make up their their life, and as well to record even the moment of their death. Some are wondering "if palliative care will soon include social media assistance" to help those dying to constantly tweet their status, even to the point of their own death. (Read more.)

One question that lingers during all of the these changes is how can the Internet composed of casual citizen reporters and bloggers replace the newspaper with its full-time professional journalists? Those professionals did the work that newspapers used to be able to do: the careful pre-writing of obituaries of well-known people.

That kind of pre-planning used to mean that when the time came, obituaries were fully researched, interestingly written, and accurate. (In one famous example, journalists had an obituary of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, prepared and ready to go for about 80 years. They were prepared for the inevitable passing from the day she married the Duke of York in 1923 until the day she died in 2002, at the age of 101. Of course, the pre-written obituary was constantly revised and updated, which required much work over the years.)

But with less professional staff available as newspapers fold, the obituaries in the future suddenly appearing on the Internet may not be as complete.

At least, (if they are spotted), corrections can be made quickly online!

* * *
See Also:

Six Words To Describe A Life? 

“Memoir Man” a Born Storyteller

Helping Families Deal with Death "Most Satisfying Work" for Funeral Celebrant

Deepening Our Thinking in the Internet Age: Ten Tips

Live Well, Do Good



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