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The Fate Of The Printed Newpaper Obituary

We live in a world where people are accustom to instant access to information.  Twenty-four hour TV news stations, Internet websites and blogs, facebook pages and twitter accounts allow us to stay connected to world events, regional happenings, local issues and personal goings on.  So why then do we need to wait often days to learn about one of the most important events that impact our lives – the death of a family member, relative or friend?  For decades, here is the way we learned about the death of someone we knew and the details of the funeral or service.  A day or so after the person passed away, the family would meet with their local funeral director.  During the meeting, the director would gather information about the deceased and incorporate the names of family members and the service details to develop an obituary.  The obituary would then be hand delivered or faxed (and now emailed) to the local newspaper for publication the next day.  Due to the time lag, the obituary would often appear in the paper the same day as the service, giving those that knew the individual little time to make plans to attend the event.  And for their role in disseminating the obituary, the newspaper would edit, chop and reword the article, often looking nothing like what was sent in by the funeral home.  The price to run this memorial is often not cheap (people are usually surprised to learn that newspapers charge the family to print obituary notices).  In New Hampshire, obituary fees from the various daily papers range from $75 to well over $200 depending upon the length and if a picture is included.  In larger metro areas such as Boston, New York and Washington, it’s not uncommon for the obituary to cost $500 to over $1,000.

Funeral homes throughout the country are now coming to realize the flaw of this notification system.  Many funeral homes now post obituaries on their company websites.  The information goes up shortly after the family meets with the funeral director.  The family is able to include pictures of the deceased and more information about their lives without the concerns of it costing hundreds of dollars due to the length.  There are often on-line guestbooks for mourners to sign, directions to the funeral home and church with the help of mapping software and links to memorial donation sites.  While this is a much better and cost effective solution, it still is not without some flaws.

One of the main problems is that the family and friends may not know which funeral home is handling the service.  In a community of five to ten or even more funeral homes, this might involve perusing the websites of numerous funeral homes.  Search engines are getting better at finding funeral home website sites and listing the information.  But there is even a better way to access this information.  There are now websites that consolidate obituaries allowing consumers to search for listings locally and even nationally.  You can even sign up on these sites to get notification of an obituary of people you may have worked with, gone to school with or served in the miliary with.  And these sites are not just for the curious public.  Several allows family members to create a full life tribute with pictures, slide-shows, videos,  and music along with text.

There are two websites that you should visit.  The first is Tributes (www.tributes.com) which not only has current listings of deceased (often with full obituaries) but has archived deaths since the early 1900s.  Tributes also allows people the create everlasting tributes on their site as well.  For a more local focus, NH Obit (www.nhobit.com) allows people to view all local and current New Hampshire obitiaries.  As more and more funeral homes provide content to these sites, the public will have free, immediate and accurate obituary information at their fingertips.  No more waiting for the newspaper to print the obituary three days or more after the death occured.

So with access to this timely and free information,  what will be the fate of the local newspaper obituary.  In my opinion, the printed obituary will not be with us ten years from now and possibly as soon as five.  With many newspapers in bankruptcy and others cutting down the frequency of distribution, the printed obit will get more costly.  Take a look at what is happening here in New Hampshire.  On newspaper has decided to no longer print obituaries on Saturday outside a specific market area.  In some other states, newspapers print obituaries only a few days a week.  It’s just a matter of time before people will be mourning (or celebrating) another death – that  of the newspaper obituary.

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