Wednesday, October 26, 2005

continuing saga of poynter, outing and citizen obits

larken bradley, recent nna-award-winning obit writer from the point reyes (calif.) light, wrote to steve outing about his oct. 5 poynter centerpiece, "let's breathe some new life into obituaries."

steve-o referred her to his oct. 21 posting - -
in which he suggests that in this new era of citizen journalism there's room for a new job: professional obituary writer. he's not talking about a replacement for reporters writing news obits. he's talking about someone who gets paid by families to pen post-mortem tributes for online sites or whatever.

then he posted an item today (oct. 26) about this subject and larken's freelance obit-writing enterprise. it's at:

i see one major problem with this idea as it relates to steve-o's hope that we can come up with a business model that would better serve the bereaved. these folks still will have to pay a fee for the professional obit writer's services. poor folks would continue to be left out, because they wouldn't be able to afford to pay larken's or some other pro's fee.

but all this talk has got me thinking that between us - all of us - we should be able to take steve-o's challenge and find a workable solution.

i'll post more of my thoughts on this subject after i've discussed my ideas with my editor(s) at the plain dealer (in cleveland, ohio, if you didn't know).

do you have any suggestions, ideas or comments on this? come on. let's brainstorm and show steve-o what we obit writers - the news reporter variety - can do when we apply ourselves.


Amy said...

Alana, I agree with you that the "citizen obit" model leaves out people who can't afford the service. And that's just exactly the person I want to write about --the people whose families can't afford those smarmy paid obits! Give me the plumbers and the secretaries and church janitors over the former mayor and the ex-CEO anyday.
But the bigger problem in my view it that such obituaries would no longer be true newspaper stories but a sort of advertorial product. That's fine, but it's still a paid ad. I have complete editorial independence in my Life Stories; they are written for the enjoyment/interest of the readers, not for the families of the people I'm writing about. No one sees my stories before they are published except our editors. A "citizen obit" would have to be vetted by the person paying for it, and changed to suit his/her will. And I believe obit-writer-for-hire Larken advertises that the obits she writes make "liberal use of euphemism."
Not my cup of journalistic tea, thanks.

Alana Baranick said...

yes, amy. it would have to be advertorial as opposed to journalistic.
perhaps funeral homes, florists, casket makers, limo services, churches, cremation groups, hospice organizations and other death-related businesses, including freelance obit writers, could finance an obituary or "lives lived" tab with their ads. some folks would be ecstatic just to get grandma's mug with tombstone dates and a brief epitath in print.
but that still leaves the question of who would oversee the content, grammar, etc., and how much fact-checking would be done.
i don't understand how advertising departments work. they can't possibly make sure that every ad they run is totally factual.
maybe this is a project that should be taken on by a writer-for-hire, like larken, who would also sell ads, layout the tab and get it printed. a tab could be printed months or even years after the deaths. (i get a lot of requests from folks, who want me to write "a life story" features about their long-dead relatives.)
i know of an enterprising woman in my neck of the woods who printed her own advertising tab, but not with obits. the woman was an ardent bingo player, who lamented the lack of a directory with scheduled bingo events in northeast ohio. she ended up publishing her own bingo guide, largely funded by bingo advertisers.