Making death more convenient: self-service obituaries

Twenty-ish years ago, collegiate journalism students received extensive training in how to write obituaries. Their professors lectured them about the importance of accuracy. Students were told that beginning reporters would have to prove their worth by writing obituaries as part of their first job duties. Until a couple of years ago, I even delivered the same spiel to reporting students in my classes. I still warn my students: “Always be especially careful when writing about dead people.”

When I DieMore recently, many newspapers have been able to collect obit information directly from funeral directors, thus eliminating the need for reporters to actually spend time writing short obituaries. I remember how horrified some people were in the 1980s and 1990s when lengthy obituaries became big money-makers for many newspapers, which unapologetically began to treat obits like advertising revenue.

Gannett may be adding a new landmark event in the evolution of the obit by offering self-service obituaries for approximately 20 of its newspapers. An online form will allow users, primarily funeral directors, to enter information that will then be transferred to a designated newspaper’s content management system.

I suppose the danger here is that, if successful, self-serve obituaries could lead to self-serve wedding announcements, self-serve high school sports reports, self-serve city council coverage and, ultimately, self-serve news as a whole.

I’m also afraid that some savvy news organization will start charging users a small fee to post comments to online obituaries or sell targeted advertising based on the age of the deceased. (To be honest, if this isn’t already happening, I’ll bet someone has at least thought about it.)

When you couple the new self-service obituaries with the well established drive-through funeral services, you can see a trend that makes death convenient for everyone and more of a media experience. When I die, I hope my funeral director is media savvy, and I hope my family has enough money to afford several complimentary comments (posted anonymously, of course) after my self-service obituary. Or better yet, maybe I’ll complete a self-service obit form now and use the “save as draft” option to make it easier for everyone when I die.

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~ by bakerumedia on August 27, 2009.

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