On two occasions since I
have come to work at the Sparks Tribune, people have come to our office
asking if we can run an obituary for a loved one. The first one was
a few months ago and I featured it in my very first column for this
The second request was this week when a woman named Jeanne came in asking
if we would run an obituary for her late husband. The anniversary of
his death is Monday and she wanted to run just a short note to him.
I told Jeanne I would be glad to run it for her on our page 2, and I
even scanned in a photo of her husband to include with it (all she had
was his drivers license, so I hope he doesnt curse me from
above for using an unflattering image of him).
Jeanne told me she was going to write a nasty letter to the editor of
our neighbor newspaper, casually known as the RGJ (or Reno
Gazette-Journal). According to her, the RGJ (Really Greedy
Jerks?) wanted to charge her $30 for her small, two-line memorial. Not
a princely sum, to be sure, but enough to make her walk out the door
and over to our office several miles away.
Perhaps I, too, should write
a letter to the RGJ (Robbing Grieving Jeanne?) thanking them
for driving people through my door. Or perhaps I should send my resume
over there applying for the job of obituary editor.
When I told The Wife about
this, she figured that if it cost $30 for a two-line obituary and it
takes two minutes to type it up, thats $900 an hour! I make a
decent living here at The Tribune, but damn!
Naturally, I engage in just a bit of hyperbole here, and I have not
called to verify the cost of obits
at the RGJ (not Recommended procedure for Good Journalism).
Knowing what I do of big newspapers, however, I have little doubt of
In truth, our paper does not charge for obits because we dont
get any. Before my tenure here, we received listings from hospitals
but that stopped for some reason. I have entertained making an effort
to restart that, but just havent gotten around to it.
If the RGJ (okay, Im out of ideas) gets a lot of obit submissions,
I cant blame them for charging a fee. After all, someone has to
take the time to make sure they are organized and input properly. Newspapers
dont publish themselves magically, nor do journalists or ad people
do their jobs for the sheer thrill of it. I am also not a number cruncher,
so I really cant attest to what would be a fair fee and what would
be considered outrageous.
What I do know is that to a small paper like us, the emotions of our
readers are news and we dont charge for that. If someone in our
community misses a family member or friend who has died, its worth
a reporters time and salary to talk to that person, get the info
and take up editorial space to let our readers know.
A few months ago I finished reading the John Grisham novel The
Last Juror. The main character was a young journalist who bought
a small Southern newspaper. In the story, the newspapers previous
editor had been known for filling the paper with long, detailed obituaries
of anyone and everyone who died and the new owner maintained that tradition
(to a slightly lesser degree) because readers loved it.
Im not suggesting that I will start filling the pages of The
Tribune with full profiles on every person in our coverage area
who dies, but this fictional work does hold a thread of truth about
what makes the smaller newspapers successful. People want to read about
the lives and deaths of their friends and neighbors and family members.
It is my job to report what
my readers want and my salary will be paid by advertisers, not people
forced to buy coverage. Ill run a page full of local obituaries
before Ill fill that same page with news from far-off countries
or bonehead politicians raising money in Washington, D.C.
This mentality may keep The Sparks Tribune small forever, but
being small doesnt mean we cant be strong.
Of course, if this column gets people lining up to submit obituaries,
you might see dollar signs appear in my publishers eyes and Ill
be out of a job.
Now, if youll excuse me, I have to go scour the want ads for jobs
Nathan Orme is the editor of The
Sparks (Nev.) Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.