Sunday, May 10, 2009

Obituaries by phone after June 1

The new editor of the Flint Journal has written (on the front page today, Sunday, May 10 - Happy Mother's Day, by the way) about how the paper will deal with the problem of getting obituary information to its readers on the four days it doesn't publish.

A lot of folks are concerned that if you die on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, no one will know you are dead, or know when the funeral and visitation is until you are buried. For people without Internet, this is a large concern.

The solution the three papers have come up with is to set up a phone line for people to call in and get the information on the non-print days. I guess you have to get on the phone and listen through a list of recently deceased people (Some days there are two dozen or more) to see if you know someone who has died. It sounds like they will give you some basic funeral or visitation info, but nothing else until the printed version.

I'm thinking this is a huge opportunity for some local weekly publisher who has access to a small press to work with local funeral homes to set up a small printed daily sheet that people could get by mail for a small fee. This would be just a three- or four-page newspaper related to deaths and memorials. Could be longer if you sold advertising in it (florists, churches, non-profits, etc.) and I'll bet it could make some money as well as perform a great service.

You could sell advertising for it, charge for the obituaries (less than the papers do now), get yourself a bulk mail permit and do it six days a week. Maybe you could even put some non-death related news in it if you had room (announcements, calendar, etc.). Hey, before you know it you'll have a six-day-a-week newspaper again.

The obituary paper would be printed each evening and mailed each morning to subscribers' homes. I know a lot of unemployed writers who would love a chance to get back to writing, even if it was full-time obituary work. (I loved writing obituaries, but I'm done with that business now).

And as long as they are at this, the funeral homes and a publisher could set up a companion website and folks would have two options in one place to easily find obituary and funeral information.

Someone should at least take a look at this. I don't think people want to get on a phone each day, four days a week, and listen through a long list of names on the slight chance they might hear a name they know.

Let's do a little brainstorming here and see if we can work something up.


MaryAnn Chick Whiteside said...

I have been crunching numbers and surveying potential customers for an obituary service before the three-times-a-week announcement.

Imagine a well written public announcement with all words spelled correctly.

Imagine someone notifying online friends and followers and contacting people in address books and Rolodexes.

For weeks after my dad's death, I would think of people who I should have called in time for his service.

I also love the photo boards and videos some people do these days. Where do people find the time?

And how I wish someone had collected stories told and shared them with us later. The funeral was such a blur.

What about a video connection so those miles away could attend the service?

Anonymous said...

At least the FJ is thinking ahead on this one.. Making a free phone call everyday is easier than paying to have a little paper full of death mailed to you.

Jim of L-Town said...

As opposed the the big paper full of death delivered to your door?

The point is, yes, they may be thinking ahead, but who is going to make a phone call four days a week to listen to a long list of names of dead people to determine if one of them may be someone they know?

Obituaries are one of the best read sections of the paper. I would pay the equivalent of the daily delivery price to get such a "little paper full of death" to my mailbox everyday, if my newspaper is no longer going to do it.

And maybe, over time, we could start covering police news, feature stories and other news for people who don't have an Internet connection or who don't want to get their news this way.

Better than sitting on a phone for 20 minutes a day, 4-days a week, waiting to hear a name that may, or may not, ring a bell.

Sometimes I don't recognize someone in the obituaries from the name, but from the picture. Let's see how they are going to do that on the phone.

Anonymous said...

"I also love the photo boards and videos some people do these days. Where do people find the time?"

The death of a loved one inspires people to make the time, to spend an hour on the perfect poem in their honor, or to spend half a day making the perfect video tribute.

Imagine a Web site combined with a print product that specialized in daily offerings of obits and public/govt notices, along with a Sunday tab that included wedding announcements and engagements, birth announcements.

Tracy said...

I also thought about ways to capitalize on this important service that newspapers provide.

Obituaries are one of the things that you can't get anywhere else on a consistent basis. Everyone goes to the paper for that info. Why in the world, haven't newspapers put a little more focus on the things that we do better than anyone?

Jim of L-Town said...

I'm thinking that maybe even the local television stations could put a crawl on their nightly newscasts and pick up a sponsor or two for the obituaries.

This is going to be a huge hole and one that is aching to be filled by someone or something.

MaryAnn Chick Whiteside said...

... photo boards and videos ...

Not everyone is talented enough to create these.

Anonymous said...

They just don't get it. Local information is the only thing that will keep the news paper alive. Now that they are alienating there customers from it; it will prove fatal.That's no answer. OUT OF TOUCH!!

Anonymous said...

I just planned Dad's funeral this last Friday, he died on May 7.

Jim, I know you don't particularly care for swearing in your blog response. But planning a funeral AND deciding when to run the "long" obituary because of the sporadic published dates is hell...pure hell.

Especially when you have to consider out of town guests wanting to clip the obit, co-workers not wanting to call to find out when the funeral is, etc.

This format is NOT better, pure bunk. We had to notify friends/family on the phone due to this sophomoric decision to publish three times a week. I rather would have just have the obits run 7 times a week, rather than make phone calls like we used to in the old days..

Whole thing is obtuse and stressing..


Anonymous said...

Don't let them steal intellectual capital from this site.

Anonymous said...

Heres an idea, don't die!If you are planning on checking out call first. Make sure its not a big deal.Is it better to pay taxes? When your dead the ride we call life, is over.

Jim of L-Town said...

That would be a first, stealing intellectual capital at this site.

I've been smiling all day over that one.

inky said...

I can't imagine calling a hotline every day to see if someone I know has died.

But what if somebody with access to a printing press collected the daily obits, charged a nominal fee to run them, and then supplemented the obits with a little police news, local government happenings, upcoming concerts and movies, a few feature stories to make people smile and ... oh wait.

Never mind.

Anonymous said...

Well if the powers that be had any commen sense they would see that they have 3 papers in the tri cities and they could over lap the days of publication between the three . In other words they don't have to all print on the same days. That way they could still screw everyone over and cover the obits in every city in every paper. You would just have to buy a different paper on the days they didn't print. Its all the same anyway.

Anonymous said...

Classic stupid Newhouse decision. Wonder what they'll do at Oh, probably have a $5/hr blogger set up to twitter from the lobbies of area funeral homes.

Anonymous said...

Well i already mentioned putting the obits on charters station for local happenings.
and getting the funeral homes to kick in.
never heard another thing

Jim of L-Town said...

I now have it on good authority that there will be an alternative for daily obituary coverage in the mid-Michigan.

For now, I am not a liberty to say what that will be, but it will supplant and probably remove any need for the newspaper to offer a free phone service.

I'll let you know more when I can.