Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

June 11, 2014

Obituaries are a paid service; death notices are free

TAHLEQUAH — Recently a couple of readers have asked questions about our obituaries, and though the funeral homes are well-versed on our policies, others might not understand how these snapshots of people’s lives are handled.

Many years ago, the Daily Press – and most other newspapers – published obituaries free of charge, and members of our news staff even took dictation over the phone from funeral homes. There was a price to pay, however: Occasionally there would be an error, but no way to prove whether it was made by the newspaper, or by the funeral home. And during a time when emotions run strong and deep, such mistakes can aggravate even the most patient and forgiving person.

Eventually, the Press and other papers began to require “hard copies” of obits, either via fax or hand-delivered printed page. This way, the source of the errors could be traced. But with the dawn of the technological age and the arrival of email, desktop publishing and digital cameras, newspaper staffs began to shrink in size, and there were fewer people to hand-type obits and other press releases – so newspapers began to ask for submissions via email. Not only did it save time that would have earlier been needed for “typesetting,” it also reduced errors.

It ultimately became a widespread practice for funeral homes to charge customers for submitting obituaries to newspapers. Shortly afterward, newspapers began to charge the funeral homes for publication. After all, both on the part of the newspapers and the funeral homes, work was being done, and rising costs needed to be met. And when the Daily Press began charging for obits in the late 1990s, we relaxed the policy on the wording; whereas we followed strict Associated Press style before, families are now allowed to describe their departed loved ones pretty much as they wish.

Some readers do not realize obituaries are a paid service in virtually all daily newspapers, and even some weeklies. It’s up to the family whether a full-length obituary is published. This means not everyone who dies in Cherokee County will have an obituary in our newspaper. All obits we do receive eventually wind up on our website, usually the same day of publication in the print edition.

The timing of obit publication depends on the funeral homes. Since the loss of our own press in 2006, the Daily Press has had to establish deadlines that will fit with the Muskogee Phoenix’s print schedule. For an obituary to appear in a certain edition of the Press, it must have been received in our newsroom by 3 p.m. the previous day. We understand circumstances arise, and therefore we try to be flexible with the funeral homes; if they let us know by 2:30 an obit may be a little late, we’ll wait for it.

Most obituaries come from funeral homes, but occasionally, the family will be the source. For legal reasons, we need proof the person is deceased, and payment up front is required for obituaries from individuals, as well as certain other material for publication. Arrangements should be made with our customer service specialists, who accept the payment, although our copy editor prepares the obit for publication.

The Daily Press does publish free death notices, which it also receives from funeral homes. Since these appear in the Daily Log, their deadline is noon the previous day. Occasionally we can get one in later, if the funeral home calls our copy editor and makes a special request. Death notices consist of the decedent’s name, age, hometown, date of death, and date, time and location of service. Sometimes a death notice may be published several times, depending on how many times the funeral home submits it to us before the service.

We hope we’ve shed some new light on an area that none of us really wants to think about too much. We always try to be conscientious in our efforts to serve families during their time of grief.

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