Rest in Peace … for $20

by Roger Pynn

There was an old saying when I was young … “everyone gets their name in the paper at least three times in their life:  when they are born, when they get married and when they die.”

But most of us know that over the years that has changed as papers long ago stopped printing birth notices and wedding announcements.

Until a week ago you could still turn to the inside back pages of the local news section in our newspaper and read a list of deaths … the name, age and city of each person … grouped by county throughout Central Florida under a longstanding banner “Deaths in Central Florida” (see below) that has long appeared just to the left of paid “Obituaries, Services, Memorials.”

Deaths in Central FL1-001

The last few mornings, however, I’ve encountered what may be for me the most telling indication of the decline of newspapers.  The Orlando Sentinel appeared to no longer be publishing death notices, opting instead to fill the space where it had traditionally listed those who had passed away with other news stories, such as the one below.

Bradenton Herald Article1-001

Then one week later the ad below appeared suggesting that the “news” of someone’s passing is now generously being mingled with the paid notices placed by survivors.

Effective Last Wednesday1-001

“We just wanted everyone to have the same respect.  We’d heard from a lot of people who thought it was kind of like the haves vs. the have nots,” said the person who answered the phone for Pamela Davis in the newspaper’s advertising sales organization, where callers are directed.  “It is entirely up to the funeral home whether they charge or not.  It is just $20 and we are giving them more than before.”

“People are not happy about it,” said a person at one of Orlando’s oldest funeral homes, but confirmed that the company has no intention of paying the bill for something that had previously been free.  “We take the family’s credit card so they can be billed directly by the Sentinel.”

So, now, only if survivors pay (or some funeral home absorbs the cost) will we know if someone has passed away.  It used to be that the daily listing of deaths also appeared on the paper’s website, as well.  Not now … unless, of course, an ad has been purchased.

I’m a capitalist through-and-through and God knows I want my local paper to make money because otherwise I’ll have nothing to pick up on my driveway at 6 a.m. every day.  But it seems a shame.  If newspapers have any public service role left, beyond the weather report, this would certainly have seemed a logical choice to top the list.

Some good news … the above story about the drunken druggie didn’t appear to make it on the Sentinel’s website, either.

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