Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » Why do newspapers charge for obituaries?

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Toni Anne asked this question to my previous post. Although I answered it there, I thought I'd create a separate item for this topic to keep the discussion separate from the previous one:

The Advocate publishes the first 4.5 inches of an obituary for free. If you want to publish a longer version or have the obituary appear more than once, we do charge a fee. The guidelines appear daily on Page B2. Paid obituaries receive a free online guest book for 30 days. You may find that by clicking on obituaries in the top navigation bar of our Web site.

Most U.S. newspapers charge for obituaries in some way or another. Many don't print any part of an obituary for free. An American Journalism Review article from 1999 explores the shift in how newspapers have handled obituaries.

As an editor, I'm not particularly fond of charging for these important notices, but I have to agree with the section of the article about the number of struggles I've had with family members and funeral homes when we published free obituaries and forced them to comply with news guidelines. With paid obituaries, family members are free to write them as they like because the items are no longer considered news articles. We do, of course, still write some news obituaries about prominent people.

I'd hate for cost to ever prevent someone from publishing something as important as an obituary in the newspaper. I hope our policy works for most readers. Thanks for asking, Toni Anne.

I'd appreciate hearing from readers about their experiences with getting obituaries published in the Advocate.