By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

GateHouse cuts taking hold

I’m hearing a few reports from out in the field that the GateHouse Media cuts, which I mentioned here earlier in the week, are now starting to come down. I don’t have any details, and I have other matters to attend to for the next few hours. But I’m hoping that a clearer picture will emerge later on.

11:06 p.m. update. Still hearing scattered reports of layoffs here and there. Nothing comprehensive. One thing I’ve heard from several sources is that GateHouse is moving to paid obituaries, and that some typesetters who had formerly handled obits are losing their jobs.

Actually, I despise the term “paid obituaries.” An obituary is a news story, as important as anything in the paper. If it’s paid, it’s no longer a news story; it’s an advertisement.

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  1. Jenn

    GateHouse had had paid obits for a few years now, at least at the papers in the MetroWest group. Curious to find out what’s happening at the chain, since I’ve now been there and done that.

  2. NewsHound

    I couldn’t agree more that obituaries are news, not advertising. And, they should be written like news. Anything goes now that it is advertising, and as such, many times not well written, and certainly not consistent.A newspaper I worked at – now a GateHouse paper – had a style that no one could die unexpectedly, that there was never a wake – calling hours instead, etc. The undertakers called in the obit and the city editor would select someone to take it giving the order by hollering across the city room. After the funeral the undertaker called again and a followup was published with standard details about the funeral including the names of bearers.Town news was covered by correspondents, not reporters, who were paid 10 cents an inch.In those days everybody read the newspaper. If everybody doesn’t read the newspaper, then everybody doesn’t advertise and sooner or later it goes broke and out of business.

  3. Ryan

    You mean when I die, I have to pay to let people know? Sheesh. I kinda feel bad for families now, too. Your parent dies and the newspaper asks for cash to print the obit? Wow.

  4. NewsHound

    Ryan – If you’re under 90 most likely any paper that did charge for obituaries will probably be broke and out of business. If you’re over 90 and a survivor buys an advertisement only about 30 percent or fewer of the people in your area will see it.Chances are your obituary will be on the Internet because newspapers are eagerly cooperating to become less and less essential every day in spite of competition from other media.

  5. Brigid

    Obits aren’t news, they are press releases, because they are supplied by the family of the deceased. They are not fact-checked or rewritten at all.When my father died, last year, my sisters and brother and I collaborated on the obit. Many people commented on how touching it was. Unfortunately, as we were passing it from computer to computer for edits, some of the information at the end was garbled. We didn’t proofread it closely enough, so one of the kids was dropped in the final version and someone else ended up married to the wrong person. It’s our fault, so I can’t complain, but if papers treated obits like other news (which they should, because they are important for historians and other researchers) it would have been fact-checked and that wouldn’t have happened.

  6. staffwriter

    The Globe, I think, also has paid obits. It is sad to see this shift in obits because they are widely read and saved by families, however, newspaper companies are doing what they have to in order to not close down immediately. Not saying it’s right or wrong, more that it’s reality.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    staffwriter: The Globe moved to paid wedding announcements a few years ago, but still treats its obits as news stories. Of course, the paper also has paid death notices, which are a different matter altogether — every paper has (or had) those.

  8. NewsHound

    No sense buying an obituary when readership is below 30%. And, no sense in buying the newspaper when not everyone is going to buy an advertisement telling of a death. If no longer the paper of record it is non-essential. Non-essential means no profit potential which means a bleak future, if any.It isn’t that hard to put out a newspaper but it certainly becomes a challenge when we decide not to publish the news around town including deaths.

  9. Peter Porcupine

    Brigid – at least the despicable paid obit process gave you some control.My hometown paper ran a paid obit for one day for my daughter ($245, Ryan!) and then the free agate-type ‘funeral notice’. The paper-written funeral notice referred to my daughter’s wife, Robert.

  10. Jen

    The Globe charges about $500 for a small obit. I found that out when my grandmother died.

  11. moxieboy

    The plan to take all of CNC to paid obits was first floated around 2000 or 2001, I believe. I was an ME there at the time and was relieved when it was shelved. I agree, they are news. Given finances, though, it was inevitable they’d return to the idea and I don’t know as I an blame them. In fact, I used to get phone calls from funeral homes who were surprised we weren’t charging them.

  12. Greg Reibman

    As many have noted, paid obits or death notices have been pretty common for many years, including in the Globe, Herald and GateHouse dailies. As with all those papers, when a death is judged worthy of a news report, those stories will continue to appear separate and independent from any paid notice.

  13. Dan Kennedy

    At a larger paper like the Globe or the Herald, there’s a certain logic to having obituaries that are news stories and paid death notices. Anyone can take out a death notice; obits are reserved for the deaths of people who are considered newsworthy.At small community papers, everyone gets an obit. That means you have the odd situation where everyone pays for a death notice that says exactly the same thing as the free obit.You might see some real journalism committed when a VIP dies — research, interviews, maybe even some negative information when warranted. But for average folks, the obits I’ve written over the years have been little more than straight dictation from undertakers, translated into house style.

  14. NewsHound

    Dan – I’ve taken obits the same way – dictation from the undertaker and adjusted for style. Obits usually did not contain information about calling hours or funeral details. That was in the advertisement. And, that was the right way to run a newspaper.Newspapers have lost classified which has been replaced by Craig’s, etc., real estate somewhat replaced by free booklets, grocery stores replaced by individual circulars to every home and I could go on and on with more detail. The point is, every time the newspaper tries to make it a little more difficult, more expensive, more complex to squeeze more profit to pay the interest for overpaying in horsetrading newspaper businesses, another alternative surfaces. This most likely will happen with obituaries too and I strongly believe it is another nail in the newspaper’s coffin.Newspapers have done everything imaginable to violate financial independence and strength and to destroy what was not that long ago a valuable franchise. Charge too much for advertising and it goes elsewhere. Charge too much to buy the paper and we use the Internet or watch the local cable. Obits and legals are next, I suspect.One thing newspapers should stop doing is continuing to shoot itself in the foot, but it is probably too late.If the Internet, cell phones, twitter, Craig’s list, Ebay, circulars with direct mail and specialty advertising publications came first it would have been pretty difficult for newspapers to have ever had a heyday, but there certainly were a lot more puffs in this cigar butt if it hadn’t submitted so quickly to cooperate in its own suicide.

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