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Another nail in newspapers’ coffin?

Marketplace Staff Apr 9, 2008

Another nail in newspapers’ coffin?

Marketplace Staff Apr 9, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: Every year more advertising moves online. Everything from employment ads to personals can be had on the internet now. As we’ve all heard, the lost revenue’s killing newspapers, and now there’s a new Web site that could put another nail in the newspaper coffin.

From WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch reports on the coming demise of the newspaper death notice.

CURT NICKISCH: In a photo on a Web site, Ruth Fallon is standing on the porch of the Massachusetts home where she lived for most of her 85 years. Her face is turned to the sun.

JILL FALLON: Well, it’s not one of her real smiles, but I just like it because she was a lovely woman. She was a beautiful woman.

Jill Fallon is her daughter. She published this photo online, along with stories of her mother’s battle with cancer and the eulogy she gave at Ruth’s funeral last year. Jill wanted a lasting memorial.

FALLON: Two months later, a year later, two years later, you’ll never know when someone’s going to run across it, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Memorials like these are scattered online and getting popular. Jeff Taylor wants to bring them all together and steal away the death notice dollars that newspapers get. Taylor’s known for starting “Monster.com” and moving the Help Wanteds online. In June, he’ll launch “Tributes.com,” to do the same for death notices.

JEFF TAYLOR: It’s a well-read section. You know, they sometimes call it the “Irish sports pages,” or somebody said: “It’s the way I keep score.”

Taylor thinks he can score by creating a Web site where people will pay to post photos and comments, and sign up to get e-mails, for instance, when someone from their hometown dies. He says that goes beyond the typical newspaper blurb that offers maybe a few survivors’ names and an old black-and-white photo.

JEFF TAYLOR: Very tough to draw your power as a person from such skinny details.

For now, newspapers make a fat half billion dollars from those skinny details.

LOU URENECK: A very small ad costs a lot of money.

Lou Ureneck is a former newspaper editor. He says most dailies consider obituaries journalism and print them free of charge, but not everyone gets an obit.

URENECK: And the only way for some families to get the names of their loved ones into the newspaper is to buy the death notice.

Phone in one to the Boston Globe and it’ll cost you $8 per line and $75 per photo, per day. Even so, funeral directors say there’s a reason newspapers have a death-grip on the business. At his funeral home near Boston, David Walkinshaw says when people want to know for whom the bell tolls, they read the paper. Just look at the customers.

DAVID WALKINSHAW: Sixty-five or 70 and traditionally they’ve done things a particular way, and when I put a newspaper notice in the Boston Globe, that’s where people go to know that the visiting hours are at a particular point and time.

But Tributes CEO Jeff Taylor is banking on aging baby boomers who use the net more and more. He’s hoping by the time he dies, Tributes.com will have become the clearinghouse for online death notices.

TAYLOR: My favorite song is Michael Jackson, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and my favorite food is lasagna and garlic bread. There would be some sort of a montage or a collage of things that matter to me, that I had more choice in, I think, than we see today.

He’s already planning his own Web memorial.

In Boston, I’m Curt Nickisch, for Marketplace.

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