Mom Died And All I Got Her Was This Lousy Newspaper Obit

April 13, 2015
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Article by Keith Stride, Memorial Post

Once upon a time obituaries were straight-up journalism. Papers would cover the life and times of locals who were recently downgraded from faithful readers to, well, dead. Today, however, most obits are no more than a cash grab by newspapers and their obituary partner Legacy.com. They represent a steady stream of content and cash delivered by grieving families who haven’t twigged on that their dearly departed is about to become a pitchman/woman for anti-fungal foot cream. Here’s how it works:

First off someone unfortunately has to die. Then, with heads hung low, the family shuffles off to a funeral home where a director takes care of all the ghastly details including the obituary. They’ll take what you’ve written, along with a picture, and submit it to your paper-of-choice. You pay a ridiculous sum but barely notice because you’re still in a kind of shock from the whole thing. You’re told it also covers the online version at no additional cost. So, whew. It’s important to note that you cannot opt out of this “bonus” online version.

Right now, just for fun, open a separate window on your browser and pull up your local newspaper’s website. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. Once you’re there, find the link to obituaries and click on it. Now look at your url field. Are you still at your newspaper’s website? Probably not. Chances are you’re at a site called Legacy.com.

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Legacy.com is based in Illinois and owned by a large private equity firm out of Boston called Great Hills Partners. They’re partnered with almost every major newspaper in North America and many in Australia and the UK. They create a page that looks identical to their newspaper partner’s site and auto-populate it with the obituaries appearing in the physical version. Legacy.com now owns your content and can do with it as they please.

Okay. So now late Aunt Ivy is featured alongside ads for a revolutionary new liposuction technique developed in Helsinki. And what about poor old Uncle Ernie? Well he’s being used to drive hungry locals down to Bob’s Burger Shack for 2 for 1 Tuesdays. Garnering over 20 million hits a month, the site’s ad revenue must be staggering. The newspaper supplies the content, Legacy.com hosts it online, and the dollars are presumably divvied up accordingly.

Hey, I’m not against advertising by any stretch. I’ve been working in the ad industry for almost 20 years and totally get that banner ads are just the cost of having the world’s information at our fingertips. But where do we draw the line here? I think obits are a pretty good place to start. Here are a few examples of what has become the “norm” for memorializing our friends and family on the worldwide web. And by the way, that’s my Mom selling boots and cheap diamond rings – a moderate improvement over last week when I caught her peddling tampons.

It seems that this poor fellow’s passing calls for ribs.

This calls for ribs

Eye bags or eye candy. How about both? This seems like a particularly cruel kind of cyber purgatory.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 1.00.58 PM

Think that’s bad? Wait until you hear about how they hold your Guest Book for ransom. Stay tuned for another post about this topic.

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