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Is it Smarter to Publish Obituaries in Print or Online?

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Obituaries and death notices have been a mainstay of the back section of newspapers since your grandfather was a boy, and maybe even his grandfather. There is, however, an increasing trend in our modern times towards publishing obituaries and death notices online.

This article will compare the two platforms – print and digital – to help you decide which medium will best help you and your family disseminate the news about your loved one’s death and upcoming funeral.

We will also give you a step-by-step guide for how to go about publishing obituaries and death notices in both mediums.

Advantages of Printed Obituaries Over Digital Obituaries

Although online obituaries and death notices are gaining in popularity, traditional printed newspaper obituaries are still common practice.  The print medium has three key advantages over digital medium:

  • Readers don’t need to understand technology:  If the deceased person is older, many of their friends who might wish to attend the funeral service may rely on the newspaper for a death notice or obituary instead of searching online.  Think of your grandparents – they may not be too tech savvy!
  • Internet trolls can’t make your life miserable:  Printed obituaries do not open themselves up to public commentary, like online obituaries can.  Unfortunately, online trolls, who are people who delight in posting hurtful and inappropriate comments, can comment on anything posted online without privacy settings.
  • News about your loved one’s death and subsequent funeral become part of history and can be used by future generations to research family genealogy:  Printed newspapers become part of a historical archive, often housed in public libraries.

While online companies may promise that online obituaries are permanent, they fail to mention that this is based on two assumptions. One, that family and friends keep paying for the obituary page to be hosted.  And two, that the company doesn’t go bankrupt.  No company equals no record of the obituary anywhere.

At a technological conference in 2015, Vinc Cerf, who is considered a “father of the Internet” and is currently a Google Vice-President, said that he fears that future generations will have little or no record of the 21st century because the hardware and software we are using now will become obsolete.  In other words, future generations won’t know about us because we favoured using the Internet to record our lives instead of print.

Advantages of Online Obituaries Over Printed Obituaries

When it comes to creating an announcement about a death and upcoming funeral, online obituaries have some clear advantages over printed obituaries:

  • Online obituaries are more easily shared: You can create an obituary using a private page, which can then be shared with family and friends online via email.  It can also be posted on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, if desired.  With printed newspaper readership declining, you are more likely to inform more people about the death and funeral through online sharing, and do so much faster.
  • Online obituaries are interactive:  The digital platform allows family and friends the opportunity to share stories and fond memories of the deceased with one another, irrespective of geographical location.
  • Online obituaries are visually more appealing:  Printed obituaries are constrained by the newspapers’ set layout and relegated to black and white print.  Online obituaries, on the other hand, give you the freedom to choose colours, backgrounds, themes and fonts.  This allows you to create a customized obituary that reflects your loved one’s unique personality.
  • Online obituaries are less expensive:  Printed obituaries in newspapers are notoriously expensive, which is the reason why online companies having been flourishing.

If you are choosing to publish an obituary or death notice online solely because of cost savings, the only caveat is that online newspapers and obituary companies are moving towards a revenue model whereby everybody must pay to read obituaries and death notices.  In other words, your family and friends will need to cough up money before they can read about your loved one’s life and death, or find out when the funeral is.

  • You have complete control over the creation of an online obituary:  How and when obituaries are printed are completely in the hands of the newspaper.  With online obituaries, you set your own deadline for submission and you determine how the obituary should look.
  • Online obituaries are more environmentally friendly:  Many would argue that online obituaries are the way to go because they save trees.

How to Publish Obituaries in Printed Newspapers

If you choose to publish an obituary or death notice in print, here are a few steps that you should follow to make this process as easy as possible:

  • STEP 1:  Make a list of newspapers:  Make a list of potential newspapers to publish the obituary or death notice in.  Consider local newspapers where your loved one spent a significant amount of time during his or her life (e.g. home town; regular vacation spots; towns where lived and worked).

You might also consider publishing the obituary or death notice in a national newspaper, given that the population is relatively mobile in developed countries.

  • STEP 2:  Do research:  You need to call each newspaper that you are interested in publishing the obituary or death notice in and find out the following:
    • What is the cost?
    • How are costs determined?  (It is usually on a “per line” basis, with a set number of characters per line, for a specified number of days.)
    • Is there a charge to include a photograph?
    • Is a space between words considered a character?
    • Are there any formatting requirements that you must follow?
    • Do they need to see a death certificate or speak with a funeral home director before they publish the obituary or death notice? (Many newspapers are concerned about publishing falsified deaths.)
    • When is the submission deadline and what is the publishing date?  Some newspapers publish daily while others publish weekly.  If either the deadline or publishing date were after the date of the funeral, you obviously would not want to publish an obituary or death notice in that newspaper.
    • What method should you use to submit the text and photographs for the obituary or death notice?  (Some newspapers might request an email submission, while others might want a physical copy.  If using email, ask which file type is accepted.  Submitting the wrong file type can delay publication, which can lead to the obituary not being published before the day of the funeral.)
  • STEP 3: Evaluate your options:  Once you have called the different newspapers, compare their costs, their deadlines and publication schedule.  Choose a newspaper or newspapers that best suits your budget and any time constraints.
  • STEP 4:  Proofread your text one last time:  Do not assume newspaper editors will fix your spelling and grammar.  Be sure to check your work thoroughly, particularly the spelling of relatives’ names mentioned in the obituary.  Also check that you haven’t included personal details about the deceased that could lead to identity and property theft.
  • STEP 5:  Submit your obituary or death notice for publication:  Once you are sure you have the correct submission information, and you have proofread your work, you’re ready to submit the obituary or death notice.  Ask if you can see the obituary or death notice before it is published so you are able to make sure that all the information is correct.

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How to Publish Obituaries Online

If you choose to opt for publishing an obituary or death notice online, you can decide whether you want to publish it on a newspaper’s online platform or on an obituary website.

If you choose to publish on a newspaper’s online platform, we recommend you follow the steps outlined above for print media.

There are commercial websites that specialize in publishing online obituaries and death notices.  If you wish to use an obituary website, here are the steps you need to follow:

  • STEP 1: Do research:  A simple Google search will provide you with different websites where you can publish an online obituary or death notice.  When researching each site, you should take note of
    • The style and format of the published product;
    • What customization features are offered;
    • How easy the online templates are to use;
    • Customer reviews of the website;
    • The cost to publish the obituary or death notice;
    • How long it will be hosted by the website;
    • The number of photographs that you can upload; and
    • If there are privacy controls so that you can limit who can view or comment on the obituary or death notice.
  • STEP 2: Evaluate your options:  Once you have reviewed the different online obituary websites, compare their costs, their products (in terms of ease-of-use and styling), their customer reviews, and the length of hosting provided.  Choose an online obituary website that best suits your needs.
  • STEP 3:  Create the online obituary:  This involves several sub-steps:
    • Fill in the template provided by the website;
    • Upload photograph(s).  You may need to comply with file size requirements;
    • Customize the hosting page.  Choose colours, images and fonts that reflect the personality of your loved one;
    • Proofread your text carefully.  Make sure all the information is correct and that there are no grammar and spelling mistakes (particularly the names of family members mentioned in the obituary).  Be sure to check that you haven’t included personal details about the deceased that could lead to the deceased’s identity and property being stolen.
    • Post the final page once you are happy with how the draft looks.  Payment will be required by the website before your page can be viewed by friends and family.

The Last Word

Whether you choose to publish an obituary or death notice in print or digitally is entirely dependent on personal preferences.  Both have different advantages and disadvantages that are important to understand before coming to an informed decision.

We hope this article helped guide you in your decision-making process.  What did you decide was the best option for you?  We’d love to hear from you about your experience.