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OBITUARIES FOR SALE

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Abstract:

The paid obituary phenomenon has generated a fresh source of revenue for newspapers throughout the United States and Canada. Its remarkable growth has occurred in tandem with the renaissance of editorial obituary columns over the past 20 years. Some spectacular sums of money are expended on this facet of classified advertising; largesse, however, does not necessarily endow the practice with quality. It is not subjected to the rigour of house editorial style, it does not have to conform to the same code which is applied to display advertising, it can engage in whimsy and excessive sentiment, and its content often stretches both credulity and truth. Historians drawing on this soft underbelly of the newspaper obituary art will find their source material compromised by elision and fabrication. Yet, with classified revenue so important to newspapers everywhere, proprietors outside the United States and Canada could well be seduced by the financial return that this practice offers. It has the capacity to address a belief, expressed by the American journal U.S. News & World Report, that extending the classified agenda might be the only means by which some newspapers will avoid following their readers to the grave. Editorial integrity and advertising opportunity, accordingly, are subject to the potential for a new strain of confrontation.

Keywords: advertising revenue; fabrication; obituary; paid obituaries; vanity publishing

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17512780802281172

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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