When someone great and powerful passes away, oftentimes there is already written news of their passing. When death arrives, the details are refined, dates are added, and their stories are told to others.When average people pass away, it is typically family members or close friends who are left to scramble to make final arrangements and remember details while they are grieving. However, there has always been a space in the center where newsrooms can acknowledge the lives that have been lost through the reporting of obituaries on average people. This space has been reduced even further as newspapers continue to consolidate their operations.
I started an experiment with Poynter and the Tampa Bay Times about two and a half years ago to test a couple of notions. One of the hypotheses was that people would read feature obituaries if they were presented in a digital format. These narratives have the potential to inspire brand loyalty in the form of membership or digital subscriptions. And they have the ability to remind us of the things that we share in common.
The Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri has awarded the participant a fellowship for the year 2020 as a result of the experiment. In addition, the fellowship enabled me to collect data and draw some conclusions in support of my idea. It has also demonstrated to me that I am not the only person who thinks feature obituaries are significant and deserving of being rethought and revived.
An individual shared these words with a group of students in an advertising class at MU that I worked with during the previous semester. “We all know people who we think are so cool, interesting, or exciting, but a lot of times those stories vanish if no one is there to tell them,” the individual said. “That is why obituaries are important — because they preserve those stories and spotlight those ordinary people who make the world a better place,” you could say.