Obits for sale

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Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 250 of his recent columns.

Like most daily newspapers these days, the San Francisco Chronicle is hustling to increase declining profit margins.  But let me offer some advice to my former employer: Quit gouging grieving readers as part of your profit chasing. I mean those who pay the Chronicle for running their loved ones’ death notices on the paper’s obituary pages.

Sure, the paper’s not making anywhere near as much as it once did from other classified ads, but don’t try to make up for it by outrageously exploiting the saddened friends and families of the recently deceased.

The basic price for death notices is $16 per printed line per day – $112 per column inch (about seven lines of type).  Those 1x1½ inch photos that sit atop many obits cost about $135 more. If you also want the obit on the Chronicle’s website, that will be another $25, please. And if you want the obit to run for a longer period, for say a week, that can get quite pricey – as much as  $784 per inch.

On a typical day this week, 40 notices ran on the Chronicle’s three pages of paid obits, 21 with photos. They ranged from two to 14 inches each and cost from about $225 to about $1570 to run for that one day. That’s right – $1570, plus the $135 charge for those with photos.

Like all papers, the Chronicle also runs unpaid news obituaries of particularly prominent people that are researched and written by the newspaper’s staffers or by an outside news agency that serves the paper. The paid obits are usually written by members of the deceased’s family or by employees of the mortuary that’s involved.

So, it’s like this: If you’re well known, it probably won’t cost your family or friends a dime to notify the public and remind people of your life story. But if you’re just plain folks, it’ll cost family or friends – and probably cost them dearly.  But at least your story will be told by friendly observers, eager to stress the good over the bad, eager to give you a proper send-off – if they can afford the Chronicle’s price for doing so.

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 250 of his recent columns.