Obits Go Online

Originally posted on

I’ve been talking for years about how we’re all living online. But as Paul Briand, who writes the “Baby Boomer Examiner” column for, points out, we aren’t just living online but also dying online.

Let me explain. I’m talking about obituaries, and here’s why: A new study from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University warns newspapers to “adapt to changes in audience behavior and technology that will alter the way Americans memorialize the dead. Already, interactive memorial pages exist on the Web that offer ‘guestbooks’ and opportunities for ‘virtual’ mourners to add notes, photos and videos.”

Even though print remains the dominant medium for obituaries to appear and for people to find out about deaths, the online component is expanding. This makes a lot of sense. The change is driven by baby boomers, because as they age and begin to care more and more about losing loved ones and colleagues, they seek out these notices. But because they’ve become accustomed to getting their news online, they want more than a black-and-white announcement in eight-point type.

The study was financed by, which aggregates 70 percent of American death notices and obituaries. is already a powerhouse: It has 750 newspaper partners, 7 million monthly unique visitors and a ranking among the 100 most-visited sites. Clearly, people are paying attention.

One big advantage of online is that it transforms stark announcements into moving remembrances. “The online memorial today essentially moves the act of grieving from the church, funeral home or cemetery to the laptop and creates a community of mourners,” said Ian Monroe, a co-author of the Medill study.

But social and digital media can do more than that. The study highlights just a few of the strategies that newspapers would be wise to adopt: connecting obituaries to social networking sites such as Facebook; letting readers post comments, pictures and video; offering “obituary alerts” (like Google alerts) that could, for instance, let a college alumni office know when a graduate has passed away; making obituaries easily accessible to people with niche interests; and creating a one-stop shop for mourners with information on counseling services, florists and books about grieving.

If the social Web is about community, is there ever a time when community matters more?

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Dec 17, 2009 | Posted by in Social Media | 0 comments

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