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The most read item in the paper…

By Staff | Dec 16, 2018

It is never easy to lose a loved one. Whether it is a close family member or maybe a dear old friend, it is pretty rough.

One of the nicer things about it, however, is receiving the overwhelming outpouring of love and concern and expressions of sympathy you get from friends and family and even folks you hardly know.

I have been on the receiving end of this special way of expressing love and concern with the recent death of my mother. But, I have also been on the giving end of it, as well, as my wife Pam and I have had quite a few old friends, and relatives of old friends, pass away in the past few months.

That is what happens when you get older. You have older friends and they have old parents. It seems like every week we receive the news that someone we know, or once knew, has passed away. I think we could be attending a lot of funerals, except that time and distance often precludes it.

I remember Ike Enderson, who was a former Blue Earth businessman who lived to be 108 years old. I loved to visit with Ike. He told me one time that the worst thing about getting to be 108 years old was that all your friends and most of the relatives you knew were all dead.

I told him the solution might be to go out and find some younger friends. But at 108, I suppose everyone is younger.

But I digress.

I was amazed at the number of people who expressed sympathy to my family at the time of my mother’s death. And not just the number, but people we had not been in contact with for years. Cards are still coming in.

And, of course, everywhere I have gone this past couple of weeks, people come up and express their sympathy on our loss. I know there are some people who are grieving who don’t like that, because it triggers sad thoughts over and over again. But I find it very nice.

Often it ends up with them sharing a story about the loss of their mother, or other family member. And we share some common ground.

And, as a newspaper guy, I love sharing stories, of course. It is what I get to do everyday.

And, as a newspaper guy, I also love to hear them say, “I am so sorry to hear about your mom. I read her obituary in the paper, and she seemed like she had a really interesting life and was quite a wonderful person.” I respond that, yes, she did and yes, she was.

But the key words for me are “I read her obituary in the paper.”

Most surveys of newspaper readers show that obituaries are the number one read item in most papers. I knew that the reporters like to think it is their wonderful stories, and ad people think it is the great creative ads, but the truth is, people read the obits first, then go to the news.

One editor I knew years ago put all the obituaries on his front page. Not just the list of deaths in a side column, but the complete, full obituary. It was a really small town newspaper and his reasoning was, when anyone dies in this town, it is big news, so it goes on the front page.

I actually thought it was because he was too lazy to go out and write some stories for his front page.

Another time there was a very prominent person who died in the town where I was the editor. I waited and no obituary came in and when I inquired why, I was told his widow did not want to put one in the newspaper just so the old gossips in town could read about his life and talk about it.

I wrote a story about his life instead of a full obituary. But it was not the same as an obit.

His widow didn’t appreciate it much either, I heard.

I just read somewhere about a man who had his father pass away and the man’s brother was in charge of making the arrangements and sending out the obituary to newspapers. He didn’t send any because he thought having it on social media was enough. They had lots of people tell them they were shocked to learn of the father’s death, much later, as they had not seen it in the newspaper at the time of the death.

The point is that printing obituaries is one of the most important things we do at the newspaper, although most editors will say it is covering the big news in the town. That old editor I once knew was right. In a small town, knowing who died is important news to find out.

And, like most editors I know, we all have already written our own obituary, just because we don’t trust anyone else to do it.

Again, thanks for reading us. And I hope you read the whole newspaper, and not just the obits. Or at least the whole paper after you have checked the obits first.