11 Sep Which obit makes the news?
From a September 9 Facebook post by David Rodenhiser, marquee columnist for the Halifax Daily News until its demise in 2008, now toiling for Nova Scotia Power’s communications group.
In the Obituaries section of the Chronicle-Herald there are notices for no fewer than six veterans of the Second World War:
- Joseph “Bunny” McLaughlin, army, who brought home a war bride in 1946
- Jaleel “John” Laba, army, who later owned and operated Laba’s Discount on Gottingen Street for many years
- Stanley Cairns, merchant mariner
- George Haliburton, army
- Adele Healy, RCAF secretary
- Walter Shaw, army, wounded in Germany in 1945
There’s also an obituary for Cecile d’Entremont, who passed away at the age of 100, survived by a host of descendants including a great-great-great grandchild.
Meanwhile, leading all newscasts: a Halifax house cat has died of cancer.
In retrospect, one of the first steps in the long downward trek of newspapering came when papers began charging for obituaries, which had until the 1980s, been regarded as news stories. This prefigured, and can’t be blamed on, disruptions caused by the internet. It reflected a voracious appetite for revenue by newspaper chain owners like Roy Thompson and Conrad Black, who held little regard for the medium’s traditional service role.
Monetizing obits had the side effect of eliminating news coverage of the deaths of community members who were less than famous — people who had been injured in long ago wars, or run long forgotten working class retail establishments, or found their brides in war-torn countries far away. It made newspapers less useful, and usefulness turned out to be a commodity newspapers would ignore at their peril.
The late Esther Dubinsky of Sydney, co-proprietor with husband Newman of Whitney Pier’s legendary Sydney Ship Supply, was outraged when the Thompson-owned Cape Breton Post began charging for obits. The independently owned Chronicle-Herald and Mail-Star held out for several years before falling in line with the industry trend. Until it did, Esther instructed her children that her obit in the Post should read:
Esther Dubinsky died yesterday. For details, see the Chronicle-Herald.