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Commentary: Why this newspaper has paid obituaries

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I knew once we decided to start charging a nominal fee for expanded obituaries in the newspaper, it would become an item of discussion around the community. So let me explain the reasoning behind this decision and what we are offering with our new obituary policy.

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There is no argument about the readership of obituaries. The obituary page always ranks as one of the best-read sections of our newspaper and on our Web site: www.wctrib.com. We realize how important this information is to our readers.

We previously published obituaries in our print edition and on our Web site at no charge. However, we had policies on the information that could be included. We were often caught in the middle of what the family wanted to include and what our policy was.

Our new policy will simplify the process and give families more latitude in what information they wish to include. It will allow people to have a much fuller tribute to their life -- and make the page much better reading and more interesting. I think we are serving people better by this policy.

We are definitely not the first newspaper to charge for obituaries. Our neighboring daily, some weekly and many newspapers around the country have been charging for years. I held off on this painful decision as long as I could. And it is painful. It is one that no one relishes or jumps into with glee.

The cost to produce obituaries on a daily basis is very expensive. As everyone knows, it is not getting any cheaper to produce products, and the newspaper is no different. To put it plain and simple, we had to do something to cover these increased costs and look at diversifying revenue streams.

I could have passed on more advertising rate increases. However, we feel that was not a good idea. We need our advertisers to advertise their businesses and sell their products and services. Our local economy needs this more than ever.

I could have passed on another subscription increase to readers; however, I think they are high enough.

Just to be clear, we are not charging to tell you, our readers, who died; when their service and visitation will be; and who the immediate survivors are. This death notice information will run both in the newspaper and on our Web site for free.

What we are charging for is the expanded obituaries. These will include a history of the deceased person's life. The information included will be the family's decision, and the submission will be edited only for grammar, basic style and the discretion of good taste. If the family wishes to let everyone know all about their loved one, they can do so at a very nominal charge.

The fee is called "nominal" because the rate we are charging is less than the same rate we charge nonprofit organizations to run advertisements in our paper. This rate basically covers our costs to produce and distribute the obituary page of our newspaper. It is that simple.

To sum it up, this decision was not done to charge the dead or make profits off the families. It was done to help cover our ever-increasing costs and to do so in a way that is fair to all concerned.

We will not deny our readers the information on those who have passed. If the family, at their choosing, wants to document all that the life of the deceased meant to them, they have that choice. All we ask in return is a nominal fee to cover our costs.

Steve Ammermann is publisher of the West Central Tribune of Willmar.

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