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For sale: The American way of life - and death
by Andrew Barbano
Sep 11, 2013 | 1617 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick passed away a few days ago. If you believe her obituary, she was not a very nice person.

On Sept. 10, the Reno Gazette-Journal published a vicious hit, sight-unseen. When contacted by blogger Caity Weaver of Gawker.com, the RGJ's publisher pulled it off his newspaper's website.

Both former Tribune reporter Dennis Myers and my flagship website inadvertently got into the middle of the fray.

Ms. Weaver did a websearch and one Marianne Reddick came up on an installment of Myers' daily historical almanac at NevadaLabor.com/ It was not flattering. Ms. Weaver linked it to her blog.

RGJ Publisher John Maher told Ms. Weaver that the obituary "was a paid placement that was submitted via our self-service, online portal."

Aye, there's the rub.

Reporters and editors must always be involved but increasingly are not.

Let the newly departed be buried with a little dignity. God and history will judge them soon enough.

I make no judgments about either Ms. Reddick or whomever authored the cruel comments published in the Reno paper.

However, such posthumous character assassination presents an extreme example of what's wrong with paid obits.

I have been critical since the virus began to spread more than a decade ago. See ReSurge.TV/

I once offered to start a non-profit to raise money for families unable to afford exorbitant RGJ ad rates. It may be the only instance in the history of the ghoulishly greedy Gannett chain that they turned down free money.

The RGJ began its transition to paid pallbearer by continuing to allow a few inadequate lines at no charge, a loss-leader. Eventually, families were required to fully pay or their loved one's death was ignored, emotional blackmail. In recent years, the paper began listing names in tiny type. The Tribune still prints occasional obits, and at a much-lower fee than the RGJ. A family can pay for its own spread, going through the paper's ad department.

The Reno paper's embarrassment shows what can happen when journalists are cut out of the process. Paid obits allow errors and gross sins of omission that violate the first draft of history, that newspapers compose.

Family-drafted obits often forget basics like dates of birth and death. Ms. Johnson-Reddick is noted to have died about three weeks from now. I once refused a job because a widow wanted the existence of one of her daughters ignored.

Perhaps the Reddick case can change things. Maybe corporate lawyers will jump in. The dead can't sue but libeled living relatives can. Somebody needs to proof-read.

To survive, newspapers must go back to the future and remember what's important to the communities they serve and their readers both living and dead.

Esté bien. Haga infierno.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 44-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988. E-mail barbano@frontpage.reno.nv.us
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