Last Word: The Business of Obituaries in Brooklyn

Home Brooklyn Life Death in Brooklyn Last Word: The Business of Obituaries in Brooklyn

By Kim Chakanetsa

In an age of e-memorials and three-letter postings on Facebook pages, traditional obituaries can start to feel a little…quaint. But obituaries are not completely — pardon the pun — dead.  They’re a business.

Paying tribute in the obituary section can be expensive or free – depending on where you live in Brooklyn. At the Brooklyn Eagle, a quarter page obituary with a photo will cost you $200, unless the deceased is a celebrity in which case, the obituary is free. Life is not fair: death neither. The paper encourages the use of photos because “names don’t mean anything,” says Pat Higgins, the paper’s advertising manager. With photos, she adds, people say, “Oh I remember her.” The paper publishes on average one or two obits a month, says the editor, Raanan Geberer. “We usually do obits after someone else informs us of a local person’s death, or after a death notice already appeared elsewhere,” he says.

The Carnasie Courier follows a similar practice. A half page obituary costs $100. The paper will, however, publish a free basic death notice giving the date of death, the age of the deceased, and a list of survivors.  The Courier’s business manager, Catherine Rosa, says that the paper prefers that the notice come from a funeral home, ”to be sure.”  Charlie Each of Cobble Hill Chapels, a funeral home, says that the funeral home’s role is limited to that of passing over death notices to the papers. “We don’t do obituaries,” he says.

Over at the Ridgewood Times, a Queens paper that covers parts of Brooklyn, death notices and obituaries cost $10 a column inch. Better to die in Greenpoint, where the local paper, the Greenpoint Gazette will publish obituaries for free, and with few restrictions.

Ned Berke, editor and publisher of Sheepshead Bites, says he would run an obituary of every death in the neighborhood, if he had the staff.  For now, though the paper, cobbles together what it can, especially when someone well known locally dies. “It is not the ideal way of doing,” he says, “it but we are hoping to add a section so people can write obituaries, or note passings, engagements and births.”

With a myriad of free online options and with the rates of publishing online at times prohibitively expensive, why do people still feel the need to go through the formalities of a death notice or an obituary? Debbie Cusick, the classifieds manager of The Ridgewood Times attributes it to a generation that grew up offline. “Someone passes who is 90 their family is about 60 or 70 they may not be online,” she says. “You are talking about old people. They would want something published in their neighborhood paper for people who read the paper to see it.”

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