Personal Loss Sheds Light On A Media Loss

obit_avA week ago, one of my favorite people and great characters and mentors in my life passed away. Rob was my second cousin, although, to make things easier I just referred to him as “my cousin in D.C.” and he referred to me as “my nephew.” Not even his larger-than-life persona could outdo leukemia. While I already miss him terribly, I can go online and look at this – an obituary written by his friend, the legendary writer John Feinstein, in The Washington Post. It is a perfect encapsulation of the man and allowed his story to be widely known in death, even though he never sought publicity in life.

But the only reason why my family can savor and share that public tribute is because my cousin’s story features prominence. I have realized in recent days that while death is a part of life and death is most certainly a part of news, very few individuals have their life stories told via the reach and relative permanence of traditional media anymore.

Across the country, papers and their websites still publish the funeral listings (which represent a revenue stream), but resource cuts at newspapers and the disappearance of many community news outlets mean many fewer obituaries that detail a person’s life and impact. While celebrity deaths gets more trending topics than just about anything on social media, the lives and deaths of people known only in our communities get less attention than ever.

What’s the way to fill this void? One example comes from a funeral home near us, The Ira Kaufman Chapel (full disclosure: the Chapel is a client of ours), installed a fixed camera to capture services and now offers families the opportunity to live stream and post videos of services, to help share their stories to those unable to attend funerals. They expect the idea to catch on for funerals of many faiths in the coming years.

Another opportunity to embrace new media in new ways to, as we often advise clients in the face of traditional media cutbacks, is tell your own stories. One way to honor a loved one’s life and share stories and memories with family, friends and the public, much as a newspaper obituary would have, is to post online video with photos and stories.

But you don’t have to wait until death to tell the stories of those important to you. Just ask many of my colleagues and friends over the years, who have heard of the the wisdom and wit of “my cousin in D.C.” while I shared anecdotes. For them as well as for me, the memories will continue.